73 Rules For Running For President As A Republican

RS: 73 Rules For Running For President As A Republican

We do not yet know who the Republican presidential nominee will be in 2016. We do not even know for certain who the candidates will be, although several are visibly positioning themselves to run. We all have our own ideas about who should run and what the substance of their platforms should be. But even leaving those aside, it’s possible to draw some lessons from the past few GOP campaign cycles and offer some advice that any prospective candidate should heed, the sooner the better. Some of these rules are in a little tension with each other; nobody said running for President was easy. But most are simply experience and common sense.

1-Run because you think your ideas are right and you believe you would be the best president. Don’t stay out because your chances are slim, and don’t get in because someone else wants you to. Candidates who don’t have a good reason for running or don’t want to be there are a fraud on their supporters.

2-Ask yourself what you’re willing to sacrifice or compromise on to win. If there’s nothing important you’d sacrifice, don’t run; you will lose. If there’s nothing important you wouldn’t, don’t run; you deserve to lose.

3- If you don’t like Republican voters, don’t run.

4-Don’t start a campaign if you’re not prepared for the possibility that you might become the frontrunner. Stranger things have happened.

5-If you’ve never won an election before, go win one first. This won’t be the first one you win.

6-Winning is what counts. Your primary and general election opponents will go negative, play wedge issues that work for them, and raise money wherever it can be found. If you aren’t willing to do all three enthusiastically, you’re going to be a high minded loser. Nobody who listens to the campaign-trail scolds wins. In the general election, if you don’t convey to voters that you believe in your heart that your opponent is a dangerously misguided choice, you will lose.

7-Pick your battles, or they will be picked for you. You can choose a few unpopular stances on principle, but even the most principled candidates need to spend most of their time holding defensible ground. If you have positions you can’t explain or defend without shooting yourself in the foot, drop them.

8-Don’t be surprised when people who liked you before you run don’t like you anymore. Prepare for it.

9-Be sure before you run that your family is on board with you running. They need to be completely committed, because it will be harder than they can imagine. Related: think of the worst possible thing anyone could say about the woman in your life you care about the most, and understand that it will be said.

10-You will be called a racist, regardless of your actual life history, behavior, beliefs or platform. Any effort to deny that you’re a racist will be taken as proof that you are one. Accept it as the price of admission.

11-Have opposition research done on yourself. Have others you trust review the file. Be prepared to answer for anything that comes up in that research. If there’s anything that you think will sink you, don’t run.

12-Ask yourself if there’s anything people will demand to know about you, and get it out there early. If your tax returns or your business partnerships are too important to disclose, don’t run. (We might call this the Bain Capital Rule).

13-Realize that your record, and all the favors you’ve done, will mean nothing if your primary opponent appears better funded.

14-Run as who you are, not who you think the voters want. There’s no substitute for authenticity.

15-Each morning, before you read the polls or the newspapers, ask yourself what you want to talk about today. Talk about that.

16-If you never give the media new things to talk about, they’ll talk about things you don’t like.

17-Never assume the voters are stupid or foolish, but also don’t assume they are well-informed. Talk to them the way you’d explain something to your boss for the first time.

18-Handwrite the parts of your platform you want voters to remember on a 3×5 index card. If it doesn’t fit, your message is too complicated. If you can’t think of what to start with, don’t run.

19-Voters may be motivated by hope, fear, resentment, greed, altriusm or any number of other emotions, but they want to believe they are voting for something, not against someone. Give them some positive cause to rally around beyond defeating the other guy.

20-Optimism wins. If you are going to be a warrior, be a happy warrior. Anger turns people off, so laugh at yourself and the other side whenever possible, even in a heated argument.

21-Ideas don’t run for President; people do. If people don’t like you, they won’t listen to you.

22-Your biography is the opening act. Your policy proposals and principles are the headliner. Never confuse the two. The voters know the difference.

23-Show, don’t tell. Proclaiming your conservatism is meaningless, and it’s harder to sell to the unconverted than policy proposals and accomplishments that are based on conservative thinking.

