Monday, August 12, 2013

Is Ron Johnson Seriously Thinking about Running for President?

So Ron Johnson is spending the Dog Days of August in Iowa ... and probably not because he's planning on running for President, but because that's where the attention is.

Or is it?

If there's one very important detail, albeit one that's not exactly breaking news, to be emphasized in this story it's that Johnson's trip under the Americans for Prosperity banner. Johnson and AFP have always enjoyed strong ties and during his time in the Senate Johnson has sought to strengthen those ties, even dining with AFP's billionaire founder David Koch on one very public occasion during last year's RNC. Now, given the Brothers Koch and AFP's hyper-demonized reputation on the Left here in Wisconsin, it would be easy to make some snide remark about how Johnson is just a lackey doing the bidding on his pluotcrat overlord blah blah blah, but that would just undermine what is potentially a very real and very close working relationship between the two.

Here's what I mean by that: Johnson and Koch seem to share a similar libertarian worldview that prioritizes deregulation of private industry and dissolution of the social safety net, the consequence of which is much lower taxes across the board (but significantly so for those who already operate in the upper strata of the tax bracket). All else -- cultural issues, foreign policy, etc. -- run a distant second to core economic principles and really only get attention in so far they might intersect with the economy or can be used as political tools for achieving economic ends. The two men seem to possess similar temperaments developed over decades as manufacturers. It's a good bet that Koch and Johnson get along quite well and connect on a personal level.

Why is that important? Because Koch is the potential 800 pound Gorilla of political benefactors in the post-Citizens United Age. If David Koch wants to stop screwing around with his dozens of SuperPACs, thinks tanks, astroturf after-school clubs -- all of which have a spotty record of success, despite all the liberal handwringing -- and put his full weight and resources behind running an actual candidate for the White House, it's easy to see him lining up behind someone like Ron Johnson, possibly in an even more involved way than Sheldon Adelson was for Newt Gingrich in 2012.

And what's in it for Ron Johnson, aside from the possibility of becoming the most powerful man in the world?

For starters, it seems that running for the GOP presidential nomination is almost a negative-free proposition. Ron Paul went from idiosyncratic back-bencher Congressman to political cult icon after his runs for the White House. Mike Huckabee now runs a small media empire. Even Herman Cain got a talk show out of one of the most incompetently run Presidential campaigns in history. All have been embraced as martyrs to "the DC establishment" in some form or another. Ron Johnson thought getting into politics would give him a platform to share his ideas, but so far no one seems to be listening. That will change should he decide to run for the highest office in the land.  

(There are other more technical issues, most of which relate to the potential difficulties surrounding Johnson's 2016 re-election campaign. Maybe we'll get to those in another post.)

If Johnson did get into the 2016 ring, it would throw a very large wrench in the national ambitions of Governor Walker. Walker is clearly depending on Koch-allied money people to contribute to his White House bid in 2016 and if Johnson starts siphoning all that money away from Walker, then the Governor would go from "dark horse" to also-ran faster than you can say "Vegans Vandalize Butter Cow at State Fair." I'm sure there are a lot of phone calls being made from Scott Walker's camp today trying to gauge just what Johnson's intentions exactly are.

(We're still confident that Paul Ryan is not running President in 2016, so there's little point in speculating on how a possible Johnson run would impact a campaign that we simply don't believe will happen. It's far more interesting to ponder how Ryan would ally himself under such circumstances. Again, fodder for another post.)

Here's the thing: money doesn't win Iowa. The last two winners of the Iowa GOP caucus were underfunded, social conservatives who spent hundreds of man-hours press the fleshing in restaurants and living rooms from Dubuque to Sioux City. Johnson doesn't have much experience with that kind of intimate retail politics -- a better strategy for a possible Johnson Presidential run would be to essentially ignore Iowa and concentrate 80-90% of his time and resources on New Hampshire. 

Nevertheless, having the Koch imprimatur would immediately confer an avalanche of credibility on Johnson, especially among the Beltway horse race handicappers -- and that's the kind of attention Ron Johnson really craves.