SALT LAKE CITY, December 29, 2011 ― As Iowa Republicans get ready to head to their caucuses this coming Tuesday, Republicans across the nation will be watching, calculating their next moves.
Official campaigns will shift into overdrive. The brawling will get nastier, and some will suffer politically mortal wounds. The rough and tumble of a primary election will be replicated thousands of times over with the various candidates’ supporters arguing for their preference and against the others.
It is important to properly vet the Republicans and nominate the one most likely to beat President Obama; and while members of the Grand Old Party—from the top tier candidates on the ballot to the suburban mom in Reno— argue their case, they should remember some basic rules.
Rule #1: Put Obama and his failures into every conversation, answer, rebuttal, and talking point. This election, more than any re-election in modern history, is an attempt by the party out of power to remove the sitting president. Dissatisfaction with Obama will drive voters on the right and in the center to the polls. Republicans need to remind them why they need to get their friends to go too.
Rule #2 Stay positive. For a while, when he had nothing to lose, Newt Gingrich reminded us of the power of being nice. He frequently complimented his opponents, and highlighted their strengths.
It’s totally legitimate to also highlight an opponent’s weaknesses, but in the general election specifically, and over major, divisive issues that will face the president during the next few years, even-handedness will pay dividends. Independents and moderate democrats appreciate a uniter, and a real one will cast a bright light on Obama’s naiveté and hypocrisy.
Rule #3: Answer the question and move on. Or don’t. In other words, keep it short and sweet. One of President Obama’s biggest performance flaws is his inability to be pithy. It might be a sign of his ignorance or much overrated intellect. But it definines his inability to connect well with ordinary folks. Jon Huntsman is guilty of it on the Republican side. It isn’t condescension as much as a desire to sound too smart. Smart has little to do with politics. Connection does, and that means talking concisely about the issues that matter to people.
Consider when Anderson Cooper asked Gov. Perry a specific question about the 14th Amendment. Perry’s response was brilliant. “Well, let me address Herman’s issue that he just talked about,” he said, preferring to discuss something less divisive and more relevant (and something within the purview of a president). Cooper interrupted, “Actually, I’d rather you—rather you—I’d rather you ask the question—answer that question.”
Perry didn’t back down: “All right, I understand that. You get to ask the questions, and I get to answer like I want to.” Perry has many oratorical weaknesses, but on this occasion he reminded viewers that simple is good. It isn’t against the rules to change the subject.
Rule #4 (corollary to #3): Don’t’ be afraid to point out when the question is stupid. People ask silly questions all the time. Mainstream media types will hurl a barrage of irrelevant or leading questions at Republicans. A gentle reminder that a small cadre of elite J-school graduates doesn’t define American interests will endear the deliverer to average people, who are more distrustful of the media than they are of politicians.
Overly enthusiastic liberal know-it-alls will play the role of moderator at the water cooler and break room. Republicans don’t have to accept the premise that to oppose massive expansion of government is necessarily racist, sexist, and homophobic.
Rule #5 Smile.
Rule #6: Invoke Reagan, JKF, and others. Even Clinton. Republicans shouldn’t be afraid of Clinton, who left office with approval numbers from which all politicians can learn. In the general election, independents will shun the ideologue. President Obama is most assuredly an ideologue, but even he is smart enough to pay homage to Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan from time to time.
Americans love their former presidents, for the most part. (Never invoke Jimmy Carter in the affirmative, though). All of them have done good things, and pointing those things out summons voter nostalgia, even if it is artificial.
Being president is an exercise in performance. Reagan knew it, and Clinton knew it. Voters and citizens don’t always remember intricate policy points (though they recognize ignorance), but they are impressed by one who can play the role of leader.
That role is what many caucus-goers, and voters who’ll follow them, will have in mind when they begin the process to select the GOP nominee. Following simple rules will help Republicans persuade their friends and neighbors of the rightness of a conservative turn in 2012; and the GOP candidates to position themselves for primary and general election victories.
Learn more about the author at Rich-Stowell.com
Rich is a teacher and a soldier. He is the author of Nine Weeks: A Teacher’s Education in Army Basic Training; Tunnel Club; and Not Another Boring Textbook: A High School Students’ Guide to their Inner Conservative, which you can follow on Facebook.
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