Dave McCormick and I share more things in common than we initially thought.
He grew up in the small town of Bloomsburg, the county seat of Columbia County, with a population of about 12,000. I grew up in Huntingdon, also a county seat, with a population of 7,000, give or take a few.
McCormick’s favorite football team was the Pittsburgh Steelers and he counted among his favorite players Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and, as an old high school linebacker, Jack Lambert.
Our paths diverged from our hometowns in central PA – McCormick wrestled and went on to West Point. He went overseas to Iraq and returned home to become CEO of Bridgewater Associates, one of the largest hedge funds in the world. McCormick then ran for the open U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania, vacated by the retiring Republican Pat Toomey. He lost by about 900 votes to Mehmet Oz, who was defeated in the general election by Democrat John Fetterman.
McCormick had begun work on a book prior to his Senate run and added the final chapters after his campaign came to a close. Entitled, “A Superpower In Peril: A Battle Plan To Renew America,” the 272-page book outlines what McCormick sees as a stagnation, more than a decline, in America – a stagnation that could prove to the country’s detriment in the coming years.
We spoke last week about the book, its premise, and what the future may hold for the 57-year-old – including a possible Senate run once again in 2024.
He writes in the introduction to the book that “President (Donald) Trump had his moment as the great disruptor, but what matters now – when the present and future of America are in such jeopardy – is what we do next.”
“We’re in decline. We’re in relative decline and we’re in absolute decline,” he said about the state of the Union. “You have an existential threat being posed by China and an inadequate response to that. I think you have a spiritual erosion in our institutions. Most Americans don’t have faith in anything in terms of their institutional leaders – not in Congress, not in their business leaders, not in their church. Even the military, which has always been the pinnacle of trust, is declining. Eighty percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. So that’s the basis (of the book).”
“Decline is not inevitable,” he continued. “Nor is renewal. It depends on what we do. The book is a ‘What To Do’ book. Even though the cover is ominous – Superpower In Peril – the book is optimistic. I believe this is the American story. We get to the edge of the cliff, we pull ourselves back.”
McCormick feels that in the early part of the decade of the 20s, it reminds him a great deal of his experience in central Pennsylvania during the 1970s.
“Layoffs at the Magee Carpet Company (one of the largest carpet mills in the country at the time), odd and even days at the gas pump, the Iran hostage debacle, so that feels a lot like now,” he said. “Then in 1983, as I was walking down those beautiful pathways at West Point as a plebe, it was Morning in America. The country was back on track, the economy was growing and Ronald Reagan sort of led us out of the dark and that’s what good leadership can do. I’m not saying that we should be doing the same things as Reagan. Leadership and a plan can get us out of a path of decline to a path of recovery. That’s what the whole book is about.”
The villain in the book is China and he writes about America’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party and what he sees as the direction the ties are headed.
“Many of our policies contributed to China’s rise,” he said. “This is where I give President Trump credit in the book. “I think he righted us as a country in recognizing China as an adversary and a growing threat. In 2005, you could already see the intellectual property theft, the lack of free market access where it wasn’t truly reciprocal. China is a techno-authoritarian threat to America’s future.
“We need to hold China accountable,” McCormick continued. “We need to have our allies coordinated with our strategy in a much more holistic way. We need to have restrictions on outbound investment. There are firms in Silicon Valley today that invest in Chinese artificial intelligence companies whose main clients are the Chinese communist military. It’s crazy that we don’t have restrictions in place.”
When asked about the political divisions in the country and the partisan concerns that rural Pennsylvanians have about those from the cities of suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, McCormick laid out his vision for rectifying the problems arising from those rifts.
“The country is headed in the wrong direction and I think people realize that,” he said. “What I’m trying to do in the book is to lay out a vision for what I think we need to do to move forward. To change the direction of the country as conservatives we need to do two things – one, win elections,” he chuckled. “Have candidates that can win primaries as well as generals. Candidates that have a vision going forward.
Pennsylvanians, he said, want to know “how are we going to fix inflation, how are we going to fix the border, how are we going to restore the American Dream. We need that to get things moving in the right direction and make genuine progress. I recognize the populist frustration and anger. The majority of the people from where we grew up have every right to be pissed off. We need to acknowledge that and put forward policies that address these failures. I’m looking for leaders that will fight like hell for ideas, while recognizing the common humanity in common interests in one another. I’m trying to set that example.”
One of the models for the example he aims to set comes from his high school football coach at Bloomsburg – Tom Lynn. “He is an example that everybody can make a big difference in someone’s life and not realize it,” said McCormick. “(Tom) Lynn is one of the most significant people in my life. He saw something in me and said I’m going to give you a shot. He named me co-captain (of the team). That was absolutely shocking to me. It gave me more confidence. That guy gave me a sense that there was no way to hide from responsibility. He changed my life, honestly.”
McCormick is deeply involved with the Alexander Hamilton Society, a not-for-profit national organization that seeks to identify, educate and launch young people into foreign policy and national security careers with the Hamiltonian perspective of strong and principled American leadership in global affairs.
“I’m distraught about our secondary school system and our universities,” he said. “Our secondary school system’s quality is subpar, as evidenced by data showing we are slipping in math, science and engineering. Critical race theory is defining the narrative of America’s history instead of the fact that we are an exceptional country that has had our share of dark chapters, but always got better. Our university system is the crown jewel of the world, but it is slipping as a place to have actual discourse and exchange of ideas because it is so one-sided. Bob Zimmer (the former president of the University of Chicago) said ‘A University is a place for the free flow and exchange of ideas.’ There are too few conservative scholars (on campuses) and no place for conservatives to meet and discuss ideas.There is no God-given right to not be offended. In disagreement, we grow as people.”
McCormick talked about his high-profile dismissal as co-CEO at Bridgewater Associates. “I think the optimum word is fired,” he laughed. “People look at my career and say he’s had one success after another. There are a number of places where I’ve struggled and not clear on the future.”
Where most of us see a firing as a failure, McCormick used the experience in another way.
“It was a gift, a total gift,” he remembered. “I’m so much a better leader because of it. I now understand the power of failure as a way to make you stronger. Some view failure as gasoline as a fuel to help power your success and learn. Some view it as a slight on their capabilities or confidence. I was able to use it to my advantage.”
The writing of a book by a politician is often a sign of things to come. Barack Obama famously authored “Dreams From My Father” prior to his presidential run, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, expected to be a GOP candidate for president in 2024, is embarking on a tour to promote his book, “The Courage To Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint For America’s Revival.”
So the natural question arose for McCormick. Will you be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania against Sen. Bob Casey Jr. in 2024?
“The book started long before I decided to run (for Senate) the first time,” said McCormick. “The motivation for writing the book was based on the same reason as running for Senate. I’m really delighted that we (ran in 2022) and how we did it. “There were 100 things that we could have done differently. I try not to focus on that and try to focus on what we learned. I have some much more of an appreciation of the problems of Pennsylvanians. No regrets.
“When you lose by 900 votes, when you throw yourself into a campaign like that, it’s not like the motivation to help goes away,” he continued. “My desire to serve is still there. Whether I’ll run for the Senate as a way of doing that … we haven’t decided yet. There are a lot of ways to serve. We’ll think about it and pray about it as a family and we’ll make a decision at some point. Whether we decide I’m the right person for Pennsylvania … we haven’t ruled out anything.”