Free Consulting For A 2012 Republican

(Bumped up from last night)

Several prominent GOP consultants had a very good discussion today about what they'd tell a 2012 GOP presidential candidate, in the Forum feature on The Atlantic's 100 Days Special Report. Republicans mulling a challenge to Obama (Romney? Huckabee? Jindal? Palin? Sanford?) got some free advice on what they should be doing in the meantime, and we got to speculate about 2012 along with them--which is always fun.

Two points of consensus shared by a few of the panelists: GOP hopefuls need to do something and come up with ideas, rather than simply critique Obama--and this puts governors at an advantage as potential candidates.

Here's a brief rundown of what was said:

Terry Nelson, political director of President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign and an early campaign manager for McCain, said hopefuls need to recognize the field is wide open and take advantage of major policy debates looming in Washington and come up with solutions. Political tactics will win the primary, Nelson said, but not the general.

Karen Hanretty, former RNC communications director and deputy communications director of the Fred Thompson '08 campaign, said hopefuls need to travel the country and the world for the next few years--though NOT on a so-called "listening tour"--use technology beyond Facebook and Twitter, learn Spanish (if you don't know why, she says, you shouldn't be running), and be accessible.

New media guru Soren Dayton said new pragmatic-conservative ideas will be needed to win over Independents, and sitting governors will be at an advantage if they've done something to address the economic crisis. Learn from the Obama campaign and make grassroots investment a priority, he says: the GOP will need a comparable grassroots effort in 2012.

Alex Castellanos, a senior strategist for Romney in 2008 and an advisor to the Bush/Cheney campaigns, said Obama is setting the table for conservatism in 2012, playing into liberal stereotypes of big spending and weak defense. Voters might turn on Obama in 2012, he says, so Republican hopfuls shouldn't hesitate to run.

Phil Musser, a senior adviser for Romney in 2008, also said GOP hopefuls should take advantage of major debates to formulate ideas (example: Rick Perry and tea parties/secession Sanford and the bailout). Identify and cultivate the best minds in strategy and fundraising, use time wisely, and build lists and an online following, Musser said.