24-Being a consistent conservative will help you more than pandering to nuts on the Right. If you can’t tell the difference between the two, don’t run.

25-Winning campaigns attract crazy and stupid people as supporters; you can’t get a majority without them. This does not mean you should have crazy or stupid people as your advisers or spokespeople.

26-Principles inspire; overly complex, specific plans are a pinata that can get picked to death. If you’re tied down defending Point 7 of a 52 point plan that will never survive contact with the Congress anyway you lose. Complex plans need to be able to be boiled down to the principles and incentives they will operate on. The boiling is the key part.

27-Be ready and able to explain how your plans benefit individual voters. Self-interest is a powerful thing in a democracy.

28-If you haven’t worked out the necessary details of a policy, don’t be rushed into releasing it just because Ezra Klein thinks you don’t have a plan. Nobody will care that you didn’t have a new tax plan ready 14 months before Election Day.

29-Don’t say things that are false just because the CBO thinks they’re true.

30-If you don’t have a position on an issue, say that you’re still studying the issue. Nobody needs an opinion on everything at the drop of a hat, and you’ll get in less trouble.

31-When in doubt, go on the attack against the Democratic frontrunner rather than your primary opponents. Never forget that you are auditioning to run the general election against the Democrat, not just trying to be the least-bad Republican.

32-Attacking your opponents from the left, or using left-wing language, is a mistake no matter how tempting the opportunity. It makes Republican voters associate you with people they don’t like. This is how both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry ended up fumbling the Bain Capital attack.

33-Be prepared to defend every attack you make, no matter where your campaign made it. Nobody likes a rabbit puncher. Tim Pawlenty’s attack on Romneycare dissolved the instant he refused to repeat it to Romney’s face, and so did his campaign.

34-If your position has changed, explain why the old one was wrong. People want to know how you learn. If you don’t think the old one was wrong, just inconvenient, the voters will figure that out.

35-If a debate or interview question is biased or ridiculous, point that out. Voters want to know you can smell a trap. This worked for Newt Gingrich every single time he did it. It worked when George H.W. Bush did it to Dan Rather. It will work for you.

36-Cultivate sympathetic media, from explicitly conservative outlets to fair-minded local media. But even in the primaries, you need to engage periodically with hostile mainstream media outlets to stay in practice and prove to primary voters that you can hold your ground outside the bubble.

37-Refuse to answer horserace questions, and never refer to “the base.” Leave polls to the pollsters and punditry to the pundits. Mitt Romney’s 47% remark was a textbook example of why candidates should not play pundit.

38-Hecklers are an opportunity, not a nuisance. If you can’t win an exchange with a heckler, how are you going to win one with a presidential candidate? If you’re not sure how it’s done, go watch some of Chris Christie’s YouTube collection.

39-Everywhere you go, assume a Democrat is recording what you say. This is probably the case.

40-Never whine about negative campaigning. If it’s false, fight back; if not, just keep telling your own story. Candidates who are complaining about negative campaigning smell like losing.

41-“You did too” and “you started it” get old in a hurry. Use them sparingly.

42-If you find yourself explaining how the Senate works, stop talking. If you find yourself doing this regularly, stop running.

43-Never say “the only poll that matters is on Election Day” because only losers say that, and anyway even Election Day starts a month early now. But never forget that polls can and do change.

44-Voters do not like obviously insincere pandering, but you cannot win an election by refusing on principle to meet the voters where they are. That includes, yes, addressing Hispanic and other identity groups with a plan for sustained outreach and an explanation of how they benefit from your agenda. Build your outreach team, including liaisons and advertising in Spanish-language media, early and stay engaged as if this was the only way to reach the voters. For some voters, it is.

45-Post something as close to daily as possible on YouTube featuring yourself – daily message, clips of your best moments campaigning, vignettes from the trail. You can’t visit every voter, but you can visit every voter’s computer or phone.

46-Never suggest that anybody would not make a good vice president. Whatever they may say, everyone wants to believe they could be offered the job.

47-If you’re not making enemies among liberals, you’re doing it wrong.

48- If you don’t have a plausible strategy for winning conservative support, you’re in the wrong party’s primary.

