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Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne’s Analysis Applies to GOP

February 23, 2009

Legendary Notre Dame college football coach Knute Rockne once said, "It isn't necessary to see a good tackle. You can hear it."

He was referring to the fact that – if executed properly – the sheer crackling noise from the "hit" on the opposing player will tell coaches all they need to know about the play.

The same is true in politics. It is not necessary to see or understand a good political strategy – the end result will speak for itself on election day. Everything else will be "woulda, shoulda, coulda."

While President Obama continues to go about the business of governing the nation – the 2008 vanquished Republican Presidential candidates are already busy plotting their political strategies with hopes of making Mr. Obama a one-term President.

Like it or not – this is our political process at work and it has been gong on for the last 50 years. While there is a strong possibility that a fresh GOP face will surface and win the hearts of the Republican Party in 2012, history tells us that the standard bearer will most likely be someone from the top contending group of 2008.

That would include the threesome of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and Senator John McCain’s vice presidential candidate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Governor Huckabee seems to believe his best chance for a successful second run for the White House is to keep his name and image front-and-center by hosting a regular television show on Fox News. Governor Palin is trying to keep her "one of us" image intact with a series of informal interviews also on Fox with Greta Van Susteren.

Governor Romney is keeping himself well under the radar screen and is making a few moves that might bode well for him from a public relations standpoint should he decide to run again in 2012. He is selling a five million-dollar vacation home in Utah and downsizing to a smaller house in his home state of Massachusetts.

For sure these potential 2012 presidential candidates are going about the business of staying in the public eye – yet keeping their options open. These aspirants would be wise to take a page from the past – from someone who overcame great odds to balance public exposure and the need to develop a political strategy under the radar screen.

Richard Nixon’s comeback was most remarkable, and it set the standard from which others now try to emulate. Following Senator Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat in 1964, Nixon decided the 1968 Republican nomination wouldn’t be worth very much if the party could not be rebuild itself in the 1966 congressional elections.

Losing the presidential race in 1960 and the California governors’ race in 1962 Nixon had what every politician dreads – a "loser image." Still following Goldwater’s defeat, Nixon knew that the party’s best interests – and his own – were the same.

With a staff never larger than two Nixon set out to rebuild the party – crisscrossing the country – traveling over 127,000 miles visiting 40 states, speaking before 400 various groups and organizations (there were no speakers’ fees back then) all the while focusing on electing Republicans in 1966 and raising money for the party.

In the two months leading up to the 1966 Congressional elections, Nixon quietly campaigned in 82 Congressional districts for Republicans. He noted, "I knew this would be hard, boring, and sometimes thankless work. But this was a job that I increasingly saw as my own".

His efforts were rewarded on election night as Republicans picked up a net of 47 House seats, three Senate seats, 8 governorships and 540 seats in state legislatures. There was no doubt that Nixon had recharged his political career and he would run again for President in 1968.

Just as Rockne – the legendary college football coach – once analyzed – it isn’t necessary to see a successful play on the field – one can hear it.

Same with politics.