When I cofounded Americans Elect during the 2012 election cycle, we set out to offer the American people a third choice for the presidency. Unlike this 2016 contest, what developed during that 2012 presidential race were two candidates--incumbent President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney--who satisfied the national palate for serious and thoughtful discussion about where our country was going. Despite the efforts of thousands of people over three years, there was no emergent reason during that cycle for the Americans Elect ticket. We offered no better candidate alternative and therefore shut it all down in April of that year.
As we all know, 2016 is different. Yes time is short, but this is a year of unprecedented dissatisfaction with the two party candidates. There is still an operational and viable pathway for a leader with honesty and integrity, which would provide the opportunity to compete in nearly all states and for substantially all votes in the Electoral College. There is a legal theory and plan to get the rest.
This year is filled with the usual hot rhetoric and confusion of any election, but it also has more consequential elements. What concerns me and the majority of Americans most is that this race is increasingly being defined not by greatness, but instead by minimums. In this presidential season, we are collectively lowering our expectations and standards for our next president. This is a monumental mistake during this time of national challenge.
That is why this week I am joining as a senior advisor to a new organization called Better for America. Led by John Kingston, this is a collection of seasoned Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. They are serious and committed hands from the orbits of Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, Jerry Brown, Americans Elect, and other significant political campaigns of the past 30 years. We have legal scholars, technologists and data scientists, experts in obtaining access to state ballots, communications, and fundraising. Our growing ranks contain leaders from nonprofits, corporations, academia, the military, and elected life. This team is building a pathway for an independent candidate to launch a presidential run through conventional ballot access measures and constitutional legal challenges to unduly restrictive state ballot requirements.
We believe the American presidency still matters. Our goal is to keep the door open for someone better. Our leader must be worthy, prepared, and ethically and morally up to the task. Our two choices are found wanting. For Donald Trump, the minimum requirement is that for a one-day news cycle, he coherently lay out unacceptable policies without stepping on his own message with something more ridiculous. For Hillary Clinton, it requires accepting that her impressive and extensive lifetime of public service outweighs her self-created scandals and penchant for conflicts of interest.
More than fifty percent of Americans say they don’t trust or like Clinton. And seventy percent of Americans polled say the more they see Trump, the more they know he is unfit to be our president. More than 60% of voters say neither Clinton nor Trump identify with their values. Richard Armitage and Hank Paulson are making reasoned statements as to why they now reject Trump and are tacitly endorsing Clinton. George Will has left the Republican Party in protest. High, low, and in between, Americans are being shoehorned into accepting a minimum president.
At Better For America, substantive conversations are happening with potential candidates whose national reach and name recognition, level of experience, and preparedness make them electable. The great ones all want to believe that the answer cannot possibly be them running. They are humble--a useful quality in a potential president--and pray something soon happens to fix this problem.
I believe this year it is possible that one leader with stature will be presented with what I call the “burning house test.” These would be the kind of great Americans we admire for doing big things in politics, business, and public service. Michael Bloomberg, Robert Gates, Romney, Howard Schultz, Fred Smith, Admiral Jim Stavridis, and Meg Whitman, to give a few examples. If any of these leaders came upon a house on fire, and there were children inside, I believe each would drop fear, commit the selfless act, and run inside. Unfortunately, to the great ones, there is no logic in joining the race today because they want to believe that America can survive this time and that our house is not yet engulfed in flames. So they wait.
My burning house is this election. We are presented with no option most Americans can fully support with confidence. The candidate from one side represents the total insider who perpetuates an untenable status quo. In the other camp, a newcomer who with malice of forethought, a lack of intellectualism, and pure disregard for facts is poised to torch the Constitution and our other most cherished institutions. Both candidates lower our expectations for presidential leadership, and as they attack each other, neither are inspiring us to be great.
Better For America is keeping the pathway open for one selfless American to step forward to both up the ante and douse these flames.
Editor's note: This column originally published in The Hill and has been modified slightly for publication on IVN.