March 18, 2012

Big Picture: Perception of the GOP nominee

Then what?
Here's a strategic question I promised to talk about a few days back:  How is the GOP going to be perceived coming out of the nomination process?  It depends on a few factors; whether the current battle is hurting the eventual nominee, who the nominee is and even to a certain extent, what ends up happening to Ron Paul.

After the Republican party has it's nominee, that person will have to face president Obama.  The internal nomination process and the dragged out contest this year was actually a result of a design put in place by former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele.  He put in place the proportional delegation assignments for states which has served to draw out the nomination process since the winner-take-all assignment, particularly in the early states, prevent a front-runner from winning too many delegates too quickly and sewing up a nomination before being vetted on a more national basis.  Of course the other factor is that the front runner hasn't really gotten the electorate to rally behind him.

There's been arguments put forward that this drawn out process is either good or bad for the eventual nominee.  One the one hand it's argued that the in-fighting and attacks weaken the candidates and provides fodder for Democrat attacks in the fall.  Others, including myself, argue that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  The nominee gets the advantage of practicing debating techniques, messaging techniques, dealing with the media and even gets foresight into what some of the future attacks will be.

The reality is that while there is considerable talk about the harm the GOP is doing to itself right now, there is not a large segment of the population paying attention.  The 'harm being done' is really not a significant factor in the longer term, despite the wounds it might cause right now.  The fodder for team Obama is not necessarily significant either because the attacks are mostly going to be coming from a different angle than the liberal slant the Democrats would approach the presidential contest.  To a certain extent that ties into the eventual nominee.

If Mitt Romney is the nominee, he'll be re-tagged as a flip-flopper as he has been in the primary.  He's been getting better at addressing it as he's been hammered on it for a few months now.  He has argued that he has become more conservative as he's aged.  That may even serve his anti-Obamacare argument given his steadfast defense of Romneycare.  He says he'll repeal Obamacare and he can argue it's moved further towards progressivism than what he did.  He can talk about states' rights and his understanding of the Constitutional  importance that for example.  He'll be aiming for those centrist votes and that argument might work well with them, since they typically don't like the over reach of the new health care law.

If Rick Santorum is the nominee he'll have a hard time overcoming the amount of time he has spent on social issues.  He has frequently in the recent portion of the primaries gotten off track.  It's the economy stupid is still a truism:

Regardless of your views on social issues, and regardless of your views on God and the importance of morality and character in government and in daily life, it's not something everyone has in common with you and it's not going to get you elected.  Not now.  Right now what everybody wants is a sound economy and a fiscally sound government. PERIOD. That trumps gay marriage, it trumps contraception.  It even trumps Iran.  Deal with it or you WILL lose.  Newt Gingrich is not likely to be the nominee, but at least he gets that.

Getting back to the point about the nomination process, a brokered convention would not be a bad thing for the Republicans either.  Happening so close to the election, the drama would actually add some excitement to the process and it would attract a lot of free attention.  There's a lot of free advertising, much freer of media filtering and spinning than debates, interviews and news features.  What it would require is a very strong slate of convention speeches interspersed with the intrigue of the nomination.  That's not always the case, which brings me to Ron Paul.

Ron Paul is in this race for the long haul because he wants a prime time convention speech (or perhaps a VP slot for his son Rand Paul, which isn't happening this year).  Ron Paul is an avowed Constitutionalist and an advocate of the restraint of government and fiscal soundness. These are all good positions, but when he talks about them he can come across as kooky - especially if he goes off on a tangent,  like Iran for example.  It's not clear whether Ron Paul has remained enough of a factor in the race to merit a prime time slot any more.  Actually, it is - he isn't.  Nevertheless, he may still get one.  For all the possible upside of a late summer convention, one radical or tangential speech could derail a lot of goodwill a smart convention could do.

The GOP convention, particularly a brokered one, will garner more attention than the Democratic convention because of the sheer newness of the candidate (relatively speaking).  The only attention paid to the Democrat convention will likely be the Obama acceptance speech, and mostly by those longing for a return to 2008.  A GOP high profile event plus one bad speech is a bad mix.  The press would pounce on some of the radical notions and use it to paint the entire GOP, including it's base as kooks.  They did it incessantly with the Tea Party, to the point of fabricating accusations and news.  Remember Pat Buchannan in 1992? He said:
"There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself."
It's the social conservative version of a Ron Paul comment.  True or not, it did far more harm  than good.  Perhaps Rick Santorum should take note.  Politics is about being very very careful about staying on message.  Similar to the Rick Santorum problem, the Ron Paul problem is that a slipped comment could be very damaging.  In this case it would damage the party, not just himself.  Ron Paul should only be allowed to speak at the convention if his speech is concise and vetted by the messaging 'experts' at the RNC and by the nominee himself.

In summary, a hotly contested nomination process is a good thing.  Each potential nominee has issues to overcome but ones that they can indeed overcome if they are smart, and the convention needs to be clear, focused and on message and it will provide a launch pad for a successful fall campaign.  A failure in either of the last two areas would be a problem for the GOP in their quest to dethrone president Obama.

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