Memo to the 2016 Republican Presidential Candidates
Take a Lesson from Ronald Reagan
If Republicans think they can run another campaign like those they ran in 2008 and 2012, they are perilously mistaken.
“In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.” —Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 1 (1787)
Fox News and Facebook are hosting the first national Republican presidential primary debate Thursday in Cleveland, Ohio — six months ahead of the Iowa caucuses on February 1, 2016 with the rest of the primaries concluding by mid-June.
The event moderators are Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace — who I rate, in that order, as the top three hosts of any news network (despite Fox’s hyperbolic and now-ubiquitous “Fox News Alert” banners – see Aesop’s “boy who cried wolf” fable).
There are now 17 Republican candidates announced — a large field bringing broad constituencies to the table. However, the Fox debate will only include the top 10 candidates, based on the average of the five most recent national polls conducted by Bloomberg, CBS News, Fox News, Monmouth University and Quinnipiac University.
The prime-time debate will include real-estate mogul Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
The seven remaining candidates in order of poll ranking are former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore. Though they did not make the prime-time event, they will participate in a debate featured earlier on Fox.
According to Fox’s own polling of self-identified Republican primary voters, the top three candidates are: Donald Trump, who has expanded his lead to 26% (up from 18% in mid-July); Jeb Bush, who has remained steady at about 15% (he was ahead of the pack in June); and Scott Walker, who is down to 9% — hemorrhaging his support to populist Trump.
However, the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll has Trump at 19%, Walker at 15% and Bush at 14%.
Suffice it to say that polls at this stage of a primary are not particularly relevant. I equate them with the weather in Alaska: If you don’t like it, wait 15 minutes.
For the record, I don’t often cite polls because of the “Pollaganda Effect” — media polling designed to produce an outcome that reflects a particular bias. There are objective and reputable polling organizations, but even those polls reflect more fragrance than substance, more about name recognition than qualifications. Of course, the only poll that really matters is the one that will take place on November 8, 2016.
While we will provide you with all the best quotes of the debate in our Friday morning coverage, here is a preparation tip for the top contenders.
Follow in the footsteps of the most successful conservative president of the 20th century — Ronald Reagan.
In his 1989 farewell address to the nation, President Reagan explained why he was re-elected with 49 states and 525 electoral votes: “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation — from our experience, our wisdom and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries.”
In fact, some two centuries earlier, Founder Thomas Paine wrote, “A little matter will move a party, but it must be something great that moves a nation.” Reagan understood this and that is why everything he worked for was wrapped in the pursuit of Liberty.
Reagan also understood that Liberty is colorblind, and he promoted it across ethnic, racial and party lines to every quarter of America.
I suggest the Republican candidates review Reagan’s clarion call for Liberty in the most famous of his early speeches, “A Time for Choosing.” Referring to the emergence of the Socialist Democrat Party, he echoed the commands of Captain John Parker at Lexington Green in 1775: “There is a point beyond which they must not advance.”
Reagan concluded that speech asserting, “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”
He also understood this timeless advice from Winston Churchill: “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time — a tremendous whack.” Republicans need to find a pile driver.
The broad and deep Republican victory in the 2014 midterm election was not only a referendum on Barack Obama’s failed domestic and foreign policies, but also reflected the outright contempt that grassroots Americans Patriots hold for “establishment Republicans.” And now, despite the historic 2014 Republican victories in Congress and across the nation, House and Senate “leadership” has not changed and is rightly perceived as status quo.
If Republicans think they can run another presidential campaign in 2016 like those they ran in 2008 and 2012, they are perilously mistaken, especially given the prevailing discontent with Republican “leadership.” Chipping away at Hillary Clinton is not going to defeat her. Democrats don’t care about her character or failed leadership.
Recall if you will Mitt Romney’s assertion about Democrat support for Obama: “There are 47% of the people who will vote for [him], no matter what … who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That’s an entitlement, and the government should give it to them. And they will vote for [Obama] no matter what.”
Romney was right, and if he had taken the advice we outlined in our “Memo to Mitt From Grassroots Americans” and done more to inspire the conservative base, he would be president today.
I suggest the debate prep also include a close study of Reagan’s most memorable debate moments, because they reveal much about his character, integrity and wisdom.
Reagan, arguably, defeated Jimmy Carter with one debate question he posed to voters: “Ask yourself, ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was?’”
Now there is a question every Republican can ask.
Recall in 1984 how Reagan completely commanded the debate stage with his eloquence and humor. When questioned about his age (he was 73), Reagan responded: “I want you to know that I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Even his Democrat opponent, Walter Mondale, was enamored with Reagan’s response.
Finally, every candidate should adhere to Reagan’s “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” I know that there are some grassroots folks who just thrive on candidates who generate disunity. But the fact is, the candidate who best demonstrates presidential character is the one who devotes his platform to taking on Obama’s heiress and the failed domestic and foreign policies of the Left.
The most qualified candidate will also be the one who successfully advocates for America’s future, not the one who engages in fratricidal attacks against Republican opponents.
The candidate who best demonstrates Reagan’s eternal optimism can win in 2016 — the candidate who conveys as did Reagan, “America’s best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.”
It’s another time for choosing, and Republicans of all stripes must unite behind one candidate who has the character, intelligence and wisdom to lead.
Pro Deo et Constitutione — Libertas aut Mors
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis