Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Reagan Library Debate

Eight of the Republican candidates for president are gathering for the big debate tonight. I wrote yesterday over at Greg's place about strategy for the also-rans, so I might as well say something about the frontrunners.

If they asked me, what I'd tell both Rick Perry and Mitt Romney is the same thing: attack Barack Obama as often and as viciously as you like, but don't even mildly criticize any of the people up there on stage with you. Well, sure, it's safe to criticize Ron Paul on foreign policy and drugs. But other than that? Nope.

Debates as a whole are not nearly as important as they're made out to be, but in primary campaigns they're not necessarily irrelevant, either. This one is a bit more high-profile, and much of that attention will be focused on the new kid on the block, Rick Perry. What should Perry's goal be? Well, if the audience is party actors -- and it should be-- then his weaknesses with them are questions about electibility and competence. No one outside of the fringe who won't be satisfied with any plausible nominee thinks he's not a real conservative, and I don't think anyone is concerned that he's not tough enough. What does worry party actors, however, is whether he'll scare off moderates and whether he's prepared to be president (at least, that's what should worry them!). It's far too early to pivot to moderate positions. But he probably wants to do what he can to convince everyone that he's capable of sounding sane and smart. So for Perry, it's policy, and lots of it, as wonky as he can get it.

As for the Mittster: I see no reason for him to change his above-the-fray strategy any time soon. There's a very good chance that the also-rans will be gunning for Perry, after all, so why get in their way or make that story about himself? Keep to what's worked (more or less) so far: use the word "jobs" a million times, credential himself with conservatives as best as possible by slamming Barack Obama and other Democrats, talk about what a great hero Ronald Reagan was, and call it a night. If Perry trips up, great; if not, there are still many months to go, and plenty of time for Romney to do the attacking if he needs to. Meanwhile, he can do what he does best: look and act presidential.

So that's the advice I'd give them. I'll be watching and tweeting, and I'm planning to post a wrap-up over at Plum Line, so look for it there if you're interested.


  1. Perry and Paul are already feuding -- since Regan is at the center of it, I'm guessing it will come up tonight.

    "Paul thought President Reagan was so bad, he left the GOP," Perry spokesman Mark Miner said...


    Paul has an attack ad against Perry:

  2. Pawlenty got in trouble because he fluctuated between attacking Obama, serious policy discussion and trying to make his case as a plausible candidate. It's hard to do all that, and I'd always recommend a candidate pick and choose, and skinny it down some. That's why he's gone... he chose unwisely, or really didn't choose at ALL. He got some bad breaks too, Bachmann being the baddest, but he might have overcome that if he'd been more strategic minded, and selected a simpler course, and hung around a la Huntsman. It's waaaaay early... and you never know about these things right now.

    I don't need Tim Pawlenty or any of these characters to tell me that Obama is a failed president, and anybody that gives that anything more than cursory attention, or to highlight what he/she personally believes and will execute in office, is better served shutting up about Obama. I'd take gratuitous and multitudinous attacks on Obama as a sign of weakness, and not ready for primetime-ness in a candidate.

    I'd predict a feeling-out atmosphere tonight. All should be prepared for any attacks, but I'd expect these to be mild and easily parried at this stage. Perry and Romney have no reason to go on the attack just yet, and only the others might be tempted, and only on the select attack points, which Perry and Romney will have well-oiled answers on, no doubt. No fireworks, sadly. ;-)

  3. Anon: While you might not be looking for that red meat, I think a lot of GOP voters are looking to vote for the candidate that hates Obama the most. Nothing new or bad there; the Dem contest in 2008 also involved a question of who was the most unlike Bush.

    GOP voters don't need to be "told" Obama is a bad president; rather, they want to hear that a candidate agrees with them on this question, as with others, like abortion, taxes, Iraq, or whatever. Thus, these debates feature a ton of "dog-whistle" phrases to signal "hey, I'm one of you!""

    Voters also want to see that these candidates are good at debating. More than a few voters will, after tonight, rationalize their choice by saying "I think X would be able to out-debate Obama."

    But, let's face it, nobody will be watching. Or, rather, few people who haven't made up their minds. Tonight's viewers are going to be such GOP-politics junkies, that it's very unlikely that they haven't decided on a candidate already. They've spent days on blogs, watching Fox, talking politics with their families, volunteering at Tea Party events, etc. In fact, I'd wager that no more than 20% of the viewers of tonight's debate DIDN'T watch the last one, too.

    Thus, tomorrow, the polls won't move an inch.

  4. MJ,

    The Left really did hate Bush, but I don't get the sense that people hate Obama. I even sorta like the guy, in fact. Were he just another lefty senator voting "present" like before, I'd probably look at him like Feingold or somebody like that, a nice and harmless guy putting in his time. But he's viewed as a failure, and that's really all that counts.

    Fierce partisans are gonna hate whoever their evil opponent is, and maybe that's what you're speaking of, but this guy draws less hate than others, I notice. He may yet sink to the others' level, I suppose.

    It's amusing to hear the Left waxing romantically so often about Reagan these days. That was the WORST hate imaginable, back then. It was often even more vicious than the Bush 43 hatred, and by the standards of the day, it was MUCH worse. Obama doesn't know what hate is, I'd say.

  5. What are the odds that Matt Jarvis didn't realize that he wasn't replying to any old anonymous poster (like this one), but rather THE Anonymous, the fastest growing sensation on the blog. It really wasn't obviously him until the second post.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?