If you are thinking of running for office, the most important part of that decision is the “why” of what you are doing. Make sure your reasons are clear and unambiguous.
It is hard enough to take on this challenge if you have a strong reason and your spouse is on board. If you are running for ego or ambition, it will destroy your family and hurt the people you love. There are few things that could be worse than to lose an election after sacrificing your most precious relationships in the process. The grind of the campaign is harder on your family than just about any other endeavor you can undertake, including the separation of military deployments.
For those who have served in the military and been through the hardship of deployments, it is important to understand the difference. Unlike military deployments, your scheduling and the decision to leave the house in the evening to campaign is entirely YOURS. While spouses willingly accepted the interruption of their careers and the lonely nights of deployments with the constant supervision of the children and household while you were gone, there was generally an acceptance of the sacrifices because there was a shared hardship. But when you leave the house most days and nights over the course of a year or more to attend dinners, fun runs, fairs, and party events to make speeches and shake hands, the concept of shared sacrifice is much harder for your spouse to see.
For those who are coming out of military service, throw into that mix the reduction in income while you are campaigning, the loss of privacy for your family, the attacks on your integrity, and the sudden personal attacks against you, and even your spouse. There are major adjustments you and your family must make. While in uniform, most people assume you are a person of integrity whose family makes great sacrifices on their behalf — and they will tell you so. Once you put on a sport jacket or suit and start campaigning, many people automatically assume that you are lying scumbag who will say anything to get a vote and only wants to live high on the hog on the taxpayer’s dime – and they will tell you so.
On top of that assumption, understand that the opposition has people whose sole function in life is to get under your skin, make you look dishonest, mean, and stupid. The bigger the threat you are, the more underhanded they will become, even to the point of paying people to stalk you and your family. They will use the pieces of the truth to give their narrative validity. (Look at what happened to General Petraeus – he was not only a threat to the Obama story on Benghazi, but also the biggest threat to Hillary’s candidacy for President in 2016.)
Because I had not lived in the area when I left active duty to begin my congressional race John Murtha in Pennsylvania, I was vulnerable to the “carpetbagger” label. But I knew I had hit the big time when Murtha brought in Bill Clinton to call me one. In the final days of the campaign Murtha ran commercials falsely accusing me of stealing $185,000 from my campaign and also mailed out flyers stating I did not live in Johnstown. Of course, the flyers I received were addressed to my home address in Johnstown.
But if you have something you see clearly and believe in very deeply, and your family is willing to make the financial and emotional sacrifices to fight for it, you can have a huge impact whether you win or lose.
Knowing and understanding your “why” will help you achieve milestone victories, even if the vote counts don’t go your way on election day. I obviously did not win the election of 2008. The fact that the vote totals against the 34 year incumbent (in the year of Democratic sweeps) were better than anyone had done in the previous 30 years, was not something to hang one’s hat on. The real victory was brought about on April 8, 2008 when my candidacy effectively silenced the leading critic of the Iraq War at the height of the “Surge.”
On April 8, 2008, General Petraeus was testifying on Capitol Hill. There was a huge push to end the Surge by Democratic leaders. Harry Reid declared the war in Iraq as “lost,” MOVEON.ORG had just run the General “Betrayus” advertisement, and Senator Hillary Clinton had just called the General a liar. Speaker of the House Pelosi was constantly shadowed by John Murtha, who was touted as the “combat Marine” who was speaking out against the war in Iraq and accusing the Haditha Marines of “murdering civilians in cold blood.”
In a chance interview on FOXNEWS Happing Now, I was able to effectively paint John Murtha as putting the United States Congress stamp of approval on enemy propaganda (Watch the Interview). From that moment on, John Murtha did not publicly discuss the war in Iraq, nor the Haditha Marines unless he was specifically asked. He stayed essentially silent on the issue until his final interview the week before his death in February 2010.
This chance interview, even though it did not any play beyond its original broadcast, had a huge impact on the political debate surrounding the war in Iraq.
Another big impact of the campaign against Murtha was that it forced him to campaign for the first time in over 30 years. Murtha’s seat was considered ultra safe, and he was always able to donate his campaign funds to other struggling congressional candidates. Not so in 2008. He had to spend over $1million in the final days of the campaign and required massive assistance from the Democratic National Committee to save his seat. These were resources which could have turned other Republican seats to Democratic seats.
While I was not successful on election night of 2008, the national attention of the campaign, the easily disprovable lies that Murtha told, and the fundraising success my team had, set us up to win in 2010.
Unfortunately, Murtha passed away in February 2010, completely altering the political landscape and requiring a special election. This gave control of the situation to Murtha’s political and financial allies in the Pennsylvania Republican Committee, with whom I did not enjoy any favor. I addressed the outcome of the 2010 elections in Pennsylvania Political Corruption 101: The Legacy of Murtha and Gleason. The Chair of the Pennsylvania Republican Committee, Robert Gleason, withdrew his name from the running for the Republican National Committee Chairmanship within 15 hours of the publication of this article — another milestone of my political career.
