By Richard Barry / 04.10.2016
Before a politician is ready to announce plans to run for a given office, he or she must find creative ways to say no without that declaration creating difficulties should the answer eventually become yes. I happen to be reading the David Axelrod autobiography (Believer: My Forty Years in Politics) in which he discusses Barack Obama’s statements to Tim Russert that basically signal his intentions to at least seriously consider a run for the presidency when months before he stated unequivocally to Russert that he had no such intentions.
The words Obama used are instructive because they are, with some modification, what any well trained politician might say when asked to explain a change in position and his or her current thinking about possibly running.
“Well, that is how I was thinking at the time,” Obama said. “And, and, you know, I don’t want to be coy about this, given the responses I’ve been getting over the past several months, I have thought about the possibility. But I have not thought about it with the seriousness and depth that I think is required. My main focus right now is …”
The key messages, as communications experts call them, are that the politician in question is not considering seeking higher office for anything as crass as personal ambition, but because of the “responses” and encouragement coming from good people. Thus, serious consideration may be required because it would disrespectful of the opinion of those encouraging a run. And finally, if the potential candidate is not ready to pull the trigger definitively, a nod to his or her “main focus right now” is obligatory.
The main focus might be the interests of constituents, should he or she be a current office holder, or the business of a legislative body, should he be, say, the Speaker of the House. Anyway, it’s a throwaway line, but almost always used under these circumstances.
So, Paul Ryan.
Of course it is premature for him to express any interest in the presidency, but should that time come, he will need to craft messages much like then-candidate Obama’s. I look forward to hearing them if and when they are made. And, for the doubters, the possibility that he is positioning himself for a contested convention and an appeal by his party to save the day is hardly unrealistic, as a recent ad released by Ryan makes clear.
In the video, called “Politics These Days,” Ryan indicates that he is very disappointed with the polarized state of American politics, and that “What really bothers me the most about politics these days is this notion of identity politics: that we’re going to win an election by dividing people, rather than inspiring people.”
In an obvious critique of Donald Trump, Ryan also says,”So let’s have a battle of ideas. Let’s have a contest of whose ideas are better and why our ideas are better,” all over the kind of music and imagery one would expect of one running for the top job.
Lot of commentary this past week about how much this one looks like a campaign ad, because it does.
Frankly, there are as many reasons to assume Paul Ryan would allow himself to be drafted as reasons that he would not. My guess is that this ad is simply Ryan, who tries very hard to present himself as a grown-up boy scout, preparing for the possibility.
If things turn that way, as I have said, I will enjoy his particular take on explaining the pivot. I can almost write his speaking points now.