Playing to win or playing to beat the other guy?

Republicans are facing a dilemma: Should they field the strongest nominee possible or make the best out of what they have in the hope that dissatisfaction with Obama outweighs the lack of enthusiasm for his Republican challenger?

We see this in sports all the time: A dominant team emerges and the rest of the league reshapes their roster to try and match up. In the NBA, the Lakers had won back-to-back championships. LeBron James and Chris Bosh brought their game to South Beach to partner with Dwayne Wade. Midway through the season, everyone else realized they didn’t match up.

The Orlando Magic traded away big pieces of their roster to keep pace.

The Boston Celtics parted with one of their most beloved players, trading defense for more offense.

The New York Knicks literally gave away most of their roster to acquire a player (Carmelo Anthony) they could have gotten through free agency later on — but they wanted to make a run now.

It didn’t work for any of these teams.


Because playing to win and playing to beat the other guys are two very different things.

Orlando, Boston and New York were playing to beat the other guys, but in trying to do so lost their own identities and, ultimately, any chance at winning it all.

A few years ago, the Lakers were faced with the same dilemma: Move personnel to try to compete with someone else, or stay true to their identity and win on their own terms. They chose the latter and won back-to-back championships.

I get the sense that Republicans feel right now the way Democrats must have felt back in 2004. If they’re not careful, they may be destined to repeat the same fate: ignominious electoral defeat.

Back then, conventional wisdom suggested that John Kerry’s strength was foreign policy. Since that was going to be the dominant issue in the 2004 election, the reasoning went, Kerry would surely be the best candidate to beat Bush.

It made sense on paper, but we all know how it turned out.

Previous election cycles are filled with cautionary tales for the current GOP field.

Seven years ago, Howard Dean emerged as a fire-breathing populist, the grassroots choice. He soon flamed out. Some think Herman Cain might play that role this year, though more likely it will be someone with more resources, like Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul.

Dick Gephardt, you’ll remember, ran as the voice of experience. His campaign never quite got off the ground, much like Newt Gingrich’s. There’s always one.

Tim Pawlenty, meanwhile, could very well be the John Edwards of this race. Much like Edwards in 2004, Pawlenty is new to the national scene and is trying to establish himself as the alternative to the frontrunner. Even if Pawlenty doesn’t win the nomination, he could, like Edwards, find himself in contention to be on the ticket.

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  • writeblock

    There is a residual fear among conservatives of the old Rockefeller dominance by the NE. But it’s not the country club Republican who is prominent in blue and purple states these days. Instead strong fiscal conservatives have emerged from working class roots–people like Rudy, Brown and Christie. Each is very different from the old prototype and all have made major inroads in some major states never imagined as winnable for the GOP. Yet success in places like MA and NJ goes relatively unremarked by the party, as if it were a one-time anomaly rather than an indication of any kind of major political shift. It think this is flat out wrong. Even Rush has little to say. MA and NJ are grudgingly recognized as a fait acomplis and that’s about all anybody has to say about these states. But it was not for nothing that Rudy was the only GOP leader asked to campaign for Brown and Christie. The huge concentrations of Italian-American voters in these states was a major factor. Why aren’t we talking about this? These voters number in the millions, one twelfth of the electorate, equal in size to the black vote and concentrated particularly in battleground states like PA and OH. Rudy brings this to the table–but it goes unnoted by any pundit anywhere. It’s as if these voters were invisible. They are not accepted as players in the GOP club. Yet they pulled Brown and Christie over the finish line. I would love to hear Michael Barone comment on this.

  • writeblock

    I don’t buy this at all. I see instead a repeat of the disastrous 2008 election when a candidate who was far ahead nationally, beating Obama and Hillary by double digits in battleground states, was shunted aside in favor of a much weaker nominee. This was the result of a flawed–and grossly unfair–primary setup that gives inordinate clout to a few villagers in NH and a few farmers in IA while ignoring residents from really important battleground states like OH and PA. Shouldn’t we remedy this distortion? Or do we really think NH and IA and SC are typical of the rest of the country? So far the system has turned out big government establishment candidates, Democrats-lite like Nixon, Ford, the Bushes, Dole and McCain. Reagan and Goldwater were the sole exceptions.

    Nor do I think enthusiasm is necessarily lacking. If you give an architect a problem, he’ll come up with a building as a solution. Give evangelicals choices, they’ll come up with a Huckabee every time. Why not try giving PA a choice? Rudy was ahead in my state, PA, in NJ, in CT, in OH and in FL throughout 2007–up until McCain took NH in early 2008. Then the polls predictably collapsed, the bandwagon was on its way and the money dried up. Time and again we see this happen. Good candidates with huge appeal in important states, cannot get a grip in the early–atypical–primary states. It’s a self-defeating process–but one that suits the establishment just fine.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jasmine-Clark/1785223171 Jasmine Clark

    that is a good point. i feel like some conservatives are so concerned about beating obama that they forget to care about who we’re replacing him with!! to them, “electablility” is key. the candidate’s beliefs, records, values, personality… those all come after “electability.” i want obama gone but i don’t want a not-so-great person in his place.

  • http://lamecherry.blogspot.com lamecherry

    Kurt Bardella did you get this from Karl Rove’s talking points on how to throw the 2012 election so Jeb Bush would ride to dynasty in 2016 on the shattered remains of the Obama regime?

    This site has so many “experts” posting the worst idiocy, beginning with an analogy of the NBA whose games are for the most part fraud which equals Obama stealing the 2008 election in those missing 10 million GOP votes which ended up for Obama……….and just like Al Franken and Harry Reid won on the same vote magic.

    For the record, Sarah Palin does not steal news cycles. Sarah Palin is the news. She is running a strategic campaign that apparently Karl Rove or Mr. Bardella have figured out in all their wisdom. That is just fine as Obama is being caught flat footed to as the DNC is trying to take down Romney as they want to run against Sarah Palin, in the same way Jimmy Carter’s political handlers wanted to run against Ronald Reagan.

    To educate Mr. Bardella, John Kerry was stopped by Jerome Corsi swift boating that fraud with the facts. Democrats never wanted Kerry as they hate the military and it was that double edged sword which got George W. Bush elected. It was not about beating the other guy or getting by with what will win.

    Mr. Bardella needs to leave the Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer milk toast politics of daggering Conservatives in the back, and comprehend their day has passed and elections are not the Rove squeakers, but elections are about movements.
    You get out in front of where Americans are already going and you win.

    • donkeysnake

      I think this analysis is 100% correct.

      We’ve got a lot of people trying to not lose, but nobody seems to have the guts to say “here’s my idea…”

      Great article.

  • paulnashtn

    I would beg to differ, I have no idea who to support yet, love Rick Perry but think the only real losers would be Ron Paul or Newt. I can enthusiastically support ANY of the rest even though all have minor problems that they need to address — — THATS what the campaign is for and by the time the convention is over 95% of republicians will be supporting whoever — ENTHUSIASTICALLY!!

    • Sixteezkid

      You’ve hit a home-run here. We can go on all we want about how our nominee is picked, but this is NOT 2004 or 2008. This is D-Day for America. And everyone knows it. And everyone knows a fool is leading us over a cliff. We will get a strong nominee who will win in 2012. GOP may be divided on a lot of things, but we are completely united on THE #1 issue and that is to get Obama OUT of the WH immediately to save this nation.