Republicans are looking for a standard bearer who can defeat President Obama in 2012. Are they any closer to finding one?
On Thursday, the world's dominant search engine, Google, cosponsored a debate for a party in search of a leader to take on a currently very vulnerable incumbent president; nine candidates in search of a message that will resonate with potential Republican voters and carry them to victory; and, last but not least, Americans in search of a leader who can give us a vision of hope and confidence and optimism to succeed in this 21st century.
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So how're we doing? To borrow from candidate Herman Cain, let's have nine key takeaways to give us a sense of where things stand.
1. If the economy doesn't improve and a significant event doesn't occur (and thus his approval numbers remain low), President Obama can't win reelection in a two-way race no matter who the Republican nominee is. The electability argument in the Republican primary is meaningless at this point and under these circumstances. It will only matter if the president's election prospects substantially improve or a real third-party candidate surfaces next year. This nomination is worth having by any of the Republican candidates, because this is nearly a complete referendum on the president at this time.
2. Like most people who are observing this process, I hope we soon narrow this field so we can hear more from the few candidates who have a real shot at winning the Republican nomination and see how they perform outside a circus atmosphere. This list would not include Jon Huntsman, who at this point has disappeared from the stage. Arguing that a candidate who has already spent millions, held numerous events, employed a number of paid staff, and participated in a number of debates is somehow relevant because he's running third in New Hampshire (behind Ron Paul) is laughable. Let's get this thing down to four or five candidates at most and really have a substantive discussion. Also, let's have a format where candidates aren't standing behind podiums but sitting around a table. It would make for a better discussion.
3. Advice to Mitt Romney: Let go of the attacks on Rick Perry over Social Security. Perry has the support of a vast majority of Republican voters on this issue, and the more you attack him on it, the more you sound to Republicans like a Democratic operative from Washington, D.C. Stick with the message you have honed on the economy and President Obama and stay away from side attacks that have you defending a program most voters think is broken.
4. Advice to Michele Bachmann: You gain very little by attacking Rick Perry. Even though many of your voters and his voters are exceedingly similar, the better contrast for you is with other candidates who don't seem to have the passion and core conservative values in this race. You shine more when voters see your core and your passion, and the best thing to do is compare yourself to another candidate who is more the opposite of you, not one who is more similar. To gain your ground back, I would suggest going after Mitt Romney, where this contrast is more clear.