I’ll always remember 2016 as the year I fell back in love with politics. I was watching the Republican Primary unfold and really rooting for a contested convention. A contested convention sounded exciting! If there had been a contested convention I don’t think this book would have happened. If there had been a contested convention, I would have simply stocked my house with popcorn and milk duds to watch the show unfold. But by early June when Donald Trump’s last remaining challengers bowed out, the political landscape once again looked predictable, and boring.
Bernie Sanders was still in the race for the Democratic nomination, but the outcome of that primary race seemed determined a long time ago. The 2016 Presidential Election would come down to Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton, two highly unpopular and very polarizing candidates. Trump would accuse Hillary of being crooked and poke her for being asleep at the wheel when our national security was at risk. Hillary would say that Trump was unstable and an egomaniac.
I’ve been following politics all my life. The first presidential election I remember taking a real interest in was 1992. That was the year Ross Perot got in the race and Bill Clinton ended up defeating incumbent George H. W. Bush. My earliest “political” memory is from 1989 when I watched the Berlin Wall come down on TV with my dad. I remember him saying, “I never thought I’d see this is my lifetime.” I was nine years old.
By my early highschool years I was becoming a political junkie. Two books I remember being important to me at this time were Active Faith by Ralph Reed and The Way Things Ought to Be by Rush Limbaugh. By my junior year I was writing a political column for the school paper and I endorsed Bob Dole over Bill Clinton in 1996. I adored Ronald Reagan. My senior year of high school, writing a paper on Reagan for an American Studies course, I came across an article in Newsweek about how a conservative organization had just bought Reagan’s former home in the mountains outside of Santa Barbara and planned to use the ranch as a training ground for raising up future generations of Reaganites. I said to myself, “I’m going to work there someday.”
I went to college at Indiana Wesleyan University. At the time, the campus could have been divided into three groups politically. Probably 50% of the campus thought about like I did politically, even if they were not as passionate as me. We were conservatives and Republicans. Roughly 15% of the campus were liberals or Democrats and were led by a guy named Shaun Marshall, who I am still friends with to this day. The remaining 35% were just waiting for Jesus to come back.
In college I landed internships at the Reagan Ranch. Even though my school was largely conservative, I became a conservative campus activist and hosted Dinesh D’Souza, Star Parker, and Oliver North on my campus. I graduated early and at 21-years-old I took a job at the Reagan Ranch. I worked in major gifts fundraising and would sit in the homes of well-to-do Republicans and show them a face of what could be if they gave enough money to expose more young people to the legacy of Ronald Reagan.
By the time I was 30-years-old, I was a candidate for United States Congress. I ran as a Reagan Republican and worked the line at Tea Party rallies. I lost my election and came away feeling disillusioned with politics. I remember going door-to-door one Saturday afternoon. I was running in a Republican primary so only knocking on the doors of registered Republicans. I knocked on one door and introduced myself and the man took my brochure. He looked at it and said, “I already voted by mail,” then, studying my brochure he said, “I can’t remember if I voted for you or not.”
This is how our elections are determined, I thought. By people who can’t even remember who they voted for.
After that campaign, I was done with politics. This was a very important period of my life even though I know many people thought I was floundering. After my campaign I was out of money and didn’t know what I was going to do next with my career. In a period of two months I went from being a rising political star and candidate for Congress to moving my wife and two young children into my in-laws’ garage.
Over the next few years I did a lot of things. I became a rep for a credit card processing company. Let me tell you, that’s some unglamorous work. My wife and I got involved in a lot of different businesses. I started blogging on family travel, skiing, and lifestyle design. We moved from Santa Barbara to Lake Tahoe. Took our two kids on a shoestring trip through Central America. I’d figured out a niche as a fundraising consultant and was starting to do pretty well. My wife and I had a third kid. We took off to Thailand for three months.
I got out of the echo chamber. My whole life I’d really only been friends with conservative, Christian, Republicans. Now, when I opened Facebook, I saw that my friends represented a broad swath of political and religious views. Even if I did not agree with these views, I could not so easily dismiss them. I loved and respected many of these people. I recognized that they were smart, thoughtful people. They weren’t trying to “destroy America.” They just looked at the world through a different lens, and I wanted to better understand how they saw the world.
In time, my own political views shifted. Single-payer healthcare is something I was once staunchly against and as a candidate for Congress I pledged to repeal Obamacare. Now I think single-payer healthcare may not be such a bad idea. I’ve used the hash-tag #BlackLivesMatter. I don’t think my views have shifted as much as some of my old friends on the Right think they have. My economists are von Mises, Hayek, Friedman. My tone has definitely shifted, and having seen my own positions change on issues I am more open to people who think differently than me.
I don’t feel like my political views neatly fit within any political party. I’m a little complicated. Earlier this year I switched my party registration from Republican to Libertarian, but there are lots of things I don’t agree with Libertarians on and I may be the only registered Libertarian out there who’ll tell you single-payer healthcare may be worth a shot.
But there I was in June looking at Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Were these really the only two viable choices for president?
Gary Johnson was the Libertarian candidate for president. He was the former two-term governor of New Mexico. He was a Republican Governor in a Democratic state. I looked at the Electoral Map and wondered what would happen if Hillary and Trump basically split the Electoral Map and all Johnson did was win New Mexico. I added up the electoral votes. Whoa, I thought.
I had no idea what would happen if nobody hit 270 electoral votes. I quickly educated myself and pretty soon everywhere I went I was telling people about this hypothetical story. Gary Johnson could win the presidency. If he gets to 15% he’ll be in the presidential debates with Hillary and Trump and who knows what happens. But he does not even have to do that. If he could win five measly electoral votes, we could see something happen that has not happened in almost 200 years.
I obsessed over the story. Backdoor to the White House is the story. In a span of 70 days this went from an idea hatched over a few beers to a book you can hold in your hands.
I hope you like the story.