Mark Shields: A good campaign is about the voters
The most recent Republican presidential debate from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library brought to mind one of my favorite anecdotes. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in April 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia, a train carrying his remains made the 700-mile trip back to Washington’s Union Station. From there, six white horses drew the caisson bearing the president’s casket through the thronged streets of Washington to the White House.
Along the route, the crowds, 20 deep, were openly grieving. One well-dressed man was obviously inconsolable, with tears streaming down his cheeks, and was approached by a radio reporter, who remarked on how sad the man was and asked: “Excuse me, sir. Did you know President Roosevelt personally?” “No,” the man answered softly, “I did not know President Roosevelt. But he knew me.”
A successful presidential campaign — like the four FDR, alone of all Americans, ran — which will enable the winner to lead the nation, is not about the candidate. A good campaign is about the voters, about their lives, about their futures and about the country.
At the Reagan Library debate, candidates spoke often about themselves and their marvelous individual achievements. Donald (“I’ve made billions and billions of dollars dealing with people all over the world”) Trump, who modestly admitted that he “built a phenomenal business with incredible, iconic assets” and that everything he’s “done, virtually, has been a tremendous success,” may have been the most extreme. But in employing forms of the first-person singular form — I, me, my, mine — Trump was by no means the debate exception.
In fact, one of the brighter moments of the debate occurred during a heated spar between Trump and the evening’s consensus medalist, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, over which one of them has a more successful — or more flawed — professional resume.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a man ordinarily not reluctant to tell you about his own accomplishments, interrupted: “While I’m as entertained as anyone by this personal back-and-forth about the history of Donald and Carly’s career — for the 55-year-old construction worker out in that audience tonight who doesn’t have a job, who can’t fund his child’s education, I got to tell you the truth. They (couldn’t) care less about your careers. They care about theirs.”
Christie was right. A campaign is not — and should not be — about the candidate. A campaign should be about the voters. Every presidential candidate, regardless of party, should think about the thousands of Americans who wept as FDR’s funeral cortege passed and strive to be able to answer the question voters ask: “Do you know who I am?”