February 11, 2007
In sports, strategy is difficult to over emphasize. Coaches meet for hours with their staff devising a strategy that will best meet the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing team. And, of course, the strategy changes from week to week and from opponent to opponent. If you win, the strategy is considered genius; if you lose, lousy. This obsessive focus on strategy is great for athletics, but what about when applied to politics?
I’ve been around the block a few times and have been through more election cycles than I like to admit. I’ve never seen such a pathetic scenario in a national primary process than the current Republican race. I believe much of the blame lies at the feet of the “strategy trumps principle” movement within the conservative Right.
When conversations first began in conservative circles about the ’08 election all of the talk was about Hillary. The earth would stop spinning on its axis if we had Madame President. There were furious strategy sessions about how to stop Hillary. Anything, it was argued, was better than Hillary. The games and intense strategizing began.
There were problems, however, with the Republican ticket as well. Do you remember when Rudy was out in front in all of the polls? Conservatives began panicking because the Mayor is clearly pro-choice and “inclusive” of homosexuals. The Republican Party was doomed; Rudy had to be stopped. “Somebody call Fred!” the alarmists screamed. “A Giuliani presidency is looking inevitable!” The games continued.
Enter the evangelicals who, surprisingly, threw their support behind Mitt Romney. His Mormonism was a concern, his flip flops on life issues, marriage and taxes were certainly disconcerting, but he was better than Rudy the argument went. After all, Rudy had to be stopped and at that point in the game it seemed the best strategy.
Next, Fred Thompson was seen as the savior of the party. He would ride into the race on a Tennessee walker (or a red pickup), slowly moving to the front of the pack. He was smooth, experienced, a good communicator and a former actor. The ghost of Reagan rose from the grave. The strategy changed but the games continued.
Way back in the pack of candidates was the grumpy old guy that lost in the last election. John McCain is like that cantankerous old uncle at the family reunion. No one likes him but everyone fears him. Just stay away from him and he’ll go away. Old John hardly entered into the strategy at this point in the game. He was in the rocking chair out on the back porch mumbling something about national defense.
(And in all of this jockeying for position and changing strategies there’s been Mike Huckabee. He’s ran a steady, consistent and safe campaign but, for right or wrong, has never really been taken seriously as one who can actually win the nomination let alone the presidency.)
Fast forward. Hillary is sinking, Rudy has returned to Metropolis, Fred’s horse came up lame, Romney quit and Uncle Grouch is the presumptive Republican nominee (and, surprisingly, Huckabee is still around). At each stage of the “game” the “coaches” have barked out their strategies. Evangelicals who had a problem with Romney’s Mormonism, his flip flops on life issues and marriage, listened as the coaches told us this was the best strategy to stop Rudy and Hillary. Then the strategy changed and we had to get behind Fred. Wait, Romney is sliding—no, he’s gone. And now Uncle Grouch has gotten up out of the rocking chair and taken over the reunion!
Now, what’s the result of all of these wonderful political strategies passed on to us lemmings? The conservative base is finally united. They all seem to believe that John McCain is the worst presidential candidate in memory from the Grand Old Party!
Is it possible that fewer games, less political strategy and more emphasis on principle could have produced a different result? Is it possible that we would be in a different place if there had been more emphasis on character and policy? Is it possible we’ve put altogether too much emphasis on stopping a candidate rather than finding the absolutely best candidate and getting him elected? Unfortunately, it’s too late to know this time around.
Next time let’s have fewer games, please.
Bob Burney is Salem Communications’ award-winning host of Bob Burney Live, heard weekday afternoons on WRFD-AM 880 in Columbus, Ohio. Contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org.