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Looking for Romance in All the Wrong Places

May 26, 2009

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 many years ago and lift the spirits of the country and the party. Needless to say someone as transforming as President Reagan may come just once during a political lifetime.

There also seems to be a basic misunderstanding as to what motivates a voter to support a particular candidate and why some politicians - like Reagan - capture the imagination of the voters while others do not.

A simple cursory look at past campaigns and candidates could provide Republicans with the answers they need. Elections are a reactive/chemical process - not a conforming/scientific one - campaigns and elections are more akin to a personal romance than anything rooted in loyal political reasoning.

The idea that Republicans need to find new policy ideas - or change their message to entice a certain voting block is wrong. Voters decide on their support based on what a candidate says; how he/she says it; and what he/she looks like while saying it. This should not be construed as triviality - this is how Americans decide most things in life - including the choosing of a President of the United States.

As a rule people have no qualms about letting others know how they feel about them - 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 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 beliefs that was fine by him. Republicans should take note that Reagan expanded his support by being respected - not by trying to be liked.

But not all presidents are able to connect with voters. In 1992 President George Bush admitted he didn’t understand "the vision thing" and he rapidly lost favor with the public amid the 1991-92 economic recession. Voters decided the best choice during those bad economic times was Bill Clinton - and his mantra: I feel your pain.

Republicans continue to miss the mark if they believe it was President Reagan’s political philosophy alone that accounted for his sweeping electoral victories and popular presidency. 

Americans embraced Reagan’s personality as well - and it was deeply rooted in an American life (the name of his autobiography) - built on one entirely lived outside the silly atmospherics of Washington D.C.

Republicans might also take a cue from Reagan’s political life by remembering that he never emulated another - his political take was his alone. While he welcomed the support from all individuals Reagan was not about to change his positions to make things more palatable for others to accept.

President Obama is also demonstrating that the country 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 strong new vision for the country. He, too, is personally popular among voters - although there are signs that his policies are not.

For now Republicans should keep cool and focus on congressional elections which are just 18 months away. The current Democratic party surge appears to running its course and Republicans may well be poised to pick up numerous House and Senate seats in the upcoming off-year elections in 2010.

As for its 2012 presidential candidate - someone will come along as the GOP leader and that person might be embraced by a majority of voters - it’s too early to know right now. But there’s no need for a political panic at the moment.

As Ronald Reagan said, that decision will be made by the voters.