Less Silly, More Substance

May 16, 2011

Trump is out, which is good news for Republicans because his departure makes the GOP less silly.  The operative word is “less” because we Republicans need a candidate that can mount a serious, grown-up alternative to Obama.

Let’s face it.  This is an uphill battle.  Barring some disastrous scandal or the economy going in the tank — again, the Republicans will likely lose in 2012.  Why? Because we’re fighting an incumbent with the political dexterity of a world class gymnast.  We once thought Clinton was the master triangulator; meet the new world champion of political omnipresence.

Obama correctly uses Guantanamo-military tribunals to process detainees while his attorney general decries the inhumanity of our Cuban presence. He disdains tax breaks for the rich while extending the Bush tax cuts.  He ran as the anti-war candidate touting hard deadlines to leave Afghanistan and Iraq, then doubles down on the war effort and becomes more Bush than Bush.  While not wanting to spike the ball, he clearly relishes his role as the Terminator as wonderfully parodied by Saturday Night Live.

The polling is equally perplexing.  Our intrepid president has an approval rating in the 40’s.  But in theoretical head-to-head polling with Republican candidates, he dominates.  The most recent Obama vs. Romney poll has Obama leading by 20 points.  Other Republican candidates are faring even worse.

So, what’s the Republican party to do? First, let’s keep our sense of humor and accept the fact Obama is a likeable person.  I can’t stand his politics, but he seems like the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind having in your NCAA pool or play a round of golf with. If Republican criticisms come across too strident and defensive and whiny, the public will back the candidate that doesn’t sound like nails on the blackboard.

Second, nominate a candidate of substance that can out-debate Obama.  McCain was a terrible debater.  He lost his happy warrior persona long ago, turned into angry guy and managed to be less presidential than an opponent 20 years his junior.  Does this mean Obama is a good debater?  Hardly.  Away from a teleprompter, he is a pondering academic with a halting speaking style that is distant and lacks emotion.

The debates are an opportunity to unseat Obama, but in my lifetime the Republicans have never been good debaters.  Reagan had a few moments (e.g. “There he goes again.” vs. Carter.  “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience …” vs. Mondale) but our nominees look like they would rather be somewhere else. Remember George H. checking his watch?  This time around, let’s choose a candidate with some linguistic moxie, one who can challenge Obama by focusing on issues that matter most to Americans.

Finally, I hope we can nominate a candidate who has managed to get through life without receiving a paycheck as a cable news talking head or reality TV star.  I understand presidential candidates have big egos; it takes hubris to think you can lead a country.  But let’s avoid vanity-candidates with bizarre personal lives and choose instead with a track record of successful governance, someone who will shine light on the failed policies of the Obama presidency in a manner that illuminates and inspires –without annoying everyone in the room.

Obama is a formidable incumbent with a billion dollar campaign fund. But the 2012 election, like all elections, will be a battle for moderate voters and moderates should be appalled by Obama’s economic trifecta of high unemployment, record budget deficits and soaring federal debt.  Keep the focus on these issues and we have a chance.

Jim Triggs

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