2018 will test the power of political nobodies

2018 will test the power of political nobodies
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You, I’m sure, have never heard the name — Nick Polce.

Don’t feel bad. Very few, if any, know the name in Wisconsin’s First Congressional District. That would not be important or significant, but the district is the home of House Speaker and Republican Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThe Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power Social security emerges as latest flash point in Biden-Sanders tussle Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders for 'inability to actually fight with bad actors' in party MORE, who now has decided not to run for re-election in November.


Polce was banking on the chance that Ryan would once again seek re-election and Polce, a political nobody, would be the beneficiary of widespread disgust with the incumbent. Then, by beating Ryan in the Republican primary on Aug. 14, he would demonstrate that all incumbents are vulnerable, whatever their position in the political hierarchy.


Polce was attempting to shake up the Republican establishment. He is vehemently opposed to the “career political class,” and his campaign and victory were going to be the ultimate slap in the face of the GOP royalty. 

If all of this sounds faintly familiar, I remind you of another name — Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorThe Democrats' strategy conundrum: a 'movement' or a coalition? The biggest political upsets of the decade Bottom Line MORE

Cantor was the Republican majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. By virtue of that title, he considered himself unbeatable. Cantor felt so secure in that feeling that, in 2014, he was not even in his Virginia congressional district on Election Day. Naturally, he was lunching in Washington on that fateful day. 

Republican Dave Brat came out of nowhere, however, and beat Cantor decisively in the GOP primary. Cantor was done – without title or position.

Brat did have some connections to the district; he was a professor at a college there. 

Polce on the other hand, has no prior connection to Ryan’s Wisconsin district. What Polce is striving to do is totally different and rarely, if ever, tried. 

Polce was born in Rhode Island and raised in Meriden, Conn. He graduated from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Conn., in 2002. He then enlisted in the military and became a member of the elite U.S. Army Special Forces, a Green Beret, serving nearly 12 years. This service included eight separate trips abroad, mainly in Africa. 

Retiring in 2014, he set up a small security-consulting firm in Woodbridge, Virginia, but the birth of a son in 2016 “changed his life.” He decided to leave his small business and move to Wisconsin, where he bought a house in the community of Lake Geneva.

The reason for this radical and extraordinary action had one purpose — to take on and beat Speaker Paul Ryan in a Republican primary.

Polce wanted to inspire a political earthquake. To show the world that a political nobody could topple even the speaker of the House. 

So far, it’s not been easy or smooth. He admitted to me in an interview that when he moved into the district, he “did not know a soul.” He has been using “social media” and “knocking on doors.” He has gone to six county caucuses and, at some, is “not allowed to speak.”

His goal is to raise $250,000 for the primary election. So far, he has raised “about $30,000.” He promises to serve a total of six years in the House. But he doesn’t rule out then running for the U.S. Senate and serving just six years there.

Polce says emphatically, “I’m not interested in making a career out of politics.” Some would justifiably say that 12 years would qualify as a career. 

Polce repeatedly stresses his military service. (His wife is a veteran as well. She was a mechanic on C-130 airplanes.) He sees himself as a fiscal zealot: he is for the tax cuts that were passed while proclaiming that “taxes are not the problem, spending is the problem.” To Polce, “not spending” includes some extremely drastic reductions: He wants to eliminate the departments of Homeland Security and Interior, parts of the Energy Department, and the “layers of fat” in the Defense Department. 

He often uses the words “individual freedom.” He is firmly “pro-Second Amendment” and believes there should be “no ban on assault rifles.” He also favors giving teachers the ability to “fight back” by training them to “carry weapons.”

Polce wraps up his manifesto by saying he believes in “American values,” not “Washington values.” 

Being a complete unknown, moving into a congressional district and attempting to unseat a powerful incumbent is a novel and unique political move. Polce sincerely believes he is doing something that is patriotic.

Will others follow his example? Obviously, a great deal depends on whether he is successful.

After Ryan announced on Wednesday that he will not run for re-election, I spoke to Polce and suggested that his entire rationale for his candidacy had now evaporated. He firmly disagreed.

He said, “fundraising has opened up.” That his “phone was blowing up” with calls from local media. That people who would not even talk to him before are now interested in speaking to him; before, they didn’t because “there was a lot of loyalty to Ryan.”

His “messaging is going to remain the same.” He ended by saying that if elected he would not “be taking orders from the leadership.”

This self-described “stark alternative” has an uphill climb. Well-known names are now being mentioned as candidates; they include former White House chief of staff Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusReince Priebus joins CBS News as political analyst CNN hires former longtime CNBC correspondent John Harwood Former Trump staffer suing Trump, campaign over sex discrimination MORE, state Rep.Tyler August, state Sen. David Craig and, most mentioned, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

If there should be a political miracle, and Polce should come out on top in the GOP primary, Democrat Randy Bryce awaits him. Bryce has raised nearly $5 million and has the strong support of union labor. 

It should be noted that President Barack Obama won the district in 2008 but lost it in 2012; President Trump won the district by 10 points in 2016.

This piece has been updated.

Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics. He previously was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington’s NPR affiliate, and for WTOP-FM, Washington’s all-news radio station. He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.