Ratliff Campaign In Disarray 15 Minutes After It Begins
On Wednesday night, Connor Ratliff announced his candidacy for the U.S. Presidency at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. What began as a spirited and joyous event, with those in attendance prepared to root for Ratliff, quickly turned sour. The first sign of this was that the audience was their to root for Connor Ratliff, the Olympic Athlete, and not Connor Ratliff, the Presidential Candidate. This bait-and-switch was the first in what appears to be a rapid fire of missteps, like an Olympic runner tripping at the firing pistol then running full tilt into each hurdle. By the end of the evening, one could not help but be left with impression that the Ratliff campaign was already in trouble.
For anyone who followed Ratliff’s 2012 presidential campaign, none of this should come as a surprise. When Ratliff announced his desire to run for office back then, he stated one singular thing that qualified him for the most powerful job in the world: He was old enough. He was 35 years old, which is the youngest age at which the U.S. Constitution allows one to be President. It was a simple point but for many a powerful one. The United States had never had a President that was as young as possible. “Ratliff 35/2012” was a strong message, if a relatively empty one. But over his campaign, this one simple pledge was broken not once but twice, as Ratliff turned 36 and then 37 before the elections even took place. Numerous other issues plagued the campaign, including a staff that seemingly had little faith in him, hands that appeared to be miniature pumpkins, and birds. His own chief speechwriter, Nicole Drespel, did not bother to write a victory speech for election night, opting instead to just copy, word for word, Barrack Obama’s 2012 DNC acceptance speech.
After losing to incumbent Obama in 2012 , Ratliff turned his energy and focus to his other passion — the Olympics. He declared his intent to not only attend the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but compete in some undecided port and, specifically, to win a gold medal. Or at least somehow get a gold medal. Over the four years of his quest, he trained and worked out (at least once a year), sent emails to various Olympic officials and potential sponsors, and sought out at least one country that would let him compete. His undefeatable belief (and many tried to defeat it) in himself was infectious and he garnered many supporters and fans.
It was these supporters that filled the UCB Theater to near capacity on Wednesday night, as the event had been promoted as “Connor Ratliff’s Olympics Send-Off Spectacular!” As the seats filled, you could feel the excitement in the air. The audience was full of the particular spirit of the Olympics and the desire to see an athlete begin that final step to fulfilling his long valiant quest. After a short but rousing video montage of Ratliff’s training, the crowd knew they were in for a very special night. Ratliff, flanked by his stalwart training partners, Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp, sprung unto the stage and performed their well-known training/performative dance routine (a staple of Ratliff’s previous public Olympic workouts that had lead some to speculate that it would be competing in either the rhythmic gymnastics or synchronized swimming events). In these first few minutes of the event, the thought filtering through the audience was a palpable, “Oh my god. Connor has done it. He is going fulfill his, and now our collective, dream!”
This was before the rug was pulled out from almost everyone in the building.
After the workout/dance, the stage was cleared and a video began, in which Ratliff explained that he was unsuccessful in garnering a spot on an Olympic team or find any way to get to Rio and win any medal, much less a gold one. And then the announcement came: He would be spending the next for months running for the U.S. Presidency. Again.
The reaction for the audience could best be described as confused but supportive. Some felt betrayed yet amused. Others shocked and awed.
After a short interlude of a song by the multi-talented Mikey Erg and handshaking of the audience by the freshly announced candidate, Ratliff discussed his decision to again seek the highest office in the land. As it became more clear that his dream of Olympic gold was going to come to naught, he began to reflect that his failures in his 2012 presidential bid bore a striking resemblance to the struggles, and some say pluses, of one of the major party candidates. The most tangible being a perception in that Ratliff had tiny orange hands, in his case very small pumpkins. Perhaps the problem in 2012 was not with him but with the year. In the new election landscape of 2016, running as a novelty candidate is not only an acceptable path to the White House but one that appeals to many American voters.
