By Jacob Solis
What does it take to work in politics? To crisscross the country at the helm of a presidential campaign? These were the questions that Rick Gorka, a former campaign staffer with both the John McCain campaign in 2008 and the Mitt Romney campaign in 2012, came to the University of Nevada, Reno, to answer last Tuesday.
The talk, organized by the conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, focused mostly on getting a job working on campaigns, largely told through the life and times of Gorka himself as it pertained to getting work in the field.
More than anything, Gorka emphasized the role of consistent hard work in helping his climb up the ladder. In 2000, after some college, Gorka took to the campaign trail in earnest, volunteering for the campaign of a congressman in his home state of Washington. There, he spent his days stuffing envelopes, canvassing and generally doing “whatever the campaign asked.”
“Having all kinds of experiences from a wide range of political positions, from intern to manager, allowed me to know a campaign inside and out,” Gorka said. “That experience really helps.”
Gorka also talked about his time on the Romney campaign, where his claim to fame came after telling reporters to “kiss [his] ass, this is a holy site” during a 2012 campaign visit to Poland’s Pilsudski Square. Gorka quickly followed the comment by telling the reporters to “shove it.” The reporters had been shouting questions to Romney, who had been continually out of reach to them during the several-country-long visit, ferried away from the press before they could ask any questions.
The outburst drove the news cycle, completely overshadowing the purpose of Romney’s visit to Europe. Even so, Gorka was upbeat about the incident during his talk, speaking with a smile on his face.
“If you want a fun exercise in public flogging, you can just Google my name and see what happened in Poland,” Gorka said.
With that, Gorka launched into a detailed explanation of what happened and why. He talked about what happens when the campaign communications leave reporters without a story for an extended period of time. Indeed, the “gaffe,” as Gorka called it, was relatively tame. A 2012 article from Politico noted that “kiss my ass” was likely one of the nicest things to come out of the mouth of a press secretary. Despite that, he became the story, and thus it goes down as a failure of communications.
Elliot Malin, an event organizer and senior field organizer with AFP Nevada, was pleased with the event, though he wished student turnout had been a bit higher.
“We wanted to make sure that students had the opportunity to hear from someone who’s made it in the field,” Malin said. “I mean, this guy was front page in national news after a gaffe. It’s funny now, but it’s also important for students to hear. Sometimes we need to take a step back and realize that we make mistakes and that we need to have a little bit of fun, and he was a great example of that.”
On the topic of this year’s presidential election, which has drawn international attention for its intensity, Gorka was confident that the Republican Party will be safe from any doom-and-gloom this year, even if the national convention ends up being contested.
“Ultimately, what this comes down to are men and women from across this country and Congressional districts that are going to come together in Cleveland in July and pick the next nominee for president,” Gorka said. “It’s up to [Republicans] to come together at that point to defeat whoever the Democrats nominate … I think every campaign is a tough cycle in the primary, but at the end of the day we come together to win.”
Gorka added that the most ardent phone-bankers for the McCain campaign were members of the so-called Party Unity My Ass movement. These PUMA members were disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters who were more than a little upset that then Sen. Barack Obama had won the nomination despite losing the popular vote to Clinton.
But even with the PUMAs in tow, the McCain campaign wasn’t able to overcome the early bump in the polls Obama received following the convention, something that political scientists point to as one of the most critical determining factors when it comes to which candidate wins a presidential campaign.
Even so, an open GOP convention would be the first contested convention from either party since the 1970s, and while the Democratic race for the nomination has been described by FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten as largely normal and civil, historically speaking, the outlet has also characterized the Republican race as a “dumpster fire.”
Add on to this a report from Enten just yesterday that Trump is the weakest modern GOP front-runner, based on historical primary voting trends, and a unified Republican Party seems a distant reality.
However, there are still primaries left in the calendar and more than a month between the final primaries and the convention itself. In all that time, it’s not impossible for Trump to rally enough delegates for the nomination on a first ballot. Like most things politics, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Jacob Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.