Alan Howe is running for president.
Yes, he’s serious, and yes, he realizes he’s not an A-list candidate.
But the Carlisle resident and retired Air Force strategic analyst isn’t necessarily doing it for the win, although he won’t rule out the possibility of a victory, but rather to shift the conversation among Democratic candidates toward what Howe views as the United States’ major existential threats.
“I don’t want people to think that we’re running at this without thinking that we can win, or that I’m running at this thinking that I couldn’t possibly govern if I was in the White House,” Howe said.
But he admits that his path is far different than it would be for a higher-profile candidate, and is geared more toward shifting the conversation in what Howe sees as the right direction rather than getting Howe himself the nomination.
Ideally, this would involve Howe getting enough support to appear at one of the Democratic primary debates where he could then shift the conversation and push back against national political narratives that Howe sees as fundamentally wrong-headed.
“Our strategy is to tell voters face-to-face that their votes count more than someone else’s dollars, and to have them try to make an example of this campaign by getting us on that debate stage,” Howe said.
“What they’re telling me when I show up and tell them that is, ‘Well, that’s the way you’re supposed to do it.’ But no one else is doing it that way,” Howe said.
Howe’s presidential campaign started shortly after the May 2018 primary when Howe failed to gain the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania’s newly created 10th Congressional District. He was one of four contenders in a contest that sent George Scott to narrowly lose the general election to Republican incumbent Scott Perry.
Howe’s campaign was then, and still is, all-volunteer. Howe, who is retired, has already made the standard rounds for early-race candidates: He went to the Iowa State Fair in August and did a Midwest tour of events in Missouri and Wisconsin. After the November election, he went up through New England and down through Florida. He was at an Ohio rally calling for President Donald Trump’s impeachment just a few weeks ago.
Howe also said that all of his donations come from people he’s met at events and people who have learned about him from coverage of those events. He doesn’t spend time calling large donors and negotiating big campaign finance deals.
Trying to get support from big donors “doesn’t get me toward the goal of increasing the number of educated and informed voters, it just gets me closer to winning an election, but that’s not what this is entirely about,” Howe said.
What it’s about is getting Democrats to seriously confront what Howe calls the “four threats,” existential problems jeopardizing America’s ability to maintain democracy.
The first among these is Trump himself. Howe was the only candidate during the 2018 congressional primary to openly call for impeachment, something he still advocates, even though it may seem like a moot point. After all, if Howe is successful in becoming president, there won’t be a need to remove Trump.
But Howe keeps making the point, if only to, in his words, “buck up” the higher-profile Democratic candidates toward confronting Trump.
In Howe’s view, Democrats have backed off too far and risk sacrificing the wider point that Trump and the GOP as a whole are the major roadblock for Democratic policies that could, quite literally, save the nation.
“Otherwise he’s going to go into the election in 2020 without people actually criticizing him, without overtly, sternly criticizing him,” Howe said. “I think it’s important Democrats engage with him.”
“The fact is that all of the policies on my list and on pretty much any other candidate’s list would be a lot easier if Trump resigned tomorrow or if we impeached him next week,” Howe said.
Trump is a convenient segue to the other three threats — climate change, rising income inequality and the entrenchment of institutional racism.
Far from just being a guy who wants to impeach Trump, Howe points to his website and campaign materials featuring specific policy prescriptions toward these three issues, possibly more in-depth than some candidates of higher national prominence.
“Every voter I’ve met is dismayed about getting the run around,” Howe said. “They’re looking for leaders to say, ‘You’re right, and here’s a specific thing we can do to move the needle in the right direction.’”
Although criticism of Trump and his ties to foreign entities, which Howe maintains constitute treason under its Constitutional definition, occupy the most prominent space on Howe’s website, his most in-depth policy materials go toward income inequality, taxes and the economy.
“Standard Republican fare is tax cuts for the wealthy and pain and suffering for the rest of us,” Howe said, a slogan he uses often, and one which he said is vital to driving a wedge between the Republican political class and its constituency, breaking the cycle of justification among Trump’s base.
Howe also strongly rejects the narrative that the Democratic Party is experiencing a split between capitalist-inclined moderates and the socialist-leaning left.
“I swear the very first question I got at a public appearance during my congressional campaign was, ‘Are you a progressive Democrat or are you a centrist Democrat?’” Howe said. “I told them then, and I keep telling them, I am not an ‘adjective’ Democrat.
“I don’t need to call myself anything else because most of the past policies and accomplishments that I admire are Democratic, and the policies that I admire now are being promoted by Democrats and not Republicans, and that’s why I’m in this party,” Howe said.
Howe’s platform on health care broadly aligns with Democrats’ goal of shoring up the Affordable Care Act: adding a public option to the ACA exchanges, lowering the Medicare age, and raising the poverty threshold for Medicaid.
Howe also pushes the idea of adding emergency personnel to a public health program administered by the Veterans Affairs Department.
“It would be a huge, huge benefit to municipalities that are struggling with the cost of health care for police and firefighters,” Howe said.
He also often rails against the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts, pointing out that the bulk of the benefit has gone to the wealthy while thus far failing to put wage growth significantly past inflation.
“The problem is not tax cuts per se; it’s who they give the tax cuts to. If you’ve already got millions or billions of dollars of wealth, that’s saying that you’re already not spending the income that you have, and if we increase your income, you’re not going to spend more, you’re just going to make your pile a little larger,” Howe said. “If the tax cuts go to people who are living hand-to-mouth or paycheck-to-paycheck, and suddenly they can deal with some unmet needs and wants, that money goes directly back into the economy and it actually will grow the economy.”
“The developing world figured out some time ago that the best economic stimulus was simply putting more money in the hands of the poor,” Howe said, citing a Brazilian effort that showed $1.78 of economic development for every $1 in welfare assistance to those in extreme poverty.
“That money went into the very bottom of the economic ladder and changed hands over and over and over again, generating economic activity before it finally got to some millionaires’ house where it sat in a big pile and did nothing,” Howe said. “And that’s the fundamental principle behind the tax plan I’ve laid out: higher taxes for people who have enormous piles of money just sitting on the sidelines.”
Getting that message out, however, is a question of meeting mandates set by the Democratic Party itself.
In order to qualify for the primary debates, candidates have been told they need to get at least 1 percent support in three polls, although the Democratic National Committee has yet to define what those polls will be.
The alternative qualifier is 65,000 individual campaign donations, with at least 200 donations each from 20 states.
Getting to that point by June, when the first debates are scheduled, will be a monumental task, Howe said. But if high-profile candidates start to drop out, as financial support pulls back, there may be a chance for a late-breaking dark horse candidate.
“I think in the end there’s a path for us to get on the debate stage in September, October or even November when the number of candidates has dwindled to a point where there is some slack in the polling that would allow a new candidate to step in,” Howe said.
Regardless, Howe isn’t running for the attention. He’d be just as engaged in politics even if not running for office, he said, simply out of a passion for politics after decades as military analyst.
“Working on it as a candidate makes me more effective than I would be otherwise, and that’s why even if we’re not on the debate stage, we’re going to keep this going at least through the end of the year so that we can maximize that effort,” Howe said.
“There’s going to come a time when people won’t meet with me anymore because we haven’t’ been on the debate stage and we’re no longer effective, but until that point, I intend to keep doing this because that matters, and that is success for us,” Howe said. “And it doesn’t mean I’ll shut up at that point. I’ll still be out there leaning on Democrats to do the right thing.”