49-The goal is to win the election, not just the primary. Never box yourself in to win a primary in a way that will cause you to lose the election.

50-Don’t bother making friends in the primary who won’t support you in the general. Good press for being the reasonable Republican will evaporate when the choice is between you and a Democrat.

51-Some Republicans can be persuaded to vote for you in the general, but not in the primary. Some will threaten to sit out the general. Ignore them. You can’t make everyone happy. Run a strong general election campaign and enough of them will come your way.

52-Don’t actively work to alienate your base during the primary. Everyone expects you to do it in the general, and you gain nothing for it in the primary.

53-Don’t save cash; it’s easier to raise money after a win than to win with cash you saved while losing. But make sure your organization can run on fumes now and then during dry spells.

54-If you’re not prepared for a debate, don’t go. Nobody ever had their campaign sunk by skipping a primary debate. But looking unprepared for a debate can, as Rick Perry learned, create a bad impression that even a decade-long record can’t overcome.

55-The Iowa Straw Poll is a trap with no upside. Avoid it. Michele Bachmann won the Straw Poll and still finished last in Iowa.

56-Ballot access rules are important. Devote resources early to learning, complying with them in every state. Mitt Romney didn’t have to face Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum in Virginia – even though both of them live in Virginia – because they didn’t do their homework gathering signatures.

57-If you can’t fire, don’t hire. In fact, don’t run.

58-Hire people who are loyal to your message and agenda, and you won’t have to worry about their loyalty to your campaign.

59-Don’t put off doing thorough opposition research on your opponents. By the time you know who they are, the voters may have decided they’re somebody else.

60-You can afford to effectively skip one early primary. You can’t skip more than that. You are running for a nomination that will require you to compete nationally. (Call this the Rudy Giuliani Rule).

61-Use polling properly. Good polling will not tell you what to believe, but will tell you how to sell what you already believe.

62-Data and GOTV are not a secret sauce for victory. But ignoring them is a great way to get blindsided.

63-Don’t plan to match the Democrats’ operations and technology, because then you’re just trying to win the last election. Plan to beat it.

64-Political consultants are like leeches. Small numbers, carefully applied, can be good for you. Large numbers will suck you dry, kill you, and move on to another host without a backward look.

65-Never hire consultants who want to use you to remake the party. They’re not Republicans and you’re not a laboratory rat.

66-This is the 21st century. If you wouldn’t want it in a TV ad, don’t put it in a robocall or a mailer. Nothing’s under the radar anymore.

67-Always thank your friends when they back you up. Gratitude is currency.

68-Every leak from your campaign should help your campaign. Treat staffers who leak unfavorable things to the press the way you would treat staffers who embezzle your money. Money’s easier to replace.

69-Getting distance from your base in the general on ancillary issues won’t hurt you; they’ll suck it up and independents will like it. Attacking your base on core issues will alienate your most loyal voters and confuse independents.

70-If you are convinced that a particular running mate will save you from losing, resign yourself to losing because you’ve already lost.

71-Don’t pick a VP who has never served in Congress or run for president in his or her own right. Even the best Governors have a learning curve with national politics, and even the best foreign policy minds have a learning curve with electoral politics. And never steal from the future to pay for the present. Your running mate should not be a Republican star in the making who isn’t ready for prime time. In retrospect, Sarah Palin’s career was irreparably damaged by being elevated too quickly to the national level.

72-Never, ever, ever take anything for granted. Every election, people lose primary or general elections because they were complacent.

73-Make a few rules of your own. Losing campaigns imitate; winning campaigns innovate.

