Interview: Professor Gary Rose On The Presidential Election That Went ‘Haywire’

Sep 5, 2017

Sacred Heart University Political Science Professor Gary Rose has just published a book on the 2016 presidential contest. It’s called Haywire. It chronicles what Rose calls “the most unconventional and outlandish presidential contest in the history of American politics.” 

He starts from the kickoff of the contest after President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2013, all the way through President Trump’s inauguration on January 20 this year. WSHU’s Senior Political Reporter Ebong Udoma spoke with Rose and asked the professor about his early fascination with presidential politics.

You actually got to see JFK campaign in Connecticut, on the New Haven Green, you were there with your parents. And you pretty much were bitten by the bug then. And you have followed every single presidential campaign since then, and you’ve written a couple of books about it, but this is really comprehensive, this is a real chronology of what happened as it happened. So, having spent a lifetime covering politics, where would you place the 2016 election campaign?

I think this just went off the chart; it went off the rails, that’s what happened here, hence the title of my book, Haywire. The process just went haywire. And I think it’s, I’m not so sure it’s long term.

Was it haywire on the Democratic side? Because I remember early on we had a candidate, a former governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley. He had the looks, he had the pedigree, he had the accomplishment, and yet his campaign didn’t seem to go anywhere. And then Bernie Sanders took off.

So even with the Democratic Party, I would say there was something that was very different this time, as it started with a very clear frontrunner, someone who wasn’t even supposed to be challenged, Hillary Clinton. Then we had a 74-year-old Socialist Democrat, if you will, or Independent I suppose you can say from Vermont, white haired, pushing for single-payer health care, free college tuition, emerge as a viable candidate to really the Clinton machine.

You paid particular attention to this campaign from the very beginning; you said you also missed signs that Donald Trump would win, first the Republican primary and then the presidency. Why do you think you missed it, you were chronicling this as it was happening?

I was, yes. You know, when he first declared, I, like so many others, thought this was going to be a short-lived sideshow. You know, and an entertaining figure, controversial, but he was simply too controversial, too inexperienced to manage campaigns, and so I thought to involve himself at such a high level of campaign that I thought that his campaign would be short-lived.

One of the graphs that you have here, he was seventh in raising money, but he was number one, by far, in Iowa, and this was in 2015, the fall of 2015. And it just didn’t seem that money related to his poll numbers. Why do you think that was so?

The free media, I think that was really the key for Donald Trump. He was so different. And there was, as you well know within the Republican Party, as I talk about in this book quite extensively, there was this desire for someone to come in from the outside and really shake things up. There was this restlessness I would say within the Republican Party that was really ripe for a Trump candidacy. And you’re right; he was behind other candidates in terms of fundraising, way behind in fact. But yet at the same time, he was getting millions of dollars worth of free media time because of his outrageousness. And you know as well as I that those who attract the most attention are the most controversial.

Looking at the scenario right now, we have the president already starting his 2020 campaign. So what is actually going on here?

Well, campaigns are starting earlier and earlier now. You say what’s going on, I can tell you, it’s like there’s no difference anymore between governing and campaigning. It’s all blended into one.

Well we know President Trump is campaigning. Who else is on the landscape at this early stage?

There are rumors going around that John Kasich is thinking about challenging President Trump for the nomination. On the Democratic side though, already, I think we’re starting to see some movement…

I know that Bernie Sanders seems to have campaign-style events.

Yeah, I know, all the time now, yeah. And then I understand Mark Zuckerberg is now visiting Iowa and New Hampshire, key states. So we’re starting to see some movement even among these business people, and now there’s talk of Mark Cuban starting to meet with people, I don’t know how far that’s going. But I don’t see a lot of it, but there’s some of it starting.

So you don’t think that the fact that President Trump has been so open about his campaign, that hasn’t damped down enthusiasm with people wanting to get into the race?

I don’t think so at all, and one reason why is that he’s at a 39 percent approval rating. He’s not obviously a very popular president. And when you’re at a 39 percent approval rating, and that is, of course, the lowest approval rating for any since we’ve been polling for any sitting president eight months after his presidency. And so I think there are those who see an opportunity here to really make a move against him.

Are you working on the 2020 version of this…

No, no I’m not. This book took a long time to write.

Because it’s very, very detailed, and I lived through this and yet I open the pages and these things jump out at me, and it’s like, 'Wow, I remember these things.' It seems like a long time ago, you know, but it’s really refreshing to have all of this in one volume. It is a big book, it’s 758 pages or more, but even though you say you don’t want to write another one, I don’t think the Donald Trump story is over yet. So I hope you are chronicling what’s going on now and we will see a book down the line.

Maybe so.

Gary Rose is author of Haywire: A Chronology of the 2016 Presidential Contest. Gary, thank you for joining us.

Okay, my pleasure.