Being Right: One Term Only



Alan He

For whatever reasons, many commentators have bemoaned the current slate of Republican pres­idential candidates. The media has incessantly fed into our fear that the Republican candidates are inadequate against Barack Obama. At some level, the angst is understandable.

As Newt Gingrich would like to remind us, the presumptive frontrunner is the guy who lost to the guy who lost to President Obama. To make matters worse, while the Republicans battle it out, President Obama’s poll numbers have slowly increased.

I’m here to tell Republicans that whichever candidate emerges out of the primary will be much better equipped to defeat the current president.

A long, drawn-out primary always has the potential to limit the ability to organize for a general election, but there are plenty of benefits associated with a good fight.

Just ask Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. What’s more, we have a good, seasoned field of can­didates: a former House Speaker, a twelve-term Congressman, the third ranking Republican in the Senate and a governor with significant business and legislative achievements.

This year, the only imperative is to beat the current president in the general election. Every single Republican voter understands that this is the only significant litmus test. Newt Gingrich didn’t beat Mitt Romney in South Carolina because he was more conservative; Gingrich won because he convinced the voters of South Carolina that he could win a general election.

If Republican primary voters only wanted ideological consistency, they would have chosen Rick Santorum or Ron Paul. They didn’t. In many respects, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have the opposite problem. Romney has proven that he can govern and manage effectively and Gingrich has shown throughout his long career that he can win historic elections.

But Romney couldn’t beat Ted Kennedy in 1994 or John McCain in 2008, while Gingrich’s erratic term as Speaker of the House went badly enough to turn the entire Republican estab­lishment against him. In order to win the primary, one of the two men will have to settle these important questions. With the economy still down and a looming crisis in Europe, there is absolutely no reason to doubt that Republicans have a fighting chance of taking the Senate and Presidency from the billion-dollar Obama machine. The eventual Republican candidate will need to project Obama-esque confidence and embrace the dark arts of demagoguery that Bill Clinton employed so successfully against George H.W. Bush. The 1992 Presidential Clinton Playbook is a potential blueprint for Republicans in 2012.

The 1992 Clinton campaign convinced American voters not to reelect a moderate Repub­lican president with significant foreign and domestic achievements. Think Desert Storm, the reunification of Germany, the fall of the Soviet Union, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 1990 Clean Air Act and the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act.

The Clinton team portrayed Bush as an out of touch, untrustworthy WASP and minimized the President’s achievements. The “New Democrats” successfully preyed on Republican sus­picions that Bush wasn’t a Reagan conservative. Why was the President untrustworthy, you might ask? Because an intransigent Democratic Congress forced him to break his promise not to raise taxes in the midst of a potential financial crisis and preparations for the Persian Gulf War. Then candidate Clinton successfully savaged Bush for raising taxes while trumpeting his own tax cutting credentials, only to raise taxes in 1992 after taking office.

If you wonder why bipartisanship is dead, look no further than 1992. Today, many liberals are convinced that President Obama didn’t fulfill his campaign promises or potential, in spite of his many liberal accomplishments. The Republican candidates need to capitalize on this belief. It’s been said that Obama saw a kindred spirit in H.W. Bush. Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom and very recently hosted him at the White House.

It’s time for Republicans to make sure Obama joins George H.W. Bush in the pantheon of one term Presidents.

Contact Alan He at [email protected]