The New Federalism Speech

As regular readers know (see here and here), I continue to believe that Rudy Giuliani is the best potential president in the GOP field – and specifically, the one most likely to accomplish conservative policy priorities – and would be a strong candidate in the general election. That assessment, which I won’t rehash here, is based in large part on Rudy’s personal characteristics, temperament and accomplishments; after all, ideas don’t run for president, people do. Of course, Rudy’s record on social issues has long been the primary obstacle to winning the nomination, and everyone who paid any attention whatsoever to Rudy’s record and to Republican politics over the past few decades knew that. Thus, a Rudy for President campaign needed to have a well-thought-out plan from Day One as to how to deal with that obstacle.
Since the summer of 2005, I have been laying out in public and in private – including to people who hoped, at the time, to have the ear of the Giuliani camp – my roadmap to how Rudy could overcome this obstacle. I never thought he could win over everyone, but I believed then and believe now that there was an opportunity, had Rudy played his cards the right way at the right time, to take the goodwill and respect Rudy enjoyed with socially conservative voters who respected him as a leader and offer a compromise that would keep enough pro-lifers, in particular, on board to build a winning coalition in the primaries and hold enough of the party together – and appeal to enough independent or swing voters – to march to victory in November.
Rudy has followed some of the paths I laid out (not that I take credit for this), but he never gave the speech I thought would really make the difference. When voters go to the polls tomorrow in Florida, they may breathe new life into Rudy’s campaign, or more likely they may end it. Either way, it’s probably too late to give this speech – and so I offer it to you, dear readers, and to posterity.

Continue reading The New Federalism Speech

Why I’m With Rudy (Part I)


RS: https://web.archive.org/web/20070202033118/https://redstate.com/stories/elections/2008/why_im_with_rudy_part_i

