Win or lose in November, Donald Trump has already had a profound effect on politics going forward. That effect? To change the way we think about who can — and should — run for president and who has a chance of actually being elected to that job.
Trump's candidacy was initially greeted as either (a) a joke or (b) totally irrelevant by "smart" people who "cover politics for a living." It was neither. And what it told every non-traditional candidate — particularly those with money and time on their hands — was that the idea of them being president was not as far-fetched as everyone always told them it was.
Enter Mark Cuban. Most people know Cuban as the hyperactive owner of the Dallas Mavericks or from his role as one of the "sharks" on the popular investing show "Shark Tank." But he is also a very successful entrepreneur who sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo for almost $2 billion in the late 1990s. (Editor's note: My idea for this column was sparked by a terrific podcast by Bill Simmons and entrepreneur Chris Sacca, who suggested the idea of a Cuban presidential bid.)
He's also someone who is clearly very interested in and savvy about politics. Cuban was one of the few people to grasp the possibilities of Trump as a candidate; he wrote way back in July 2015 of Trump:
I don't care what his actual positions are. I don't care if he says the wrong thing. He says what's on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years.
Pretty spot on, no?
As the campaign has worn on and Trump has continued to succeed despite the faintest of acquaintances with policy, Cuban has grown more skeptical of his fellow billionaire's candidacy. Appearing on "Meet the Press Daily" on MSNBC Monday, Cuban summed up his issues with Trump this way:
When you look at Donald now, today ... you don't say, wow, he's really come a long way. His positions are more detailed. He's shown a detailed understanding. He's really made an investment in time to learn about any given position or issue. He just hasn't. He hasn't learned. And that's a real problem. As I said before, it's become a candidacy about nothing, the Seinfeld candidacy. And that's a problem.
Again, that's a very accurate critique of Trump's limitations as a candidate thus far. (I've long said that if Trump simply skimmed a briefing book on each of his trips on his jet, he'd have wrapped up the Republican Party's nomination far earlier and might even be leading Hillary Clinton in polling.)
Cuban said a bunch of other interesting things in that MSNBC interview — particularly when asked about being courted by some major Republican figures to mount a campaign to stop Trump. "There's not enough time, and it just wouldn't work," Cuban said of a third-party challenge to Trump this fall. "I mean, I think they looked at me more because possibly I could afford to fund it. But obviously, it was an interesting concept to me, but there's no reality to it. It just wouldn't work."
"It just wouldn't work" and "it was too late" are not the sorts of things a private citizen who has no interest in seeking national office says when asked about running for president. In fact, they are the sorts of things a private citizen who has a LOT of interest in running for office might say.
And, if Cuban does run — and I believe it's more likely than not that he does run as a Republican in either 2020 or 2024 — there's every reason to take him seriously. His personal story — and remember that presidential campaigns are, at root, built on compelling stories — is powerful. Raised the son of a car upholster, Cuban moved to Dallas with no money in his early 20s. He started a series of companies that eventually led to Broadcast.com's sale and his massive financial windfall. (Read this Forbes' piece Cuban wrote in 2013 about his life and tell me you couldn't imagine TV ads being constructed around it.)
Cuban's time as the owner of the Mavericks has been largely defined by his seat on the end of the bench and histrionics directed at the referees. But, he is widely credited with leading a revolution among NBA owners and franchises, both in terms of incorporating analytics into the decision-making process as well as pushing for an elite medical and training staff to keep his players as healthy as possible. On paper, it's hard to argue with Cuban's results. Cuban bought the team in 2000 for $285 million; in 2016, Forbes valued the team at $1.4 billion, making it the ninth most valuable NBA franchise. On the court, the Mavericks won the NBA championship in 2011; the team has made the playoffs in 15 of the 16 seasons Cuban has owned it, after not making the playoffs for the entire 1990s.
Cuban is also very wealthy. His net worth according to Forbes is $3.2 billion, meaning he would have plenty of seed money to get a national campaign up and running. And like Trump, he's a celebrity. He's an immediately recognizable figure for lots and lots of people — particularly given the success of "Shark Tank" in recent years.
All of that makes a potent combination for a candidate — particularly in this sort of anti-politician, populism-first environment. And, in his interview with MSNBC, you can sense that Cuban believes that if Trump — with all of his negatives and policy scarcity — can get this far, then he could get a whole lot further.
"You know, with Donald, he has not shown any — the ability to learn and understand what the issues are," Cuban said, before adding: "He's not the type of person that just gets in there and grinds. You know, most entrepreneurs, to be successful, most CEOs to be successful, you have to grind, you have to do the work. Twenty-four by seven, you have to always be learning, always be contributing, always finding better ways."
Sound like anyone you know? Yeah, to me too.