This past week we’ve had a flurry of comments from contenders for the 2016 Republican nomination about their level of interest in a presidential run. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is “seriously” considering it. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says he had a good time in 2012 and will think about it in the future. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is everywhere. Jeb Bush says he hasn’t ruled it out. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has beefed up his staff to a presidential campaign caliber level and is leading the way on everything from immigration to Middle East policy.
They should all run and have a vigorous discussion of their views. If nothing else, Rand Paul showed a moderated debate and/or a TV interview is not the best way to reveal one’s views. In other words, more candidates talking at greater length about their vision, with fewer debates and trivial ads would be ideal. (No, we don’t have an ideal political world, but it is good to have aspirations.)
For those thinking about a 2016 run (some I’ve listed and many others, especially in governorships, who are considering the race), I’d offer ten bits of advice.
1. Do not bother to figure out what the GOP electorate wants or will want. Republican voters are far more willing to consider new ideas and variations from Republican orthodoxy. The candidate who checks the boxes on every GOP position of the 1980’s will not win, I ‘d suggest.
2. Figure out how to change and grow the GOP. Minorities, young voters, women, blue collar workers and urban and suburban voters can be drawn into the GOP with the right candidate with the right appeal. That means going everywhere in America and selling the same message to everyone. If it doesn’t work for a cross-section of voters, it’s not a winning message.
3. Don’t fight about the past. Gay marriage is here to stay. The Iraq War has come and gone. We have 11 million immigrants here illegally that aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future.
4. No pledges. They make candidates seem small and lock them into unworkable positions.
5. Explain what conservatism offers people who don’t think of themselves as conservative. (A choice of schools? Control over their own healthcare? Economic opportunity? An affordable college education or technical training?) Saying only that one is conservative or admiring of Ronald Reagan is both insufficient and unnecessary.
6. Don’t sound like a politician or a statistician. The ideas a candidate offers should be compelling enough and simple enough (not simplistic) to be explained in clear, direct language. Unless you have some awareness and feel for popular culture you’re going to seem out of it.
7. Claim the fairness issue. It is good practice for the general election and will keep the candidates focused on how voters perceive things. (It is not fair to force people to buy insurance they don’t want. It is not fair to average taxpayers to have a code that is so complicated. It is not fair to give young people only two choices, an overpriced 4-year college degree or no college.)
8. Develop a world view that recognizes the threats we face and is grounded in American values. Can we be more proactive in the world using nonmilitary tools? Do we need new strategic partners? How big does the military have to be? What are we paying for at the United Nations that we shouldn’t be? What are we doing to help others fight their own fights so we don’t have to?
9. Stress value for taxpayers’ money. What are we getting out of the Department of Education? Why are taxpayers subsidizing union rates on government contracts?
10. Find staff you can trust. It is not easy to find loyalists who will be candid with you, offer constructive criticism, and deliver honest polling. But a candidate in a bubble is a losing candidate.