No Mayor of New York City has been elected to statewide or national office in more than 130 years. There is a reason for that: it’s an impossible job, running an ungovernable, bloated, corrupt and dysfunctional bureaucratic leviathan with an even more ungovernable and (despite its massive government) inherently lawless city attached to it. It eats the men who take the job alive.
At least, that is what everyone used to think, before 1993. One man changed that.
It’s too early, of course, for any of us to be 100% certain of who we will support once the candidates have filled out their staffs and endorsements, fleshed out their policy platforms, and taken their show on the road. But if I had to vote today among the candidates who are actually running or likely to run, my vote for the 2008 GOP presidential nominee would without a doubt be former United States Attorney and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Here, in general outline, is why I – as a pro-life Reaganite conservative who voted for McCain in 2000, currently support Rudy and hope to be able to support him a year from now.
1. We Need To Win The War.
There are many issues on the table in the next election, but far and away the most important remains the global battle against international terrorism and radical jihad, and in particular the regional struggle in the Arab and Muslim worlds to replace aggressive, terror-sponsoring tyrannies and weak, terror-harboring failed states with governments that provide some measure of popular self-determination and popular legitimacy to stand against the extremists. To win the war, we need four things from the presidential field: (1) a presidential candidate who is committed to prosecuting the war, (2) a presidential candidate who will make the right judgments about how to do so, (3) a presidential candidate with these characteristics who will actually get elected, and (4) a presidential candidate who, after getting elected, can continue to explain and sell his policies to the American people to ensure continued political support for the war.
In terms of public leadership on these issues, Mayor Giuliani and Senator McCain have a huge lead over the other candidates, most of whom (other than Newt Gingrich) are latecomers at best to the public debate. If there is one candidate we can depend on not to bend to Beltway pundit fatigue on this issue, it’s Mayor Giuliani – he was there on the ground when this war came to our shores, he was almost killed himself that day, he went to the funerals of the firemen and cops he had bonded with over his prior 7 and a half years as mayor. It’s personal. Rudy is a battler; he is not tempermentally suited to talking about “exit strategies” but rather about victory, and his background overcoming supposedly insurmountable obstacles as Mayor gives him the fortitude to pursue victory as Ronald Reagan did, even when conventional wisdom says it’s time to coexist.
2. We Need To Win The Election.
As I said above, you can nominate the best candidate in the world, but to win the war he or she needs first to win the election. In terms of electability. . . yes, it can be a fool’s errand for primary voters to vote with their Electoral College calculators instead of their hearts, but in a practical universe you do need to start by looking at who in the field has at least a chance of being viable in a national election. That means no Newt, who consistently polls with a disapproval rating over 50% and whose public image is long since cast in concrete. And it also means no Sam Brownback. I like Brownback, who is one of the GOP’s very best Senators and who has shown a real willingness to follow his conscience even when it means standing nearly alone, sometimes against the White House (as in the Harriet Miers episode), or even when it means taking on issues that nearly nobody else cares about and that don’t fit the stereotype of a right-wing hard-liner. But we simply are not going to hold all the states Bush won in 2004, let alone have the chance to seize more ground, behind the decidedly uncharismatic Brownback, who has made his name almost exclusively on social issues as – yes – the stereotypical right-wing hard-liner. The media would work overtime to put him in that box, and Brownback lacks the star power to go over their heads. He’s not the hill I want to die on.
Also, remember: while it’s true that the Democrats made a huge miscalculation in nominating John Kerry based on “electability” (not that Howard Dean would have been more electable), their real problem was in overvaluing his paper qualifications (war record, long tradition of existence in the Senate) and undervaluing how badly Kerry would perform on the trail. I believe Rudy will show himself to be the best campaigner in the GOP field – he’s quick-witted, funny, and long accustomed to the hot lights of the national stage (when he was Mayor, Rudy was a fixture on national TV shows like Letterman and Conan, and he had to contend with both the local tabloids and big national papers like the NY Times breathing down his neck, as well as dealing with hostile critics retail at countless press conferences and radio call-in appearances). He’s also tough enough to come out swinging at whatever the most likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, can throw at him. This is one of my big worries about Mitt Romney: to be frank, I don’t want to end up in a knife fight with Hillary armed with nothing but Mitt Romney’s hair.
Sure, Rudy’s liberal record on social issues like abortion and gay rights will cost him some votes nationally, but mainly in states that are not going to break for an arch-liberal Democrat like Hillary or Obama. And Rudy will play well in Florida and put in play key Northeastern states the Democrats can’t win without: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, possibly even Rhode Island (which has a huge Italian-American population), and make the GOP ticket at least competitive in the Empire State (though he would probably only win NY if the Dems nominate Edwards). This is, after all, a man who won two terms in a city that’s 80% Democrat.
3. Leadership Matters.
There’s more to Rudy’s advantages in this regard than just electability – there’s also governability. It’s been 23 years since the GOP nominated a presidential candidate who speaks in complete sentences. That matters beyond the campaign trail – it matters quite a lot if the president can’t sell his own policies and can’t personally defend against attacks. Rudy’s not the only highly articulate candidate in this field, but he does strike me as the best (Romney, who’s a good salesman, has yet to demonstrate the ability to react quickly and speak specifically when pressed with tough questions).
But being articulate is only the beginning of leadership. A good leader has to set direction and inspire. But he also has to do two other things: (1) know his followers and (2) follow through.
