Political unknown Jefferson Sherman recently threw his hat into the 2016 presidential race. Uncommon Journalism speaks with the Maryland republican about why he is a running, and the message he wants his campaign to send to the Washington establishment.
|The next President of the United States? Republican hopeful Jeff Sherman said he looks to send a message to "career politicians" with his 2016 grassroots campaign. (Photograph courtesy Jeff Sherman)|
By: James Swift
In May 2015, 57-year-old Jefferson Sherman spent nearly a fortnight retracing the footsteps of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman. For 11 days, Jeff Sherman -- who said he is not actually related to the Union military leader -- walked the infamous “March to the Sea” route in reverse, taking the back roads of Georgia all the way from the port of Savannah to Atlanta’s Grant Park.
On Facebook, Sherman posted photographs taken from his countryside journey. He posed for pictures outside mom and pop gas stations in Washington County, trudged through the city of Toomsboro’s dirt roads (while sporting a hat/umbrella hybrid emblazoned with Old Glory, naturally) and admired the church signage in the teeny town of Monticello -- the name is pronounced without the “h,” he was told by locals.
Throughout the 250-mile trek, Sherman spoke with the residents of mostly rural locales like Statesboro and Milledgeville. A common topic discussed, he said, was a sense of alienation from federal politics.
“Everyone I met, without exception, said they were fed up with the political system,” he said. “They all said something needed to change, which encouraged me very much.”
Whereas Gen. Sherman’s 1864 march was a scorched earth operation, Jeff Sherman’s deep south journey earlier this year was part of an entirely different kind of campaign; it was his first publicity tour as a 2016 candidate for President of the United States.
From citizen to candidate
Born in Bethesda, Mary., Sherman spent his youth traveling the world alongside his father, who was in the U.S. Navy. After graduating from high school in Panama, Sherman attended the United States Naval Academy; for the next two decades, he served as a naval aviator and test pilot.
After retiring from the military, he opened up his own consultation business in 2005. “We do a lot of work for the Department of Defense, but we also break into the commercial market as well,” Sherman said.
While Sherman said he has been voting since he was 18, it was not until he started his own company that he truly realized how much the decisions made in D.C. impacted his personal life.
“I came to the realization that politics play a major role in our lives,” he said. “The politicians nowadays are more interested in furthering their careers instead of representing the citizens … I’m not sure that’s what the founding fathers intended.”
Although the 2016 slate of presidential frontrunners may have degrees from Ivy League schools, Sherman said they lack an appreciation and understanding of the common American.
About a year ago, Sherman said he had an epiphany. Tired of yelling at his television screen, he decided that someone had to step up to the plate and fix U.S. politics.
“I turned to my wife and said ‘I think some stuff needs to be done, but if I’m not willing to do it myself, then I can’t complain about anything,’” he said. “That’s why I decided to make this run for the presidency, to see if I can have an impact and better represent the day-to-day citizens of America.”
‘Washington is broken’
Although Sherman is registered by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as a republican candidate, he said he does not consider himself a traditional G.O.P. member.
“I am just as fed up with republicans as I am other political parties,” he said. “When I vote, I don’t care what letter is beside your name. When I vote for you, I’m voting for what your principles are and what you stand for.”
While Sherman said his political views line up closely with classical conservatism, he said the primary reason he signed on as a republican was to avoid a third-party label.
“A lot of people that know me asked me when I decided to do this if I was going to run as an independent,” he said. “My response to that was very simply no, because I’m serious about running for president and I don’t think an independent can run and win.”
Sherman said that although he has no prior political experiences, that is not a negative. While fellow candidates like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Rick Perry may have some “good ideas on where they want to see the country go,” Sherman said they are also woefully out of touch with American families, more interested in pushing their own agendas than representing the public.
“Many of them have not had a job other than politics, so they don’t necessarily know what it means to be a business owner,” he said, “to have a payroll and have employees who rely on the decisions you make for the business.”
Sherman said his run is anything but a “symbolic” gesture.
“I’ve more or less taken a leave of absence from the day-to-day work I’ve been doing to pursue this,” he said. “I am not doing this because I am doing it on a whim, I’m doing it because I am deadly serious … I think we need to change, Washington is broken.”
On his official campaign website, Sherman lists his major platform policies. The president’s number one priority, he said, should be improving the economy.
“We are not generating the jobs we need to,” he said. “Without a strong internal U.S. economy, it weakens us abroad and it hampers our ability to protect our interests.”
