In the course of several dozen phone calls last week to party officials, campaign managers and consultants of various stripes, I heard a variety of beguiling suggestions from headquarters and field people on how Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan can improve their chances of winning the election.
With the thought that you would find these tactical tips diverting, I went back through my notes and jotted down some of the things various Republicans and Democrats would whisper to their candidates if they could get their ears.
For Jimmy Carter:
1) Bring back the hostages. While some cynics would question the timing, there would be such a wave of relief and celebration that you could be humble about your role in their release, in the knowledge that most people would see it as a vindication of your judgment.
2) Bring back Ted Kennedy. The return of his supporters to the Carter column has brought you within reach of victory in most of the big industrial states. The more often you're seen with him, the more he can be persuaded to do for you, the better your chances of winning.
3) Be very southern in some of your speeches -- and Yankee in others. Persuade the folks in Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama that your defeat would be a black eye for the whole region; they need a reason to vote for you. Tell the people in New England that you are a lot closer to their kind of moderate policy views than the fellow from California; they're looking for a reason to defeat from their Republicanism this year.
4) Get other Democrats with real credentials to criticize Reagan's views -- and drop the negative stuff from your own speeches. Let Russell Long or Bill Proxmire attack Reagan's economics; Sam Nunn or John Glenn, his military spending plans. Try to stay on the high road yourself.
5) Make a serious presidential address, interpreting the developments of the past four years in realistic terms; include a serious and even self-critical appraisal of the performance of the American government. People need to know you're not so defensive about your record that you can't draw some lessons from it.
6) Give people hope that the next four years can be better; at the moment, the Republicans are monopolizing the optimism franchise.
7) Talk about the fundamental importance of diplomatic negotiations and peace; it's far and away your best issue.
For Ronald Reagan:
1) Keep talking about your commitment to peace; you've stressed it a lot, but people need constant reassurance.
2) Keep your rhetoric as cool as it has been; you don't want to stir any fears -- or even a big vote. Your organization will turn out the Republicans and the pro-Reagan independents; let the Democrats worry about stirring up the other people to vote.
3) Postpone your next meeting with the fundamentalists until after the election. Carter is getting most of the "born again" vote anyway, and every time you're on television with those folks, it makes the Catholics and Jews in your target states around the Great Lakes a little more nervous.
4) Bring back George Bush -- he's been forgotten. Remind voters he's on the ticket with you. He could be the key in Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan, and you need those states.
5) Buy some air time for Jerry Ford. He is a credible, effective witness on the subject of how Carter has fouled up the presidency -- and his speech is well rehearsed.
6) Schedule some major events with working women in the audience. You're losing the election among women today, but on television you always seem to be talking to the men in the factories. Women have their own gripes with Carter's economic record; let them tell you why, and then respond.
7) Reconsider that decision not to debate. You've always done well in debates, so why the sudden caution? You're up against the president of the United States, and a lot of undecided voters will stay with the incumbent unless they see with their own eyes that you've got better answers than he does. You may be able to win the election without the debate; but if you lose, it's not like losing the Iowa caucuses, the last place you declined to debate. There's no Nashua to give you a second chance.