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.
5. Rick Perry needs to begin to step up his game and improve as he goes along. He came on the scene strong, but his support has stagnated a bit. While he still leads in the polls, he isn't moving anymore. He should stay away from the back and forth every time he gets attacked. He should stick more to his fundamental message and improve on it. He should also return to his anti-Washington rhetoric and not get so much in the middle of attacks on other Republican candidates. You rise when you attack President Obama. Yes, you're handsome, and you look presidential, but you need to step up your game.
6. I am a huge believer in voters and their importance, but can we have a debate that is just moderators and candidates? Let's cut the YouTube videos, Internet questions, remote questions, etc. They don't really add much to the mix, and they seem only about making the sponsoring network look cool and hi-tech.
7. Am I the only one who thinks it seems weird that CNN sponsored a debate with the tea party and Fox sponsored one with Google? I don't see the consistency in branding at all.
8. No one seems to be addressing the fundamental question that the markets and businesspeople keep repeating over and over again: How are you going to fix the dysfunction in Washington and restore faith and trust in our leaders, no matter the party? This is what is the biggest drag on the economy today, and why Standard & Poor's downgraded our bond rating for the first time in history.
9. Finally, I have this gut feeling that we aren't looking right now at who will be inaugurated president in January 2013. I don't know if another Democrat will get in to challenge President Obama, another Republican, or an independent candidate will surface, but it seems to me we aren't looking at our next president yet. Just a thought and suspicion in this time of great change and tremendous need for a different kind of leader.
That's it for now. Onward in our search for who will be elected president next year. It's going to take a lot more than Google to find who that is.
Image credit: Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP