Editor's note: As submitted for publication to The Philadelphia Inquirer
ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN
GOP Looks for Romance in All the Wrong Places
February 2, 2013
There’s a lot of political squawking going on these days from pundits and others about what’s wrong with the Republican Party.
Everyone seems to believe that the party needs a savior - someone who will come along as Ronald Reagan did and lift the spirits of the country and the party. Needless to say, someone as transforming as President Reagan comes along once during a political lifetime.
There is also a misunderstanding as to what does motivate voters to support a candidate and why some politicians - like Reagan - capture the imagination of the voters while others do not.
A cursory look at the way the GOP has been running campaigns could provide Republicans with the answers they need. Elections are a reactive process - one based on "chemistry." Elections and campaigns are more akin to a personal romance than anything rooted in political reasoning.
GOP consultants, candidates, and pundits spend too much time identifying issues through controlled focus groups with nothing left to the imagination. As in any good romance, Reagan knew the importance of leaving the stage with the audience wanting more.
Voters make decisions based on what a candidate says; how he/she says it; and what he/she looks like when saying it. This should not be construed as triviality - this is how Americans decide most things in life - including their choice for President of the United States.
As a rule people have no qualms about letting others know how they feel - and the same holds true in politics. Ronald Reagan often said, "A candidate doesn’t make the decision whether to run for president; the people make it for him."
During the 1980's the country responded to Reagan mostly because he didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear - he stuck to his philosophy of less government and less taxes - and if others wanted to embrace his belief that was fine by him. Republicans should take note that Reagan expanded his support by being respected not trying to be liked.
Republicans miss the mark if they believe it was President Reagan’s political philosophy that accounted for his sweeping electoral victories and popular presidency.
Americans' embraced Reagan’s personality - and it was deeply rooted in an American life (the name of his autobiography) - built on living outside the silly atmospherics of Washington D.C.
Republicans might take another cue from Reagan by remembering that he never emulated another person and rarely quoted his political idols. His political philosophy was his alone. While he welcomed the support of all individuals, Reagan was not about to change his position to make things more palatable for others to accept.
President Obama demonstrates that voters will support a candidate who is pleasing and easy to like, smart on his/her feet, a person who doesn’t take themselves too seriously, and one who offers a new vision for the country. He, too, is personally popular among voters - although his policies often are not.
For now Republicans should keep cool and focus on congressional elections which are just 18 months away.
As for the 2016 presidential elections, someone in the GOP will come along as the leader, and as Ronald Reagan said, "A candidate doesn’t make the decision whether to run for president; the people make it for him."
We'll know who that person is when it happens.