In late April, before a band of Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, President Obama’s approval ratings were near all-time lows — in the low to mid 40s, according to most polls. The president’s approval ratings improved in the wake of the raid; more than two weeks later, they remain about five points higher than they were before the terrorist leader’s death.
Some analysts have concluded that by killing bin Laden, Obama has neutralized one of the Republicans’ strongest arguments — that he’s weak on national security issues — and substantially improved his re-election prospects. But Republicans still have a path to victory in November 2012. The Daily Caller asked political commentators and activists from across the political spectrum what the eventual Republican nominee needs to do to defeat President Obama next year. Here’s what they said:
The nominee needs to appeal to minorities and young people
Presidents usually get re-elected, and presidents who track down Osama bin Laden increase their odds. On the other hand, there have been four presidential elections since World War II with an unemployment rate above 7 percent. Three of those presidents — Ford, Carter, and Bush I — were defeated. The exception was Ronald Reagan, who went into the 1984 election with an unemployment rate at 7.2 percent, but down substantially. Obama hopes he’ll get credit for an improving (though still not good) jobs picture and replicate the Reagan experience. Of course, one difference is that Reagan’s policies actually boosted economic growth. Obama’s policies seem to be having a different effect, given the extremely slow recovery.
You can’t beat someone with no one, and right now the Republican field looks very weak. Republicans are looking at the recent victory of the Canadian Conservatives, which offers some hope that center-right parties can win among minorities. Back in the 60s, the radicals used to say “chicks up front”; expect to see “Hispanics up front,” like Senator Marco Rubio and Governors Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval, in Republican efforts over the next 18 months.
In 2008 Barack Obama won two-thirds of the under-30 vote. Republicans need to deal with that problem before it becomes permanent. Focusing on fiscal issues, not social issues, would help to unite the center-right-and-libertarian coalition that Republicans need. Being perceived as anti-immigrant and anti-gay is hurting Republicans, especially among the young people Obama brought to the polls.
David Boaz is the Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute and the author of The Politics of Freedom.
The nominee needs to talk more value and less values
Now that Osama bin Laden sleeps with the fishes courtesy of President Obama, Republicans won’t have national-security scare tactics to rely on in the next election. Instead the GOP nominee will have to finally address our economic challenges and the sinking feeling too many Americans share that the greatness of our country is slipping through our collective fingers like sand at the beach while most of the politicians have been out to lunch.
The Republican who could win the general election probably could not get nominated by the Grand Ole Party because he or she would have to throw out the right-wing playbook. Economically strapped moderates might reward a Republican who ends subsidies for oil companies and tax loopholes for oil executives while still cutting domestic spending and reforming entitlements. The nominee might capture more Latinos and moderate women by advocating for comprehensive immigration reform and downplaying abortion.
Americans are ready to hear a conservative advocate for a path to prosperity that will improve education and national infrastructure and lower our dependence on foreign oil without taking us down the scary social-values side streets. President Obama is planting his feet in the center of American politics. Is there a Republican ready to join him?
Jamal Simmons, a principal at the Raben Group in Washington, D.C., was a senior communications advisor to several Democratic presidential campaigns.
The nominee needs to stand on principle
America faces serious challenges, many of which President Obama either created or exacerbated. Ironically, his eventual challenger is not alone holding the key to overturning and mitigating those disastrous policies; it is also held by conservatives in Congress and in the states.
Last November, Americans rejected politics as usual and demanded lawmakers get serious about our country’s dimming light. If conservatives hope to reverse the damage inflicted by multiple Democrat Congresses and President Obama’s administration, they have to show a seriousness of purpose and a willingness to reject simplistic political gimmicks.
At the national level, Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) “Path to Prosperity” is one such effort. It is a serious and bold budget that preserves America’s entitlement programs for future generations while simultaneously empowering individuals. At the state level, Governors Chris Christie (R-NJ), Nikki Haley (R-SC) and Scott Walker (R-WI) are enacting conservative policies and putting their states on a pro-growth trajectory.
On the other hand, liberals continue to keep their heads in the sand while dishonestly claiming we can save our country by increasing taxes and placing more faith in bureaucrats.
If President Obama is denied a second term, it will be because conservatives chose to stand and act on principle.
Michael A. Needham is the chief executive officer of Heritage Action for America.
The nominee’s two challenges
The Republican nominee will have two challenges — first, convincing the American people to fire Barack Obama and, second, convincing them to hire him or her. President Obama has only one task — making himself only just a little more acceptable than the GOP’s pick.
Partisan Republicans have no doubt that the first is a walk in the park. They are as confident of President Obama’s “danger” to America’s economy and fundamental values as partisan Democrats were convinced of Bush and Cheney’s oh-so-obvious “impeachable offenses” on taking us to war in Iraq while producing Wall Street Gone Wild. These right-wing rose-colored glasses might make pundits and the pajama mafia smile, but Republican political professionals who actually run campaigns know that the “facts” held dearly by true believers are not necessarily the opinions on which most Americans vote.
