Trahant Reports: Dean, Sanders Show Campaigns Should Be about Ideas, Not Pizzazz

Twelve years ago, Howard Dean showed that campaigns should be driven by policy, not personality. Bernie Sanders does the same thing through his proposal to fully fund the Indian Health Service. On the Republican side, could there be a single-state strategy to the White House?

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Tuesday night I was driving across Montana trying to listen to election returns from the March 15 primary. The radio faded in and out. My cell phone apps worked until I lost a signal. Then silence. And a memory.

A dozen years ago I was editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s editorial page and Howard Dean, another insurgent candidate, was fading fast. It was February 2004. We we had a meeting set with Dean to consider endorsing him. But the math was already impossible; there was no way Dean could win enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination.

Still, the governor showed up to meet with us. He came alone, no entourage, no security, just Howard.

It was one of the best candidate editorial boards ever. Dean was frank. He talked about what worked in his campaign and where he fell short. He talked about ideas and what it would take to make the country a better place.

A few days later, Dean formally suspended his campaign. We wrote: “Dean’s movement makes politics fun. Early on, Howard Dean invigorated the presidential campaign. He did it again Wednesday, stepping aside gracefully and rallying his supporters to keep working for change.”

And it’s that change that is so important.

Over the past couple of weeks Bernie Sanders has raised Indian Country issues to a higher level. His most recent campaign document, for example, calls for fully funding the Indian Health Service. That is unprecedented. Fully funded. To me that means investing as much money as the federal government spends on its own employees, a budget that’s two or three times larger than the one now. Fully funded. That is stunning. Inspiring. And, ultimately, it’s a demand to have the United States finally live up to its treaty obligations.

The American-style of politics is all too often focuses on people, not policies. But it’s the policy goals — yes, even full funding for Indian health — that we need to keep working to make so.  No matter who carries that message forward.

Republicans are having their own policy debate. As I have said before, there are really two, possibly three, distinct policy agendas for what used to be the Republican Party. Donald Trump represents a populism that is more about his personality and anger than traditional conservative thinking. But it might be too late to stop Trump from winning the party nomination.  So a number of conservatives are seeking counsel from House Speaker Paul Ryan about a convention bid or a third-party run. The new development is that Ryan is not saying “no.” Only, “we’ll see.”  As I pointed out in this piece, Ryan has a path to the presidency by winning a single state.

That could happen if Congress, not the people, elect the next president. And that makes Montana’s election all that more important. Montana has a single seat and if the 12th Amendment goes into effect that one vote could make a huge difference.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports.

 

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