When winds howl and waters rise, political careers can soar – or sink. And elections can turn upside down.
The fall of George W. Bush began the day in 2005 when he flew over Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, looking distant and detached. He never recovered. Nor did New Orleans.
On the other hand, even a scoundrel like Chris Christie looked like a hero after he responded aggressively to Hurricane Sandy. (Then he started shutting down bridges and snarling traffic.)
A Washington Post story profiles “7 politicians whose careers were broken — or made — by massive storms.” One expert calls storm responses “leadership pop quizzes.”
Now, in Texas and Louisiana, we’re seeing people suffering the worst. And we’re seeing people – heroic volunteers and first responders – at their best. So I’ll give Trump a pass for now. National unity and all that, you know. No cracks about his hats (available from his campaign at $40) or Melania’s heels. Let’s see if he can do one thing right.
Governor Jim Hunt was the master of disasters. He had genuine empathy for storm victims, and he relentlessly pushed government agencies to do more. He was never satisfied that people were getting enough help.
In 1996, Hurricane Fran showed how natural disasters can overwhelm elections. Fran hit in September, when Hunt was running for his fourth term against Robin Hayes. The storm knocked much of the state winding for weeks at the peak of the campaign. Nobody cared about politics. Hunt took charge of the response – and the TV coverage. Hayes got blown away.
Last year, Hurricane Matthew nearly saved hapless Pat McCrory. He won votes with his aggressive response – and TV appearances. Plus, the floods kept a lot of Democrats from voting.
On Roy Cooper’s first day as Governor, he put on the requisite work shirt, oversaw a snowstorm response and was all over TV. More people watched him than ever would have watched his inaugural speech.
The rules are simple. Show up. Show you care. And never stop pushing to help people.
It’s why you’re there: To help people who are at the low point of their lives.