As for the Republican’s second task, the seven dwarves currently running don’t look like the next Roosevelt or Reagan. Grumpy Gingrich and Dopey Daniels will likely improve as the campaign wears on, as do most presidential candidates who walk through that gauntlet. Yet they are running under the banner of a party that is no more trusted than that of the Democrats. Moreover, the GOP nominee must compete with the bully pulpit — and more importantly, the levers of power next to it. Finally, as we can all agree, President Obama has shown the repeated ability to put Republicans back on their heels just when they think they have an advantage. Think about the historic victory in 2008, the stimulus and tax cut package in 2009, health care reform in 2010, and Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Donnie Fowler is the CEO of Dogpatch Strategies and a Democratic consultant.
The nominee needs to gain voters’ trust on economy
Two important announcements were made earlier this month that will have lasting implications on the 2012 presidential race.
The first obviously being the president’s May 1st announcement regarding the successful operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden — a moment that allowed President Obama to strongly assume the role of commander in chief and neutralize criticism from any of his potential opponents that he is weak on terrorism.
The second was the May 6th announcement from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that the unemployment rate had increased to 9%.
It is the second announcement that is most significant for the eventual Republican presidential nominee. High unemployment, record deficits, and abysmal “right track/wrong track” poll numbers portend challenging times ahead for the president’s ability to assume the role of “economist in chief.”
In order to win, the eventual GOP challenger must establish competence and credibility on the economic challenges America faces while constructing the narrative that the nation’s economic outlook will only worsen if this president is given four more years.
Most importantly, the eventual nominee needs to press that case in key battleground states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. The narrative of a weak economy already exists in those states — it is up to the Republican candidate to explain why they should be trusted to make it better.
If unemployment is still hovering around 9% and a gallon of gas costs between $4 and $5 per gallon, it will matter little on Election Day 2012 that President Obama looked, well, quite presidential that Sunday night in May of 2011 when he announced that bin Laden was (thankfully) gone forever.
John M. Dunagan is currently a Senior Vice President for Strategy and Campaign Management at DDC Advocacy. He also served as Michigan’s Executive Director for the Bush-Cheney ’04 Campaign.
The nominee needs to convince voters that one-party GOP rule is a recipe for change
Republican hopes lie in convincing the American public that the GOP’s economic vision will bring greater prosperity. However, that task becomes more difficult as our economy continues to grind on towards general recovery. As the election draws near, the slow pace won’t permit Obama to declare outright economic victory, but it won’t allow the Republicans to either.
The electoral map looks favorable for Republicans to maintain control of the House and possibly take over the Senate. In order to secure the White House as well, they will need to convince American voters that their economic hopes rest in one-party rule. The last time the American people handed Republicans total control, their economic policies piled up enormous deficits and an “anything goes” market environment which nurtured greed and reckless behavior that led to a near-total economic collapse.
Republicans will need to offer more than style points, tears, and winks at regulatory reform and reduced spending. They will need to offer specific solutions rather than simply promoting policies that shore up Wall Street and the interests of the wealthy. Republicans’ ultimate challenge lies in convincing the American voter that one-party rule is a recipe for true change.
Penny Lee, the President of Venn Strategies, LLC, is a leading Democratic strategist. She formerly served as a senior advisor to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Executive Director of the Democratic Governors Association, and Communications Director for Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell.
Near-perfection is needed
While voters might think President Obama hasn’t quite brought the hope and change they wanted, it’s going to be very difficult for the biggest change to occur: his defeat.
With so much change occurring in the world today — both economically and politically — the American people understand that stability at home, no matter how much skepticism they have for President Obama, may be a safe choice in their next presidential vote.
So what does the Republican nominee need to do to flip that mindset? He must run a near-perfect campaign and hope for a little luck. As the primaries take shape, Republican voters will understand that their nominee must be smart, established, and “safe” enough to lead in an unsafe world.
The Republican nominee must run a flawless campaign that eases voter anxiety that “safe-change” is the right path for our country. This candidate must run a creative and different advertising campaign that makes President Obama the risk. In addition, they must equal or exceed the ground-game results that President Obama has organized, cultivated, and grown for five years now.
President Obama can only ride the success of the bin Laden strike for so long (see Bush’s temporary bump after Saddam Hussein’s death in December 2006). If al-Qaeda strikes again, more unrest develops in the Middle East, Libya becomes a quagmire, or domestic economic conditions worsen — then the door is open for a safe, stable, and trustworthy Republican to win.
Phillip Stutts is president of Phillip Stutts & Company, a political/grassroots consulting company.
The nominee must give voice to cash-strapped voters’ concerns
We are told our nation stands on the brink of financial collapse. Our debt is as bad as Greece’s and Ireland’s. We have hit the “budget ceiling” so many times the top of our nation’s head is flat. Yet we can’t stop spending. We turn yet again to China to borrow money, because Wall Street is tapped out. The unemployment rate is falling but only because thousands have just quit looking for jobs. These are the issues the Republican nominee must embrace.
I remember vividly during the McCain campaign stomping around my backyard yelling into my cell phone at why Senator John McCain would come to D.C. but not have a budget idea! Unlike many, I loved it that he paused the campaign because of our nation’s impending financial crisis, but I hated that he came empty-handed on the policy front when he met with the president. To beat President Obama in a billion-dollar election, the Republican candidate better “come to town” this time with a budget record that gives America fiscal confidence.
A Republican campaign must give voice to Americans who pay the bills and who struggle mightily with financial pressures that are not letting up.
Paul O. Wilson is the chairman and CEO of Wilson Grand Communications and a Republican media consultant.