Like many presidential hopefuls before him, Ratliff has written a book, “Connor Ratliff: Winning Isn’t Everything,” Although calling it a “book” may be an exaggeration as it is only 50 pages. (This could not be fact checked as I was not able to purchase it. I only had five dollar of cash on me and I wanted to buy a soda on my way home. As it turns out, there are no page numbers so it will take even deeper research to prove this claim. I am trying to get access to an early draft of it from an unnamed source close to Ratliff who was a top member of his 2012 staff.) What began as a send off to Rio became an announcement/book signing/campaign rally/press conference/political convention. It was a grand twist, an attention grabbing move…which turned out to be Ratliff’s platform for 2016. He had no intention of winning this year. In fact, he made it very clear that he was endorsing the Democratic candidate Secretary Hillary Clinton. No longer being able to run as a 35 year old, a promise he quickly broke four years ago, he is running for the simple goal of getting attention. As he pointed out, this year that simple desire seems to be enough.
Perhaps Ratliff should have let more of those close to him into his confidence. As the night continued, the people he brought to the stage quickly turned against him for various reasons, most of which can be summarized as feeling “betrayed.”
After Mikey Erg, Ratliff introduced Orlando Olier performing a character that Ratliff conceived to be used throughout the election: “Poor Donald.” At this point “Poor Donald” consists of Olier simply wearing what appears to be a bag of Sunshine Biscuit’s Cheez-It crackers strapped to the top of his head and speaking in Spanish. It is a move ripped from the playbook of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. Clinton had “Chicken George,” people dressed in a full chicken suits who would show up at President George Bush’s events to highlight Bush’s reluctance to commit to the debates. “Poor Donald” is clearly designed to goad the GOP’s candidate, business man and narcissistic racist Donald Trump. In theory, it is a well conceived plan as Trump has shown a dislike of Latinos and is very thin skinned when his wealth is questioned and has already shown evidence he would like to get out of the debates. At this point, however, the character seems to not be completely thought out. Or thought out beyond the barest of broadest strokes. But that too seems to mirror the entire Trump campaign, so Ratliff is probably onto something.
Olier, who worked on the previous campaign as LGBTQA and Latino outreach, appeared to be one of very few people Ratliff had informed of his planned announcement. But even he was in for a shock. As they brought out copies of the book to be sold and signed, Olier, who had clearly not seen a copy in advance, made the discovery that he had not been thanked by Ratliff in the acknowledgements. While Ratliff did have an umbrella statement thanking people he probably forgot, it became clear he had not thanked anyone involved in his previous campaign. He had only thanked those who had assisted in his now aborted Olympic bid.
The theme of betrayals and blindsides continued as the candidate brought to the stage his 2012 press secretary Langan Kingsley. Invited to the event by Ratliff but not informed that he was running again, she was clearly flustered by the erratic behavior of her former boss. Kingsley is however a consummate professional, to the point of have a press conference ready blazer close at hand. Even with zero chance to prepare, she bravely attempted to take questions from the audience, only to have to struggle against distraction caused by Ratliff selling and signing books while this was going on. In fact, the line of people to get books blocked a quarter of the audiences view of the stage — Ratliff was alienating a quarter of his most die hard supporters just mere minutes after announcing he was running.
One of the first questions was why the campaign had selected the hashtag #41presidentFUN. It came out that it will Ratliff’s in November but is currently completely inaccurate as he is only 40 years old. This led to Kingsley bringing up that in 2012 Ratliff repeatedly tried many different hastags, many of which her poorly thought out. Specifically mentioned was the hashtag created for his September 13, 2012, concert/campaign rally event: #concert. Ratliff decided that the hashtag for the Wednesday event should be #book. The “FUN” part of the hashtag was never addressed.
Kingsley was also not thanked in “Connor Ratliff: Winning Isn’t Everything.”
It also needs to be pointed out, that this is not the first time Kingsley has felt manipulated by Ratliff. In 2012, Ratliff convinced her to marry Olier, in a move to make Olier a citizen so he could vote and, more cynically, win the support of voters with a moving “love story.” As was brought up on Wednesday, the marriage also forced Olier “back into the closet” since he was and is openly gay. This may have been the first time the ex-couple has come face to face since their presumed divorce.
Perhaps in a move to change the narrative, Ratliff brought to the stage Gary Richardson. Richardson immediately had question for Ratliff regarding the book. He had the audience turn to Chapter 7 (hard to find because there are no page numbers), entitled “Experience.” The chapter consists of three not very long sentences, the last of which states that Ratliff is not a racist (a clear move to differentiate him from the other attention seeking candidate in the race). Richardson then had Ratliff read the acknowledgements, pointing out that the author did not thank one person of color. Richardson made the further accurate observation, that his supporters in attendance were, by a vast majority, white. By the end of the following discussion, the candidate stated, “I don’t think all lives matter.”
