Great Political Candidates Need Five Tools

Monday, 02 Aug 2010 11:42 AM

By John LeBoutillier

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The national economy stalls — again. No new jobs are created. The immigration issue becomes red hot — again. And the healthcare law is unpopular — still.

Well, we can assume that 2012 will be a watershed election year with an at least a semi-unpopular and thus vulnerable incumbent, Barack Obama, who possibly can be defeated. This is a far cry from November 2008, when some proclaimed him the new messiah.

But — and it is a big “but” — “you can’t beat somebody with nobody.” The Republican Party has a penchant for nominating weak candidates for president lately. Let us remind ourselves of some recent disasters:
  • In 2008, the GOP nominated John McCain, who refused to attack Obama. McCain is/was/always will be pro-amnesty-for-illegals — so he and Obama had the same position and thus there never was a debate in the 2008 election about immigration.
  • Back in 1996, when Bill Clinton was vulnerable after the 1994 Republican Revolution, the GOP nominated Bob Dole, a great man, a great American, and a great U.S. senator — but a total disaster as a national presidential candidate. (Ross Perot’s drawing 9 percent of the vote away from the GOP didn’t help, either.)
  • Even in 2000, the GOP selected G.W. Bush, who barely defeated the biggest dud stiff bore political candidate ever: Al Gore. Yes, on pure candidate skills, Bush was better than Gore. But he still wasn’t exactly scintillating.

What exactly makes someone a great political candidate?

Here are my five tools that make a great political candidate:

1) Fire in the belly. This overriding hunger borders on the obsessive. Virtually all successful political candidates, no matter how well they disguise it, would "walk over their mothers" to win, as Nixon White House aide Charles Colson once put it.

2) Self-discipline. The ability to rein in one's own worst instincts, habits, and weaknesses.

3) Authoritative presence. Especially in the television era, candidates must project an air of gravitas and weight. Dan Quayle's "deer-in-the-headlights" look undercut anything he said or did.

4) Raising money. All successful candidates find a way to raise enough money to win. Some, like JFK, merely ask their fathers to pay. Others spend years developing a network of donors; others cultivate special interests. However they do it, winning candidates always come up with "the mother's milk of politics."

5) Communicating a positive vision. Derided by President George H.W. Bush as "that vision thing," it is this singular ability that elevated presidents Kennedy, Reagan, and Franklin Roosevelt into the political hall of fame. The skill to speak in a way that inspires voters is invaluable — and very rare. (No wonder so many campaigns today resort to "negative campaigning": Their candidates are incapable of painting with voice and words a believable picture of a better future.)

When a candidate has all five of these — and especially Nos. 3 and 5 — then you really have a potential star.

All the so-far mentioned 2012 GOP candidates – Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and Mississippi Gov. Hayley Barbour – have some good points.

But none of them is sincere or talented at Nos. 3 and 5.

Our fear must be that through the 2012 primaries and caucuses, the winnowing process will bring the GOP back to its boring, staid old self — and thus turn off the tea party fervor which is the hottest political movement in decades.

What we should be looking for in our 2012 candidate is a conservative who can sell conservatism — and also attract middle-of-the-road independents — all the while being pleasantly on the attack against the liberals, using humor and a light touch to harness the underlying fear and anxiety we are all feeling about our country’s future.

A tall order, indeed.

The 2012 candidate who can do this has not surfaced yet. Let us hope such a candidate does soon.

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