A student of politics assesses Donald Trump

I got interested in politics, politicians and campaigns in 1960, when I was 15.  I got a chance to look Jack Kennedy in the eye, and shake his hand, and personally experience the most charismatic politician of my lifetime.  He smiled at me, and I’ve never forgotten it.

As a 31 year old lawyer in Alaska I worked on Reagan’s campaign in 1976, and did enough to get noticed.  Two years later I got a call from Bill McConkey, who was running the reelection campaign of incumbent Republican Governor Jay Hammond.  Bill was a professional political consultant from Illinois who the RNC had sent to Alaska in 1974 to run the campaign against Senator Mike Gravel.  Bill liked Alaska, and decided to stay.  Bill introduced me to Bob Clarke, a political hit man from Pennsylvania.

Bob did opposition research, and his specialty was political attacks based on what he’d found.  Bob and Bill wanted someone to attack former Governor Wally Hickel, Hammond’s principal opponent in the Republican primary.  Hickel had resigned the governorship when Nixon appointed him Secretary of the Interior.  They couldn’t make the attack directly, since it was just sheer speculation.  But they wanted someone to accuse Hickel of only running for Governor as a stepping stone to the Republican presidential nomination in 1980.

Hickel was the wealthiest man in the state, and spent his money lavishly on politics.  He was the most powerful force in the Republican Party of Alaska, and he fancied himself a tough guy.  He’d boxed back in Kansas, and thought he was one mean hombre.  He was vicious, vengeful son of a bitch, and whoever made that accusation would be on his hit list for the rest of his life.

Bob said he wanted me to be chairman of Hands for Hammond, a volunteer oganization, unconnected to the campaign.  I asked him how can I be chairman of a non-existent group, and Bob said that wasn’t really a problem.

I knew enough about Hickel to know that he was a guy I’d have to take on eventually, so why not get started with a bang?   Bob wrote a press release where I made this accusation, and an Anchorage Daily News reporter asked Hickel for a reaction.  Hickel blew up, and his over the top reaction allowed the Daily News to make a big story out of it.

Ten days later Hammond beat Hickel by 98 votes.  My little hit job might have made the difference.

So for the last 42 years I’ve looked at and practiced politics through the eyes of my mentors, Bill McConkey and Bob Clarke, both of whom became dear friends, among my best in Alaska.  They taught me everything they knew about politics, and they knew a lot.

So I say this as an old political pro. A Trump campaign is like no other in political history.  It’s a campaign of, by and for Donald Trump, and it’s absolutely brilliant.   He is a virtuoso politician.



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