Over the past several months, I’ve been watching the Republicans running for their party’s nomination to be the presidential candidate. I’ve pointed out in past postings here and elsewhere the lack of intellectual rigor, the inability to propose anything resembling a coherent program to address the nation’s problems, and the blatant pandering to the most racist elements. All of which are disturbing, even infuriating. But I understand it, even if I don’t like it. In a primary, there often is that sort of pandering to the core base of a party, and right now, that is the core base. But what causes me to be really unimpressed by the Republican field is not that. It’s the lack of professionalism in their campaigns. If there is one indicator of how much trouble the Republican Party is in, it’s that.
What do I mean by this? Consider that through the ’80’s and well into the last decade, the Republicans had a fearsome ability to run campaigns. One didn’t have to like it to admit that. They were very good at grooming their candidate, focusing on message, and getting elections won. They could take relatively unimpressive candidates – and let’s face it, George W. Bush was far from spectacular – and get them across the finish line.
But in looking at this cycle, I see something different. While various candidates have had “buzz” within the party ranks at various times, their campaigns resembled more a local elementary school play than a Broadway production. Candidates were caught unprepared for the media spotlight, they couldn’t enunciate a clear view of what they wanted to do, and frequently seemed to be caught out by predictable issues. For example, Mitt Romney was unprepared for questions about his tax returns – and in particular his failure to release them. Tax return releases have been standard for a generation, so any failure to do so would be questioned. But he was caught flat-footed by it.
That’s just one example of many. Rick Perry being unable to handle debates, Michele Bachmann unable to answer questions about how her past statements about being submissive to her husband would impact her as President, Ron Paul not thinking that past newsletters under his name would be a problem, and Newt not thinking his
lobbying for working as a historian for Freddie Mac would be brought up, are just a quick sampling.
I’m not a campaign professional, but I have observed a lot of campaigns over my life, and that’s why I had certain expectations. I expected that a candidate would be aware of the obvious pitfalls around them. That they would have done “opposition research” on themselves, and made preparations to deal with any negatives when they arise – and they will. If it’s not the press, it’ll be your opponents who will bring them up. I expected that candidates would have a set of “stump speeches” and “position papers” which they’ll have thoroughly memorized. I expected that candidates would have practiced debating. It’s what I’m used to seeing from “seasoned politicians,” and let’s be honest here, with the exception of Herman Cain, none of the Republican candidates were “inexperienced” at running for office.
But that’s exactly what I haven’t seen from this cycle’s crop of candidates. I’m not talking about being blindsided by something unknown, or having a world or national event change the dynamic. Sure, that can – and does – happen, and you get an idea of how a candidate handles adversity from that. What I’m talking about is the “standard stuff,” the things you can see coming from a mile away. Every single one of them seems to have given no thought to the realities of a presidential campaign, and failed to hire – or failed to listen to – campaign professionals on their side. The overall impression is that it’s like looking at a reprise of the old “Hey! Let’s put on a show!” only instead of that, it was “Hey! Let’s run for president!” Since this isn’t a movie, the results were not good.
But I said in the opening paragraph that it was an indicator of how much trouble the Republican Party was in. The reason I said that is that in the past, campaigns have been able to appeal to enough of the bases inside the Republican party – and yes, every party has multiple ones – to form a coalition they take into the general election. We’re not seeing that this time around, we’re seeing a splintering effect, urged on in many ways by the campaigns themselves. The lack of professionalism in the campaigns says volumes about the quality of candidates – and the lack of a coherent strategy – that the Republican Party is able to attract. The 2010 election may well turn out to be the “last gasp” of the party we knew, where they traded their long-term prospects for a short term gain. The Republican Party that comes out of this election looks to be a lot smaller than it was before.