Mitt Romney’s decision to skip the Ames straw poll is a wise one — it’s the sort of bold and unconventional move that candidates will have to make to break out of the crowded GOP field and win the nomination. Here are five other ways for GOP candidates to distinguish themselves:
1. Choose a vice presidential candidate now: Picking a running mate before the primary season really kicks off would immediately set a candidate apart from the pack. Say that Mitt Romney picked Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. That move would generate headlines and add to the sense that Romney is the front-runner. At a time when fundraising has as much to do with capturing the nomination as messaging, Jindal could travel the country raising money. Further, choosing Jindal or another figure popular with the party’s base would burnish Romney’s conservative credentials. If another Republican, such as Michele Bachmann, picked a running mate, it would help her in the publicity game and add to the sense that she is a viable candidate who could win the nomination. Plus, party members have a right to know who would be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
2. Target five states: Given the truncated primary season, no candidate can campaign in all, or even a majority, of the states, but setting up a strong organization in states such as Pennsylvania and Florida will pay huge dividends. The other candidates will try to compete in dozens of states, which will dilute their resources and their messages.
3. Focus on taxes: The Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire in late 2012. To win the nomination, candidates must stress that they will make those rates permanent. As Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush showed, tax cuts spur economic growth. Barack Obama, if he is reelected, will let those cuts lapse, which will drive the country further into a recession. The Republican nominee must be clear on this matter and tell primary voters that the tax cuts will stay in place.
4. Make straight-forward foreign policy statements: While most primary voters are more concerned with pocketbook issues than foreign policy issues these days, some direct talk about foreign policy could benefit a candidate. But sound bites will serve better than laborious addresses. Almost all Republicans were chagrined when the Nobel Peace Prize was bestowed upon Barack Obama two years ago. A great one-liner for any of the candidates would be: “I will not win a Nobel Peace Prize.” Such a line would stir up a crowd but also let Republican voters know that the GOP does not believe in One World.
5. Draw parallels to 1980: When Ronald Reagan ran for the presidency in 1980, the country was in dire straits. Reagan provided hope to Americans who had lost faith in the government. Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama are very similar, except that Carter did a few good things while in office. Reagan projected strength and showed that a candidate with a clear and convincing conservative message could win the White House and restore America. All of the Republicans should go out and tell the voters that they will win one for the Gipper.
Justin P. Coffey, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of History at Quincy University in Quincy, IL. He specializes in Republican politics during the 1960s and 1970s, and is currently working on a biography of former vice president Spiro T. Agnew.