Ben Gleib is running for president in 2020. The Democratic field—which began as the largest primary field in history—had authors, businessmen, members of Congress, governors and the former vice president, and it now has a comedic performer. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the 2016 Republican field sounded the same and the reality TV star with no political background worth talking about prevailed against so-called serious candidates like Senators and governors.
Gleib is not a reality TV star. He hasn’t made a living pretending to be something he isn’t. He’s a stand-up comedian, an award winning game show host, and a political contributor to CNN and ABC News among others. He was kind enough to spend some time with M60 to talk about why he’s decided to enter the crowded race for the Democratic nomination. And while the national media has ignored his candidacy thus far, Iowans and New Hampshirites are hearing him out…and so are we.
The space between Gleib and higher profile candidates like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden isn’t much wider than it is between them and Senators Harris or Klobuchar. Like them, Gleib is determined to get to universal healthcare coverage. “We build on the Affordable Care Act,” Gleib said. “We add a public option to expand Medicare as an option for everybody because it’s just impractical to shift the entire system to be run by the government.”
When asked about the role of the federal government to close the wealth gap, Gleib explained that the tax system needs adjustments to “[make] sure the richest people in our country are not by any means punished, but feel the pain of their taxes like lower and middle income earners do.” Gleib is calling for a “cost of living refund to low and middle income earning workers who are working full time jobs, so they can breathe a little easier after a hard day’s work.”
But it’s when we talk about immigration that the conversation becomes emotional. Ben’s a first generation American and he takes the actions of Trump’s Homeland Security team at the US-Mexico border personally. “It seems ridiculous to not embrace our multi-national background,” he told me. “We must protect our borders. But we must do it in smart ways. We have to use technology and beef up security to make sure our borders are not porous, but when people make it through, seeking a better life, we acknowledge and respect that they are human beings who are coming here for refuge and are escaping difficult lives and not make their problems worse.”
For Gleib, immigration is deeply personal. His family settled in the United States after a harrowing experience in WWII—his grandfather survived a labor camp in Siberia and would eventually go on to become a successful businessman in the United States. Gleib explained that, “Through his example, I learned the value of hard work and the amazing fact that in this country, if you set your mind to something and you never stop, you will achieve your dreams.”
With another mass shooting at the time of this interview and yet another one on Saturday in Texas, I asked if it was the federal government’s job to step in and present a national set of standards for gun ownership. Gleib said, “Absolutely. We cannot allow individual states to be the only ones to bear responsibility for this because, as we see in Chicago, people just go to neighboring states where the gun laws are more lax and bring the weapons right in. If it’s so important to protect our borders from outside threats, we absolutely must protect the 300 million Americans within our borders.”
Gleib’s story is unique among the candidates. He overcame a challenging speech impediment in his childhood to grow into an adult who has been traveling the country he’s asking to serve for decades. Every night he has to command a room filled with people from every walk of life. And for him to succeed, he has to be able to not just keep them focused on him, but fill them with joy. “I do a meet and greet after every show,” Gleib explained, and he does this to connect with them. One of the things most important to American voters is the intangible quality of authenticity. Gleib hopes that voters in early primary states will recognize that in him.
Ignored by the networks, Gleib has been campaigning hard in Iowa and New Hampshire—making his case that none of the current candidates are strategically prepared to take on a man who has turned our politics into a reality TV show.
“The best way to take down the greatest heckler in political history is with a comedian,” said Gleib. And when asked the inevitable question as to whether or not he was running a serious campaign, he offered, “I don’t know if there’s any better proof of how serious my campaign is than how boring I’ve been in this interview.”
Donald Trump changed American politics. It is clear that the eventual Democratic nominee will need to bring more than just policy ideas to bear in 2020. Gleib is ready to take the fight to Trump where he lives, showman vs. showman.