Of Jack Kemp, Small Businesses, and a Republican Resignation
First, you sent me Sarah Palin. Then, you created a process and vetted a bench of candidates that led to Donald Trump as the nominee. I have had enough. I am out.
After a lifetime spent supporting the Republican party and the ideas it once stood for, I have checked the box on the Election Commission form in my home state of New Jersey that reads: “I, being a registered voter at the address listed below, do hereby declare that I do not want to be affiliated with any political party or group.”
As a child of the 1980s, Ronald Reagan captivated me and I identified with his message that personal responsibility trumps anything Government can do.
When Bill Clinton won the Presidency in 1992, I remember a feeling of envy and political emptiness. I was concerned that people whose view of the world and the role of Government were so deeply at odds with my own would now hold the most powerful political office in the world. Clinton’s young and energized campaign team, led by his then spokesman George Stephanopoulos made me see myself as a potential contributor to a winning Republican Presidential campaign.
That winter, I found myself invited to a post-election event held by the conservative think tank “Empower America.” Coming from a family with no natural political connections, I felt like a real Washington insider. It was a rush. The event was a public lament for the Republican loss and a conversation about what it would take to lead the country again. Economics, the important role of small business, and globalization were discussed. It was just the sort of room in which a young political novice could find himself in Washington — one where you naively begin to believe you can make a difference and play a role.
The keynote speaker that day was Jack Kemp, a man who had inspired me throughout my college years. The former Congressman from Buffalo and Secretary of HUD under President Bush (41) was surrounded by dozens of reporters and cameras. He had already been labeled the likely 1996 Presidential nominee who would take back the White House from Clinton.
Kemp took to the stage. For thirty-plus minutes, he spoke of everything from the character of Abraham Lincoln to monetary policy in a globalizing world. His words and ideas were intoxicating. He discussed the role of repressive taxes on emerging small business owners and boldly shared a vision of hope, empowerment, inclusion, and an “ownership society.” He painted a picture of Government as an engine that could play a compassionate role to support the private sector’s much bigger role, noting how agility, accountability, incentive for financial outcomes, and innovation occur far more inside companies than they ever can inside sprawling and risk-averse government bureaucracy.
I could not believe my luck when, after his speech, Kemp sat down next to me in the second row. I passed him a quickly scrawled note to ask what a young conservative should read. He suggested a few books on economics and signed the paper “JK.” I shook his hand and said, “Thank you.” To this day, I still have the note we passed back and forth.
Just over a year after that event, Kemp announced he would not seek the 1996 Republican nomination. I read the Washington Post article during my lunch break at a Georgetown restaurant where I waited tables. Tears welled in my eyes as the reality set in, and I learned a harsh lesson: falling in love with a politician is a dangerous thing — something young Bernie Sanders supporters are experiencing today. When asked why he would not run, Kemp said simply, “My passion for ideas is not matched with a passion for partisan or electoral politics.”
Kemp never held office again, though he did end up running as the Vice Presidential Candidate in 1996. Many of his ideas never came to be, but he inspired me with a core set of beliefs and his command of global events, which offered a renewed promise that the Republican Party would always flourish because it simply has better ideas. Yet no politician put forth by the Republican Party since Jack Kemp has moved me as much as he did. I have longed for a candidate with Kemp’s passion, energy, compassion, command of language, and big policy ideas.
Now, instead, we find ourselves with Donald Trump as the nominee. Inevitably, I have compared Jack Kemp and Donald Trump, and the juxtaposition is staggering. Kemp spoke of compassion and inclusivity, while Trump plays on people’s fear and preaches greater division. Kemp had big ideas about making the country more than it could imagine, while Trump “tweets” to Kim Kardashian and speaks with bravado and superlatives. And while Kemp had a commanding sense of global events and the power of markets, Donald Trump’s internal compass points incessantly to his own gut feelings. Trump knows nothing of statecraft and has no sense of history or the transcendent age we so painfully find ourselves living through. In a single word, Donald Trump is dangerous.
As the Republican Party loses voters like me — and I am far from alone in my opinions of Donald Trump — then there is a big, big problem for the party. Since meeting Jack Kemp, I have campaigned for Republican candidates. I have volunteered at two National Conventions. I have donated money. And for several years in the nineties, I spoke on an emerging cable television show to defend the core ideology of the party as I had first learned it from President Reagan.
I have not yet served in office or thrown my name in as a candidate. Rather, four years ago, I founded a company and created jobs. Small business owners make or break the economy every year. Now, I am one of them. It would be fascinating to watch every single politician (liberal and conservative) try for just one year to find the funding and actually run a small business. It takes far more than courage; it takes everything you’ve got. To politicians who defend all the government does and claim it should be further expanded, I suggest you try running and sustaining a small business. It will reset your entire relationship with the role of government, I can assure you.
I will vote for President this fall — but never for Donald Trump. My beliefs remain intact, supported by my own life experiences that now far surpass the emotional draw I once found in the Republican Party. Shortly after I cast my vote, I will get back in my car and drive to work. Once there, I will be reminded of all it takes to run a small business, deal with massive uncertainty, and have the courage to lead, and I will, as the British say, “get on with it.” I know Jack Kemp would see nobility in that. I certainly do.