The first step, Sherman said, is reining in government spending.
“I don’t think our current politicians fully appreciate what they are doing, with whose money they are spending,” he said. “We’re spending more money than we are taking in, and I cannot do that as a homeowner or a private citizen … I’d go bankrupt.”
As far as budget cuts, he said there should be no federal expenditure that is off-limits. “We have certain programs that are considered entitlement programs that previous administrations have refused to look at, and I think we need to be able to look at the entire federal budget,” he said, “nothing should be set aside as untouchable.”
He also said he supports a simpler taxation code and less onerous regulatory policies. “We need to set economic policies that encourage job growth,” he said. “As a small business owner, the regulations that are placed on me are very burdensome, and we make decisions every day whether we can afford to hire new people.”
Encouraging the production of domestic energy, he said, is also important.
“We need to work towards energy independence and get away from our dependence on foreign oil,” he said. “If we can do that, I think that will also help stimulate the economy.”
In terms of foreign policy, he said the U.S. needs to reevaluate who its real allies and adversaries are.
“I think we’ve sort of turned our back on Israel over the years and I think we need to get in line with having our allies know they can trust the United States to back them.” Sherman said. “Likewise, I think we need to treat our enemies as enemies … if a country is not going to support America and have America’s best interests in mind, then I think we need to not necessarily kowtow to them.”
The perfect example of a “failed” modern U.S. foreign policy,” he said, is Iran.
“We’re bending over backwards to try and make friends with Iran, with no guarantee that they will ever live by what agreements we have made,” he said. “We have made that mistake in the past with North Korea, and I think we’re doing the same thing right now.”
While Sherman said he is still formalizing his official policy positions (see sidebar: “Sherman’s take on today’s hot button issues”), he spoke at length regarding two of the most contentious social issues heading into the 2016 presidential election: health care and the “militarization” of police.
Unsurprisingly, the conservative candidate said he is not a fan of the Affordable Care Act (ACA.)
“People from all over the world used to come to the U.S. to get medical care,” he said. “That’s not to say we were perfect, but I don’t think the federal government should be in the role of defining that … I think that’s more of a state’s responsibility.”
The mandates of the ACA, he said, have been one of the federal regulations that have impact his business the most.
“I think that what we have in place right now is a mistake, and it probably ought to be rescinded,” he said. “If we need to massage things, I think we can do that on a smaller scale.”
In the wake of violent protests in Ferguson, Mo. and Baltimore, Sherman said he believes certain police forces should have access to military-style weapons and vehicles.
“I think its unfortunate that we have to have the police force with that kind of equipment, but I would say that if a police force needs that to conduct their business of protecting their localities, I’m not necessarily opposed to that,” he said. “I think we need to look at it and not just say that everybody needs an armored personnel carrier, but if big urban areas need that to handle certain situations -- for instance, like what happened in Baltimore -- then I think that should at least be made available to them.”
Does a dark horse candidate have a shot?
As of early June 2015, nearly 400 presidential hopefuls have filed statements of candidacy with the FEC. While Sherman himself said the numbers are against him -- stating he had better chances of winning the lottery than being elected -- that’s not to say that some major political underdogs haven’t had their fair share of success in previous presidential contests. Before writing off Sherman as an also-ran, here is a look back at five dark horse candidates throughout American history whose presidential campaigns were astonishingly successful -- with some even making it to the Oval Office.
James K. Polk (1844) -- Elected governor of Tennessee in 1838, Polk saw most of his major initiatives, such as calls to regulate state banks and improve education, shot down by the state legislature. In 1841, he was ousted by James C. Jones; Polk made another gubernatorial bid in 1843, only to lose to Jones by an even wider margin. Reeling from his last defeats, Polk went into the 1844 Democratic National Convention hoping to drum up support for a vice presidential bid. In a crowded race that included the likes of Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan and Lewis Cass, no candidate secured the necessary two-thirds vote after eight ballots. Amazingly, on the ninth go-around, the conventioneers unanimously lent their support to Polk. The ex-governor then went on to defeat Whig nominee Henry Clay that autumn, garnering 170 out of 275 electoral votes.
