By Micah Halpern
Thursday January 5, 2012
Let's talk Republican primaries. It seems to be the only topic that almost every pundit and poll taker and news commentator can talk about lately - so I'll just plunge right in.
To be perfectly blunt, I find a great deal of the discussion and punditry to be so irresponsible and so far from realistic it frightens me to even refer to it as political commentary.
The first thing the public should realize is that gone are the days when Iowa and New Hampshire set the tone for the national election. This should not be news. Think back four years. Mike Huckabee won the last Republican primary in Iowa. And now, rather than president, he's a pundit. Winning Iowa did not make him a candidate, it just separated him from the non-candidates.
Now think back a little farther. In 1996 Pat Buchanan won the New Hampshire primary and we all know that winning that "key state" primary hardly made Buchanan more electable.
Iowa and New Hampshire get attention as they should - but they deserve that attention because they are the first, not because they set the tone. The votes cast by the responsible voters of Iowa and New Hampshire is not in any way, shape or form representative of the national trend. On the contrary, they are exceptional in as many ways as they are quirky.
All presidential candidates have foibles and the idea of a campaign is to minimize the ugly and put forward the attractive. Iowa and New Hampshire are given first chance to tell the candidates how they are perceived by the public, and then it's up to the candidates to refine, revise and reposition themselves.
The 2012 Republican pack is filled with characters, but it is not filled with candidates. The men and woman who have put forth their candidacy have roles to play and serve different purposes. Ron Paul is not a Republican candidate, he is a Libertarian and the purpose of his candidacy is to educate voters, not to win the nomination. For example, a former Ron Paul staffer who worked with him for twelve years says that Paul is not an anti-Semite or a racist, but that Paul definitely thinks too much US time, energy and money are dedicated to Israel and that things would be better if Israel was not there. That's just another reason to scratch Paul off the real candidate list.
Newt Gingrich is now becoming a contender. He will self destruct. But from the beginning it was clear that he was not a real player. Behind the scenes his campaign shows poor organization and tension. And as people see more of him, Gingrich will again slip back into the position he is more comfortable with and appropriate for, speaker, thinker and critic. He is a gadfly and that, by definition, ousts him as a candidate.
Honestly, intelligence is way overrated in a presidential candidate.
More important than intelligence is the ability to build assets - to assemble and then to listen to what smart, informed advisers are telling you. That requirement for successful leadership has been underplayed in this campaign. But assembling and listening to advisers is one of the most important character traits we need to have in a president.
A president need not be the smartest person in the room. But the president must assemble the best minds for advice and integrate that information and then make decisions.
That does not mean that we should vote for the charismatic candidate and be content to have uninformed men or women cloaked in the mantle of the presidency. A candidate should have new ideas and should be able to work them through and bring them to fruition. And at every meeting, advisers should be presenting hundreds of those new ideas to the candidate just as they will do when that person becomes president - and then the candidate cum president ferrets out the most salient and runs with them.
Basic issues fall by the wayside during election years and we are entranced by smoke and mirrors and big words and promises of bigger ideas and great debates. But simple organization and teamwork should never be minimized as they were, for example, from the Gingrich campaign when the Gingrich team neglected to register in Virginia - and Virginia is the candidate's home state. That type of mistakes tells it all. And then after failing to get the required ten thousand signatures needed for the ballot the campaign responded by saying they would launch a write-in campaign in Virginia. But, oops, it is not permitted to have write-ins for Republican Party presidential primaries in the state of Virginia.
On the bright side, it is better to see examples of massive disorganization, poor foresight and frankly amateurish leadership during a campaign than it is to discover it all after the election. Meeting deadlines and getting the paperwork done is just as important as turning a cute comeback line.
The voters are starting to intuitively understand the subtext of these Republican primaries. They know that brilliance, interesting ideas and fresh points have their limitations. They know that the constant challenge to debate for endless hours without a moderator is stimulating some candidates to make large, expansive, impossible to fulfill, statements.
Time flies when it comes to electioneering and November 2012 is, in election terms, upon us. As soon as the non-candidates deplete their election coffers, the real race will begin. It can't happen too soon.
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