Veterans may be the answer to Congress’s disfunction and inability to pass legislation, according to the founders of a new political action committee devoted to supporting more than 25 veteran candidates in the midterms.
With Honor, a new political action committee that launched Thursday, seeks to help the next generation of veterans enter politics and win seats in the House of Representatives.
Congress needs a new generation of principled, battle-tested leaders “who can actually change things” to serve in Congress, Rye Barcott, a veteran of the Marine Corps and co-founder of With Honor, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Congress, and much of the government, used to be dominated by military veterans of WWII, Vietnam and Korea, but those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are having a harder time entering political service. At the beginning of the current legislative session, 18 percent of Congress, or 102 members, had a military service record. Thirty-five years ago, veterans made up 64 percent of the legislature.
The number of veterans in elected office has plummeted in recent years, and “it’s a lot harder to run and win as a younger person who is committed, who wants to serve again,” Barcott said.
In the past 20 years, the cost of running a campaign has quadrupled, creating a barrier to entry for veterans who have demonstrated the patriotism and sense of duty that makes for a good statesman.
“If you’re not affluent or networked into the political class, and you’re 35 years old or older, whatever your age is, the barrier to entry are incredibly high. In some of these races you don’t even have credibility if you can’t raise a few hundred thousand dollars,” Barcott said.
Anyone looking at politics knows that Congress is sharply divided, and it seems the only way to get elected is to be either extreme right or extreme left. And once in Congress, politicians appear either so anti-Trump that they refuse to work on legislation to please their Democratic constituency, or take hardline positions and refuse to work with the Democratic minority to avoid being called a so-called cuckservative in their red district.
“There’s a recognition that service matters, that veterans, frankly, are one of the only groups that can actually unite sides,” Barcott said.
With Honor will select more than 25 candidates for national congressional races, and hopes to spend $30 million supporting veterans in the 2018 midterms. The support money will be divided between both Republican and Democratic candidates, based on selection criteria of leadership potential, electability, and most importantly, character. Any candidate With Honor endorses must commit to co-sponsor legislation with a member of the opposing party each year, and meet with someone of different stripes once a month.
The criteria for With Honor’s selection is all about character, not political party.
“The character screen is focused on those principles that we have in our pledge, which is integrity, civility, and courage — including the courage to work across the aisle and get things done by doing tangible things like actually co-sponsoring a piece of legislation or sitting down with someone from the other side,” Barcott said.
The group will focus on House races for the 2018 midterms, but wants to expand further into local and state level races in the future.
“We really want this movement to change politics, and in the future we want to focus on other levels as well,” Ellen Zeng, one With Honor’s political directors, told TheDCNF.
“Younger veterans are often at a disadvantage to run for office because they have been out of their home districts while serving our country,” George Shultz, a member of With Honor’s advisory board, said in a statement. Shultz himself is a former Marine and served as secretary of state for most the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan.
Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, a freshman congressman and Marine Corps veteran who served in the same specialty as Barcott, supports the group and sympathizes with veterans who may have difficulty entering the political fray.
As a newcomer to politics in 2016, Gallagher said many veterans running for office look for funding and support from anywhere they can find it. His name recognition at the start of his campaign was around one percent, and that was higher than most because his family runs a small chain of pizza shops in the Green Bay area. “There are times when you get discouraged, because there’s no easy path for a newcomer in politics,” Gallagher said.
But veterans make for powerful politicians because they have the courage to make hard decisions.”The more veterans we have on both sides of the aisle, the more it creates a body of people who are willing to work together to get stuff done,” Gallagher said.
The growing polarization — which started before Trump entered politics — is in part a result of the lack of politicians with military service records. “Veterans are willing to put the interests of the country ahead of their own political and parochial interests,” Gallagher said.
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