Franklin Pierce (1852) -- The New Hampshire native had a very promising political career; he became a United States representative in 1833 and was a U.S. senator from 1837 to 1842. After announcing that he would resign from his post in 1841, he became a brigadier general during the Mexican-American War; afterwards, he returned to his home state and practiced law. As was the case in the 1844 Democratic National Convention, the 1852 race was extremely tight, with no frontrunner expected to garner the essential two-thirds of ballots. Although he stated the idea was “utterly repugnant to my tastes and wishes,” Pierce allowed supporters to lobby for him as an presidential candidate. After an astonishing 49 rounds of votes, Pierce -- who had not held office in nearly a dozen years -- garnered all but six of the votes, locking down the party’s 1852 presidential nomination. That fall, Polk bested Whig candidate Winfield Scott, garnering 254 electoral votes to his opponent’s 42.
Horatio Seymour (1868) -- The New York democrat was twice elected state governor -- 10 years apart, no less. After losing a close contest to republican challenger Reuben Fenton in 1863, he became the head of the Democratic National Convention. With no clear-cut frontrunner emerging at the 1868 convention, a member of the North Carolina delegation nominated Seymour himself for the presidency -- which Seymour rejected. On the 22nd round of votes, an Ohio delegation member switched his vote from Indiana Senator Thomas Hendricks to Seymour -- which in turn, led to the delegations voting unanimously for the ex-New York governor. The unlikely challenger, however, fared poorly in that year’s presidential contest. He lost the bid to Ulysses Grant, 214 electoral points to 80.
John W. Davis (1924) -- While Davis had political experience, having once served as a U.S. representative from West Virginia, he was much more renowned as a lawyer, having argued scores of cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. After a four-year stint as solicitor general of the United States, Davis remained out of the political arena from 1918 onward. At the 1924 Democratic National Convention -- which went on for two weeks -- delegation representatives were torn between frontrunners Al Smith and William Gibbs McAdoo. After the two withdrew their nominations on the 103rd round of votes, Davis was selected as a “compromise candidate.” That November, Davis was trounced by Republican candidate Calvin Coolidge, who won 382 electoral votes to the democratic challenger’s 136.
Wendell Willkie (1940) -- A successful corporate lawyer, Willkie was critical of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, having lobbied against the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933. With the specter of World War II looming large, the three Republican National Convention frontrunners were all isolationists -- an ex-Democrat and internationalist, Willkie certainly stood in sharp contrast to the likes of Robert Taft and Thomas Dewey. As France surrendered to Hitler’s forces just two days before the convention, support for Willkie -- who had never held public office of any kind -- gained momentum, with the political unknown garnering the party nomination on the sixth round of votes. Alas, the outsider candidate was crushed at the ballot box that fall; he was bested by incumbent Roosevelt, 449 electoral votes to 82.
The trail ahead
While the Georgia publicity stop in May left Sherman with blistered and bandaged feet, he said the overall journey was rather enjoyable.
“As an unknown candidate I thought I had to do something very bold to get my initial exposure,” he said. “By walking instead of doing a motorcade somewhere, I am actually able to meet more people and get my name out there.”
Sherman said his friends and family have been very supportive of his campaign. During his march earlier this year, he said the “pace car” was commandeered by his wife.
“Every three or four miles, I would walk an hour knowing she would be an hour ahead of me, and I could stop and get a drink of water and maybe a banana and continue my trail,” he said. “She actually sat along the side of the road … I think she said she read six books while she was waiting for me during the 11 days.”
On June 20, Sherman will embark upon his next publicity march. This time, he will travel the same 15-mile route taken by Paul Revere on his legendary ride from Lexington, Mass. to Boston.
Accompanying him on the walk will be his son and daughter, who are taking time off from military duty and collegiate life, respectively, to show support for their dad.
And ahead of the Iowa primary? Sherman said he is considering retracing some of the steps taken by Lewis and Clark on their famed expedition to the American west.
“I’m not kidding myself on the enormity of the task at hand,” Sherman said. “I’ve even made a comment to someone that I probably have a better chance of winning the Powerball lottery than I have of making it to president … but I’m not discouraged by that.”
While Sherman said he is giving it his all to win the Republican nomination, he said he can still take pride in an unsuccessful bid. Even in a losing effort, he said he can still “substantively” influence the race by reminding other candidates that the presidency is about serving the American public, not their own interests.
“The candidates now will start realizing that being a politician is not about furthering a political career, it’s really about representing American citizens,” he said. “Millionaires are trying to buy their way into politics, and are they really representing the hard work and efforts of our citizens? If I can influence the political race on that perspective, I think that will be a success.”
Uncommon Journalism, 2015.