There are election seasons in which playing it safe makes sense. For Republicans, the current cycle is not one of them.
When you’re 20 points ahead in the polls, the old adage about not fixing what isn’t broken generally holds true. That’s not a position that either party has been in for a long time and is certainly not reflective of current GOP fortunes, so running a campaign as if it were doesn’t make much sense.
Furthermore, when your opponent is making waves for not playing it safe, you don’t want to sit back and be reactive. And while the GOP has been proactive in ideas, Republican campaigning and PR has been anything but, and this has been the case for decades. That needs to stop.
Which brings us to the current election and the biggest opportunity to make waves, the selection of a vice president. Republicans did well by nominating John McCain, by far the strongest candidate in a general election (and looking at his overall stance on positions, he is a far more reliable conservative than Romney or Giuliani). His nomination was the best one to position us for victory according to all polls and most analysis. But the nomination of Sen. McCain, though the most electorally sound choice by far, still lacked the reverberance that was so pronounced in the nomination of Sen. Obama.
The best solution for this is to nominate a vice presidential candidate who brings that needed political “buzz” to the ticket. In fact, in a year like this, nominating such a candidate is a must. While I believe that Sen. McCain will be our next president, we still must do all we can to help this happen, not to hinder it. And no campaign decision is more crucial than the selection of a vice president.
In the past week, rumors have been going around that the selection of Tim Pawlenty is a done deal. While I doubt this to be factual, the issue should be analyzed. I see nothing wrong in Tim Pawlenty’s record. He’s a very good governor, an excellent family man and a great guy (and he’s far more electable than Gov. Romney, who’s still somewhat being mentioned). Pawlenty would be a great candidate if we needed to play it safe.
But in an election in which we can ill afford to play it safe, the idea of a McCain/Pawlenty ticket against an Obama/(name your favorite cartoon character here) one, leaves Republicans looking bland and lacking offense, which would automatically put us on defense. Such a ticket would do little to boost the national campaign.
Some would say that Pawlenty would help carry the Midwest. There’s no doubt that he can be effective there, but only minimally so. The problem is that swing voters in the Midwest, those already considering voting for the far left, will be influenced by Washington media coverage and will get caught up in the pizzazz that is election news reporting. Our side cannot afford to let Democrats get a stranglehold on excitement, not this year.
If Sen. McCain does choose Gov. Pawlenty, the GOP should definitely emphasize his working class roots, his interest in rock music and everything else that would highlight the flavor of his candidacy. But it won’t be enough, and McCain needs to do something stronger that causes real excitement and forces people to look at his campaign.
I won’t pretend to say for sure who the best pick is. After much consideration my own thoughts are that a national unity ticket would be beneficial, as it would be most attractive to swing voters. In such a situation conservatives only need a firm and repeated promise that should McCain not complete his term, the vice presidential nominee would not deviate from any of McCain’s policies, out of respect for the candidate and out of courtesy to the overwhelming majority of his voters, unless and until he or she is elected in their own right. Without such a guarantee I don’t believe that the prospect should be considered for a moment. If the veep nominee agreed and conservatives would agree to support the ticket, conservatives would be able to, and should, seek commitments from McCain on social issues in exchange. Those matters are far more important than who gets the number two slot.
Conservatives stand much to gain by focusing on implementation of needed conservative policy. This is much more important and will help further the conservative cause far more than whoever lives in the Naval Observatory. Any national unity candidate would not be a future candidate for president and can leave talent like Pawlenty in tact to run for president in the future, without the baggage of having been an ineffective campaigner in a year when the political climate simply worked against him. And we must not allow ourselves to be blamed for McCain picking a bland nominee who will not help him this year. Should this happen, it can only hurt the conservative movement.
A national unity candidate, even with the necessary caveat of the veep nominee agreeing to uphold McCain’s policies in any situation, would not be something I would have advocated a year ago. But when fighting a candidate as hopelessly naïve as Obama, the security and economic interests of the nation must be protected above all else. That means doing whatever we can to ensure that John McCain becomes president, including allowing him to choose the most effective running mate, not someone who works well for us but who harms our cause among swing voters.
There are other good choices to explore. Bobby Jindal brings significant advantages. Michael Steele or J.C. Watts would also be excellent choices, though the media will paint them in a negative light, something they cannot do to a national unity candidate. All of these options are far better, politically speaking, than running Tim Pawlenty this time around. Sarah Palin is also a more effective choice. Pawlenty’s a good man. But now’s not his time and a vice presidential nomination in 2008 may not even be to his own future benefit.
AN EFFECTIVE STRATEGY FOR CONSERVATIVES
Conservatives need to stand up for this country. At times, this will mean opposing some Republican policy, as it always has (Please don’t read into this. I do not expect McCain to diverge from any of the GOP’s core conservative positions. I’m referring to the party’s general tendency on certain issues). But right now, standing up for this country as a conservative means doing everything possible to defeat a far left candidate. As we face the most far left nominee of a major party at least since George McGovern, and possibly ever, we need to do everything possible to advance our candidate’s cause and not push for something that can hinder it.
Conservatives can have tremendous influence on John McCain, especially if we play a crucial role in advancing his cause. It is worth pointing out that he is far more conservative than Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford or even the first President Bush. He has been a champion of fiscal discipline. He won’t raise taxes, as it’s been established for almost 20 years that such a move is suicidal for a GOP president. What we do need to pressure McCain on is to support or advance laws preventing unelected judges from overturning the will of the people and other such causes. This will be far more important than garnering a favorable vice presidential candidate, and saves us from the blame if it backfires.
The GOP and McCain can ill afford not to take chances. And by ensuring the most electable ticket, the conservative cause can negotiate real advancement of its policies in exchange for not getting the perfect vice presidential candidate. It’s a win-win and there aren’t too many other viable options.