Jackson and Sharp returned to the stage. They may be the angriest of Ratliff’s circle and felt the greatest betrayal. After strenuous training for the last four years, something the candidate admitted he did not do, they were still under the assumption that they would be leaving for Rio on Friday. It was only at the event on Wednesday that they discovered Ratliff had not succeeded and did not intend to Brazil. Even at the top of event, they had performed the disjointed yet oddly beautiful workout dancey thing that Ratliff excels at. It was revealed that other members of the his Olympic training team were already in Rio and had been robbed, all due to Ratliff’s keeping his presidential run secret.
The evening ended with the required political convention balloon drop, although due to technical restrictions of the building was more of balloons dumped from garbage bags and then thrown at the audience.
All things considered, one would have to conclude that the event was vastly successful. A success in that Connor Ratliff did declare he was running for president and he released his book. And his supporters did appear to support his platform of giving him attention but also voting for Secretary Clinton in November, summarized best in the slogan “I’m With Her. Look At Me.” In most other way, it could be argued the event was disaster on the level of the GOP’s convention in Cleveland a few weeks ago. At the very base level, the event did not live up to being “Connor Ratliff’s Olympics Send-Off Spectacular!”…unless one things of it as Ratliff “sending off” his Olympic dreams.
The one thing you cannot do is underestimate Ratiff. In part because he has now set the bar so low. This is perhaps the greatest change from both his previous election bid and his Olympic attempt. Both of those were based on the belief by the candidate would win even in the face of every fact and nearly every person around him saying he wouldn’t. Even the title of his book, “Winning Isn’t Everything,” seems to be in direct contrast to his goals just last month, where only a gold medal would satisfy him. Whether this is a case of Ratliff waffling and flip-flopping or if it is a case him evolving his views will have to be seen. For someone who originally ran on the fact that he was as young as legally possible and still be President, we are perhaps seeing someone gaining the wisdom of experience and age.
As successful as his campaign launch was, Wednesday does leave a lot of questions that will need to be answered.
The book did brisk sales and appears to be popular with his supporters. One person at the event bought at least three copies. But it has not yet been thoroughly fact checked. Inaccuracies have already come to light. They were charging five dollars a copy when the cover clearly states in costs only three dollars. This was explained by Ratliff that he is “bad with numbers.” Does America want someone who is bad with numbers with their tiny pumpkin finger on The Button? The case can be made that he just needs to get number people on his staff. But if that is the case, where was Will Hines, Ratliff’s “numbers man” and “nerd” (according the Ratliff) from 2012?
The question of campaign staff unity is a big one. It is unclear if he has any staff at all beyond Olier who as expressed discontent mere moments into Wednesday night. Those close to Ratliff have been vocal with their frustration at the candidate. Most of his 2012 were not even on hand to show their support. This may have been just because they had no idea, but it may speak to bigger issues. Where was Will Hines, Kevin Hines, Nicole Drespel? Most glaringly absent was Ratliff’s old campaign manager who notoriously voted for Obama in 2012. There was also no announcement of a running mate. Will he go with someone to give more legitimacy to the ticket, like a John Kasich, or someone who will play to his platform of getting attention, like a an actor who played a reoccurring character from an late nineties sitcom?
Finances may also be a big problem. Trump and the RNC announced recently they raised $82 million in July, only slightly behind Clinton’s $90 million. While exact numbers are not known, on Wednesday Josh Sharp estimated at least two hundred dollars were made from book sales, but most of that would probably go directly back into the expense of printing the book. And one assumes the balloons. That is a lot of ground to make up in a short amount of time. He will need a mixture of small and big donors if he hopes to get his message out.
The biggest issue may be one that was barely alluded to on Wednesday. While one would assume Ratliff is running as an outsider, it has come to light that not only did he get the books shipped to Washington, D.C., but he spent at least three weeks in the nation’s capital leading up to Wednesday. Some sources have said he spent his time in D.C. on something akin to a “death panel.” Is this a sign that Ratliff is too far Inside the Beltway? In a year that one of the few things that seem to make Trump appealing is that he is completely removed from the system, Ratliff may have to face charges that he is now part of the Washington Elite. Even for someone who claims to not want any votes, will he be able to get be to come out and not vote for him in November if he is another “more of the same, in the pocket of big money” politician?
We do not yet now if Ratliff will come under attack by birds.