Knowing “why” I was in the race made all the difference. Here is how I explained my ”why” on my website when I left active duty with the Army and moved to Pennsylvania as I began my run against John Murtha in Pennsylvania in 2007:
“In my military career I have served six tours in hostile fire zones including Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the Balkans. These tours include almost three years in the Middle East (Iraq and Saudi Arabia) and a year and a half in the Balkans (Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia,& Hungary). My wife, Kasia, who was pregnant with our son at the time, and I were also in the Pentagon on 9/11.
I grew up in the shadow of the US defeat in Vietnam. On an intellectual level, I have long understood that a war may be lost politically, in spite of military victories. On the emotional level, I came face to face with this and made the decision to make this run last March when I had the opportunity to meet with some of our Wounded Warriors during their visit to the Pentagon. I have always been impressed by the spirit and good cheer of so many of these wounded heroes but also understand the sullen responses from some. Seeing these Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen with missing and shattered limbs, two with missing eyes and wounded faces, I found myself wiping away the tears as I walked back to my office. I was both sadden and angered that the sacrifices these brave service men and women, like the others I have served with in combat, make for this country and the thought of how they are betrayed by politicians such as John Murtha.
There is no politician who has done more damage to the United States in the Global War on Terror than Congressman Murtha. His actions, whether resulting from incompetence, corruption, or cowardice, have done more to lead us toward political defeat in this war than the enemy could ever hope to accomplish by their own devices. Congressman Murtha’s calls for withdrawal of our forces and limiting the authority of the Commander-in-Chief in executing this war, plays directly into the hands of our enemy. He is undermining our Soldiers in the fight and encourages the enemy to kill or maim a few more of our Soldiers and kill large numbers of Iraqi civilians on a weekly basis. The Islamic extremists, just like the communists in Vietnam, see his weakness of political resolve as the reason to keep fighting in spite of their military losses. He must be replaced with a candidate who understands the importance of an integrated political, military, and economic strategy that does not pit political ends against military and economic, but synchronizes and orchestrates them with the recognition of the imperative to achieve the victory that this war demands for the safety of our children and grandchildren.
I am entering this race because I believe it is imperative to our nation’s security and its future. The small economic sacrifice of leaving a secure, well-paying job, two years short of a guaranteed pension with health care for life, is nothing in comparison to the sacrifices of our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen who are on extended tours in active contact with an enemy and who are being undermined by politicians who are too corrupt, cowardly, or incompetent to recognize the nature of the war we are in. Surrender on the political, military, and economic fronts is not an option.”
One might ask if the monetary and emotional cost to my family was worth the run. In the end, we were able to hold one of the most corrupt politicians in American history accountable for undermining the military men and women serving in harm’s way on our behalf. By silencing the leading Democratic foil promoting premature withdrawal from Iraq, we were able to help prevent a Vietnam style political loss of the war and the Sunni–Shia genocide which surely would have followed – and made the killing fields of Cambodia pale in comparison. As a family we can say it was well worth the costs.*
*When I initially wrote this article in 2012, ISIS had not yet emerged from the destabilization caused by the vacuum of Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq and undermining of regimes across the Middle East. There is no question of the brutality and intent of ISIS. As of now (September 4, 2014), it is simply a question of numbers as to when they will match the killing fields of Cambodia.
KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE
Sit down and write what you truly believe in. Make it principle centered instead of policy centered. This will help you craft policy positions based on them. It will help you to address issues as they arise and give you a framework of analysis and clarity of thought and reason in addressing them. It will help you to articulate your thoughts on the issues and to speak from a principled stand point, even when all the specifics of an issue are undefined. Here is one of the first entries I put on my website to explain what I believe. It survived the test of professional vetting and was the foundation from which all of my policy positions sprang. It was perhaps the most quoted of my statements.
“I am a Conservative.
I believe in the sovereignty and security of this one nation, under God. I believe the primary role of government is to provide for the common defense and provide a legal framework which protects families and individual liberty. I believe in rugged individualism because individuals can make far better choices than government imposed solutions in providing for their families, protecting their households, choosing their doctors and health care plans, and deciding which teachers and schools are best for their children. I believe prosperity is best ensured by what Adam Smith called the “invisible hand” of a natural, price driven economy.
I believe that we have the responsibility and obligation to control our borders and determine who is allowed to live and work in our country.
I believe that families are the foundation stone upon which all truly great societies are built. I believe that imposed systems of wealth redistribution destroy families, produce a culture of dependence, and hurt everyone. I believe in the sanctity of life and that life begins at conception. I believe in marriage between one man and one woman, that children should always be loved and sometimes be disciplined, and that all children in our school systems should be educated in English and taught the civic duties and responsibilities of citizenship and patriotism.
I believe in private property rights and that the death tax should be killed. I believe the Consumption or Fair Tax is the best and most equitable means to ensure all persons who participate in our economy, legally or illegally, pay their fair share and to reward those who build business or save and invest their money.
I believe in the right to bear arms and the right of self defense. Gun control and gun free zones only ensure the victims are unarmed.
I believe that no one owes me anything just because I live and breathe. I believe we should all practice charity in some form or fashion, especially to those who are suffering and least fortunate, but it must be voluntary and spring from a spirit of altruism and love for your neighbor.
Finally, I believe there is room to acknowledge the role of our Creator in public life as stated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.”