It’s on the first point where I have my major concern about John McCain. With the significant exception of his years in the POW camp, McCain has never been a leader. Yes (unlike, say, Kerry), he’s been a strong public voice on specific issues. But a political leader needs to have followers and hold them together, like Moses crossing the Sinai. McCain, by contrast, is a triangulator, a “maverick” who glories in contrasting himself to the people he would need to lead. John Hinderaker said it best: “I might trust McCain with my life, but not with my party.” One need look no further than Bill Clinton to see what damage a president who triangulates can do to his own party and, ultimately, his own ability to get things done. McCain has, too often, opened fire on his own troops.
With the exception of his ill-fated endorsement of Mario Cuomo over George Pataki, Rudy has not made a practice of attacking his own party, a fact that sets him quite apart from many other moderate/liberal Northeastern Republicans. Virtually all the major battles of his mayoralty were with people to his left. Conservatives may not like where Rudy’s starting point is on every issue, but they know when they get behind him they will all be facing in the same direction.
McCain has also been something of a dilettante as a Senator, flitting among issues, sometimes on the sidelines on major issues while leading the charge on small, idiosyncratic campaigns. That’s a highly effective habit for a legislator – you pick your spots for where you can make the biggest impact. But it’s a decades-long habit he will have to break to become an executive (in 2000 he never did roll out the kind of detailed policy papers that came from the Bush campaign – you always got the impression that the John McCain policy shop began and ended with the Senator’s mouth).
Then, there’s the follow-through, something we need more of than we have sometimes seen from President Bush. In the Senate they talk of show-horses and work-horses; if Rudy is an impressive show horse he is an even more formidable work horse, a guy who through sheer force of will bent the New York City government to his way of doing things. And he got results. Other politicians can point to a record of accomplishment, but only Rudy really and definitely changed my life – if it weren’t for his success in cleaning up New York I might have stayed in Boston after law school and surely would not now be a New York City homeowner.
Again: Rudy’s not the only seasoned executive in the race (Romney, Huckabee and Tommy Thompson come to mind), but his record is the most impressive and it’s one that McCain and Brownback can’t match.
4. We Can Hold The Line In The Courts.
Rudy’s record on fiscal, economic, law enforcement and education issues, his battles against racial preferences and the city’s relentless race hucksters, and his outspoken stance on the war on terror, are all the stuff that should excite conservatives about his candidacy. But what concerns people the most is his stance on social/family/sexual issues in general, and abortion in particular.
Now, maybe I’m less of a purist than some pro-lifers. I’ve been voting in New York for 17 years, and in all that time and all the races for Governor, Senator, Attorney General, Congressman, Mayor, and electors for president, the only two pro-lifers I’ve been able to vote for who actually won their elections were Al D’Amato’s re-election to the Senate in 1992 and Dennis Vacco for Attorney General in 1994. Where I come from, if you refuse on principle to vote for pro-legal-abortion candidates, you cede the field to Hillary, Schumer and Spitzer and their ilk.
That said, and while I recognize that there are other Life issues on the agenda, the core battlefield for abortion – the battle we need to win before we can fight any others – is in the composition of the Supreme Court. A pro-choicer who appoints good judges is as functionally pro-life as Harry Reid is functionally pro-choice. (I have discussed this issue in much more exhaustive detail before). And while we need to hear much more from him on this issue, there is, thus far, every indication that Rudy is both willing to appoint conservative judges and able to sell them against a hostile Senate – he’s spoken favorably of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, who he knows from their days in the Reagan Justice Department.
And while Mike Huckabee is a solid pro-lifer and Sam Brownback is a genuine hero on life issues, the other top-tier candidates are less obviously reliable on this issue. Romney, of course, declared himself a committed pro-choicer in 1994, though his repeated conversions on the issue lend a lot of credence to Ted Kennedy’s description of him as “multiple choice” on abortion. McCain has a more consistent pro-life record and voted to confirm the likes of Alito, Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, but three things concern me about McCain on judges – first, his demonstrable willingness to sell out the base to win media plaudits, second, his statements in 2000 that he’d like Souter-backer Warren Rudman as his Attorney General and that he remained proud of all the GOP Justices he’d voted for (which implicitly included Souter and Kennedy), and third, the fact that McCain’s political identity is so wrapped up in his campaign finance crusade, a crusade that may influence him to pick judges who take the written constitution with its pesky free-speech guarantees less than seriously. I’m not saying I’m sold that Rudy would be necessarily better at appointing judges than Romney or McCain, but (1) it’s a close contest and (2) he’d obviously be better than any Democrat.
Life issues are, indeed, important. And if this were peacetime, they would preclude me from supporting Mayor Giuliani. But there’s a war on, folks, and a lot of lives (born and unborn) depend on that, too. In this field, if Mayor Giuliani can make the sale that he will, in fact, appoint solid constitutionalists to the federal courts, that will tide us through.
Anyway, I haven’t covered the entire waterfront on Rudy here, and surely will return to other points in his favor – and other criticisms of him – as we go along. But I do think conservative Republicans who want to win the election, win the war and get results should give the Mayor a long, hard look.
*In the spirit of full disclosure: I do have a variety of ties to Rudy that are not worth tedious rehashing here, having met the man in small gatherings on several occasions and received a fellowship in law school funded by an organization including Mayor Giuliani. Take that for what it’s worth. I’m not affiliated with his exploratory committee, and the only money I’ve received from it is a $30 Blogad on my site the past month.