Fans of “The Office” might remember a moment late in the series when a search committee was looking for a new manager. Ryan, the temp, tells Jim, the head of the search committee, that he wants “an outsider.”
“Perfect. There are several outside candidates that we think would be really …” Jim says before Ryan interrupts.
“No, I mean an outsider. Like someone on the margins of society. Who doesn’t see things like we do. Like a homeless person.”
The episode perfectly illustrates the lunacy required to think an outsider is the right choice for governor solely because he or she is an outsider.
Our society is increasingly pro-outsider. It’s not partisan. Bronx Democrats elected a bartender to Congress, while Colorado Republicans elected the owner of an open-carry restaurant. It’s not a coincidence congressional dysfunction grows worse as we send more outsiders there to “fix it.”
In recent years the country elected a reality TV star to be president, while the ultimate outsider, Bernie Sanders, came not too far from the Oval Office himself. Of course, in Bernie’s case, he’s such an outsider that being in elected office for four decades has not brought him to the inside.
Candidates are almost always outsiders the first time they run, but usually that’s for local offices, where politicians can learn the issues and develop skills for success. This is one reason to choose someone for higher office who has climbed the ranks.
Another reason is because established candidates have been vetted a bit, but background problems don’t derail candidates as they used to.
Bernie’s honeymoon in the Soviet Union didn’t deter California Democrats from nominating him for president last June. Former President Donald Trump’s list of prior scandals was too many to name here, but none stopped him.
In fact, the negative stories often reinforce supporters’ belief that it’s their candidate against the world. Elder has been leading in polling despite a number of damning past comments resurfacing.
For example, a few times he offered sexist comments about women and brushed off a dozen or so sexual assault claims against Donald Trump because, after all, Harvey Weinstein was worse.
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Elder said on “Fox & Friends” in 2017, according to The Huffington Post. “Harvey Weinstein has had now, I think it’s over 30 accusations of sexual assault, including five accusations of rape. Whatever Donald Trump has done is child’s play compared to this.”
Elder’s prior comments might not turn off his fervent supporters, but they would almost certainly turn off the Democrat-dominated Legislature.
Perhaps any Republican who gets elected would suffer the same fate, but someone like former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer we already know has experience building coalitions and working across the partisan aisle. (A longshot, I know).
Of course, Elder could instead wind up like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who ran as an outsider and won in a recall despite allegations of sexual assault and an alleged comment from the past that he “admired Hitler.” Schwarzenegger also won re-election and had some successes, but veered toward the center when faced with Democratic headwinds and political realities.
There are a few differences, though: Schwarzenegger was more popular than Elder, tried to clean up his prior troubles, and was much more moderate by nature. Elder doesn’t seem to fit that mold.
Instead of taking a risk on an outsider provocateur who does not demonstrate the abilities needed to be a successful governor, it would make more sense for voters to support a candidate with experience.
Of course, polling suggests that’s unlikely.
We might despise politicians at times, but they have a great amount of influence over our lives and it requires some skills to do the job right.
We should look for candidates with those skills.
Matt Fleming is a member of the Southern California News Group’s editorial board. You can follow him on Twitter: @FlemingWords.
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