It’s a normal day during Reading Period at UChicago (read here for more on previous reading periods!), which naturally means that we were visited by a presidential candidate. Martin O’Malley came and spoke on campus. I thought it would be interesting for me to write about some of the things he spoke about because it’s not like he’s getting that much media attention these days. He recently met with House Democrats to implore them to let him be their “second choice.” Ouch.
He started off his talk by letting people know that “if you all weren’t here I’d have no one to talk to!” From there, he gave several indications of the extent to which he views the difficulties that face him. He described his campaign as “uphill,” which is obviously true, but the fact that he recognizes that means his head isn’t totally in the clouds. He also referenced previous longshot campaigns, including his own previous campaigns. He had run fun State Senate a while ago in Maryland, against an incumbent that he described as extremely powerful. He was so powerful at the time, that his then-girlfriend (and now wife) said that his opponent will “beat you like a drum.” O’Malley managed to lose by 22 votes in the end, after absentee ballots had been counted. As an aside, this reminded me of the circumstances of now-Governor Larry Hogan’s almost victory of Congressman Steny Hoyer in 1992, where he was ahead when he went to sleep, but lost when all the votes had been counted overnight.
After losing the State Senate election, he eventually decided to run for City Council in Baltimore and then Mayor. At one point, “with 88 days out, I was a first choice of a whopping 7% of my neighbors, and that’s when I knew I had ‘em.”
7 seems to have a particular significance for O’Malley, who claimed that he is now at 7% in the polls, “which, by the way, is a 700,000% improval from four weeks ago,” before the most recent Democratic debate. However, the 7% is actually a significant inflation of his poll numbers, which are actually averaging about half that. Maybe he was referring to the poll that had him at 7% with Democrats…in Maryland. That has to hurt. So does the fact that Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by pretty much every major Democrat in Maryland (including Barbara Mikulski, for whom he was a field director in 1986), the state he helmed for almost a decade. At one point a few months ago in the race, Jay Leno gave O’Malley a shoutout for being tied with two percent milk in the polls.
In an attempt to demonstrate that his quest for the presidency is not without precedent, he spoke about taking a semester off in college to work for an underdog in Iowa named Gary Hart, who had been declared politically dead three times. Walter Mondale was the “inevitable frontrunner,” and John Glenn “drew all the crowds,” yet he worked for Hart, who ultimately…did not win the nomination and never became president. That’s probably not the best analogy to use. However, it definitely was a dig at this cycle’s inevitable frontrunner and the candidate that draws all the crowds.
He also told the crowd that “I really need you guys” to be Delegates to the DNC for him in Illinois. I’m running to be an Alternate Delegate for Marco Rubio, and we’ve had a full slate in Illinois for weeks, so maybe that makes me think that he’s coming to this a little late in the game, but I could be wrong. His campaign was ready to have everyone in the room sign petitions to get him on the ballot. If this had not been the case, that would have been pretty pathetic. I’ve learned in the past few weeks that Illinois has ridiculously high thresholds for getting on the ballot (in 2012, Mitt Romney almost didn’t qualify in the primary). His pitch for people to sign them was that it is not a commitment to vote for him and that “it would be a great poverty for there to be two choices in the Democratic Primary. So now you can have three!” This is almost an anathema for me to hear given how many Republicans are running. Towards the end, he reminded everyone there to sign them, “or the fun can’t go on!”
Turning specifically to this cycle’s primary, O’Malley criticized his primary opponents a lot more than I had been expecting, explicitly and implicitly. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he says that the two most popular things he is told as he goes around the country is that people want “new leadership” and someone who can “get things done.” Hillary is clearly not new leadership and Sanders is more known for huge crowds than getting things done. He also said that “I am not a former independent, I am not a former socialist.” I can’t remember if he also added that he is not a former Republican (remember that Hillary was a Goldwater Girl and, like yours truly, President of College Republicans back in the day).
Like Clinton, he also attacked Sanders on voting to give gun manufacturers immunity directly, and immediately after said that “Secretary Clinton tends to shift like a weather vane,” depending on the polls. This is really a straightforward statement, but I wasn’t expecting to hear it from him.
On the Republican side, he repeated his go-to line about the “racist carnival barking immigrant bashing Donald Trump,” and when asked which Republicans he would most and least like to go up against said “I would most like to square off Donald Trump, I believe the most challenging [opponent] would be someone who had governed before. People are looking for a governor, governors led us through WWII, governors bring us together. I would love to run against Donald Trump, that would make my ancestors proud.”
He also said some things about policy that I thought were interesting. Although O’Malley has supported repealing the Cadillac tax, he did say both that “there are many things that need to be improved upon in the Affordable Care Act” and that “there are some things we need to do a lot better on the Affordable Care Act.” What amused me the most about his discussion of Obamacare was when one of the College Republicans in the audience asked about his dad, who runs a small business. He explained that due to Obamacare, his dad spends countless more hours dealing with new regulations that big businesses can hire lawyers to deal with for them. O’Malley’s response was that “I need to do a deeper dive on the paperwork question of the ACA, believe it or not you’re the first person who asked me that question in the context of the ACA.” I was impressed by his candor, and it tells me that his normal audiences never have anyone in them who is critical of Obamacare in any way.
He touched on redistricting reform, saying that we need a bipartisan way to reform it, but concede that he has “unclean hands” on this issue given how terribly drawn Maryland’s districts are (Maryland is tied for worst in the nation).
O’Malley is pretty well known (to the extent that that is ever really true) for his plan to get the US on a clean energy grid by 2050. He defended this idea by saying that “We didn’t land on the moon with an all of the above strategy, we didn’t leave the Stone Age because we ran out of stones.” I don’t know I’m the only one who didn’t see the connection between points A and B here.
In terms of foreign policy, unlike Obama he said that we will “defeat ISIL,” and he awkwardly confused the title of Justin Trudeau in Canada, claiming that he was a “Premier” and not a Prime Minister. He also asked a Canadian student who had asked him a question “you have a single payer system. What else you got?”
After the event concluded, two things happened that are worth noting. The first is a story that I may be the first person to cover. I asked him what he thought of the ridiculous move by some in the European Union to specifically label goods made in Israel. His response was that “I would call Bibi every day and tell him this is why we need a two state solution.” Let’s contrast that tepid response with some of the Republicans. A few hours before O’Malley spoke here, Marco Rubio told the audience at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s gathering that:
This coalition of the radical left thinks it has discovered a clever, politically correct way to advocate Israel’s destruction. BDS couches hatred in the language of human rights and social justice. . . . As president, I will call on university presidents, administrators, religious leaders, and professors to speak out with clarity and force on this issue — the same way they speak out against racism and other forms of bigotry. I will make clear that calling for the destruction of Israel is the same as calling for the death of Jews.
At the same event, Jeb Bush told attendees that his Attorney General would be tasked with stopping any US support for BDS on day one.
After I asked that question, I happened to have been in line with three other College Republicans, so the four of us thought it would be amusing to get a group photo with O’Malley (whom I had asked to put on the UChicago sweatshirt that he had been given as a thanks for speaking here).
We had the following, highly awkward, exchange with him:
O’Malley: So what club are you guys?
O’Malley: Are you the chess club or something?
A murmur is then uttered by one of us that we are the Model EU club.
All in all, it was a fun way for me to break the monotony of reading period. I mentioned that O’Malley seemed to be a fan of the number 7, but he made no mention of the number 83 in his entire talk. What significance does that number have? It’s the number of taxes raised during his tenure as Governor of Maryland.