In 2005, I was sure who I wanted to be President in 2008. Mike Pence, now Governor of Indiana, then Congressman, was my choice and I made it know. Pence didn’t run and in order I backed John Cox, Fred Thompson, and Mike Huckabee to varying degrees.
In 2009, I was sure who my man was, the aforementioned Mike Huckabee. I spent lots of time arguing with Huckabee’s detractors online and saved $800 to give the Huckabee campaign. Huckabee didn’t run. I ended up backing Herman Cain and then Rick Santorum.
It’s 2013, truth be told, I could easily back either Huckabee or Santorum should they run again. In addition, there are other people I wouldn’t mind having “Hail to the Chief” played for. But for now, I’m backing no one, and I expect to be backing no one for at least the next 2 years. In this piece, I’m going to explain why. I’m also going to come down hard on some folks, while freely admitting that in the past I’ve been part of the problem I’m writing about.
The Campaign is Imaginary, the Division is Real
There were plenty of pseudo campaigns going on in 2009 and 2010. It was also popular for pundits to imagine pseudo candidate in pseudo feuds against one another. Nearly every word uttered by Mike Huckabee regarding Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was seen as either an attack to weaken the potential Palin campaign or an attempt to garner her supporters sympathy. There were fights between supporters of both pseduo candidates. There were great efforts expended arguing and against both pseudo candidates.
In the end, neither ran. But it sure got conservatives at each other’s throats a lot. It sure lead to unnecessary animosity, acrimony, and stress. It wasted time, energy, and resources on something that was utterly pointless.
Instead of focusing on principles that would unite us, we focused our energy on demonizing people to create division. Here is a simple idea: a campaign doesn’t need defending or attacking until it’s about to start. We don’t need to rush into the next conservative civil war.
People who decide to commit a might be candidate early that would do well to avoid trashtalking other potential candidates. Not only will this keep the peace, but given that history indicates most people being discussed won’t end up running, the better-behaved camps will have a better chance of attracting the support of those whose candidate doesn’t run. Plus why waste time attacking who won’t run.
There is No Obi-Wan Candidate
One thing that’s disturbs me about presidential politics is the emergence of candidate fanboys and fangirls who live or die with their favored candidate’s decision to run. They believe that their candidate is the only candidate who can lead America back to greatness. Supporters of Sarah Palin would not take no for answer in the last cycle, continually pestering talk show hosts with far flung scenarios in which Palin joined the race.
This was true of other candidates who got in who clung to their candidates long after it became apparent that they couldn’t win.
To be frank, these supporters reminded me of Princess Leia in the first Star Wars movie. Her recorded message was simple: “Help us Obi-wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope.” Of course the 2012 candidate version was directed to Sarah Palin or other candidates.
To be clear, I could have easily backed Sarah Palin for President and would be happy if she were President, but she was not our only hope. None of the candidates were. The Iowa Family Leader held a Thanksgiving forum in 2011 attended by all the candidates save Huntsman and Romney. And each one on that stage was a conservative. Each one on that stage would have brought great positive changes to America. Of course, none of there were perfect, and some may have a harder time than others in a general election, but the idea that there’s only one candidate that can save us and that there was only one true conservative is malarkey. Maybe, in the future, we ought to hear from these candidates and their supporters that they are the best conservative.
And if someone finds their favored conservative doesn’t run or if they lose, rather than being sore losers or trying to dream of some way they stay in and win, it’d be best to follow the advice of the Dakota Indians: If the horse is dead, dismount.
At their most destructive, campaigns turn ugly as conservatives battle each other to the end. What was once a debate over which candidate was the best for the country can easily degenerate into a personal fight. People have invested too much time, emotional energy into following and supporting their candidate, too much of themselves to back down.
Rather than concede that their candidate’s case is hopeless, they’ll push forward. They’ll insist that at the end of the day, they’ll vote for their candidate and that’s their right. The establishment candidate will certainly be glad that they do.
This is why conservatives have to be cautious about over-investing themselves in one Presidential candidate, particularly early in the process. The important thing in 2016 is not that every person get to vote for their favorite candidate, the important thing is to elect the best candidate for the country.
This is serious business. We face multiple challenges: economic, cultural, and foreign policy. And we need the best principled leadership we can get. The 2016 Presidential race shouldn’t be about us getting our favored candidates. It’s not about us being on the winning team on the Primary, it’s about supporting leadership that will do the right thing for America, rather than the establishment plan of merely being Democrat lite.
The goal is for conservatives to come together and coalesce around the best candidate who emerges from the early primaries.
If instead, we want to continue the childish process of the past decade or so where conservative voters treat Presidential candidates like they’re their favorites on American Idol, we’d do better if Republicans cancelled the primaries and had the RNC gather along with the party’s top donors and designate a nominee. The results will be the same, and it’d be a heck of a lot cheaper.