GOP candidates should counter Obama’s rhetoric with specifics

Cliff Sims Founder and CEO, Yellowhammer Strategies
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President Obama’s 2008 campaign may have been the least “specifics oriented” presidential campaign in modern history. Obama did a masterful job of parlaying the frustration of the American people into a near-flawless campaign based on very little actual policy. “Hope and change” summed up exactly what the American people wanted in 2008 and they gave him a chance to deliver it. He has failed in spectacular fashion.

This past week, National Journal released a stunning visualization that illustrates the economic failures of the Obama administration. From 2008-2010, the median income has declined in every state except North Dakota and the number of people at work has declined in every state except Alaska and Texas. Yet even in the midst of this catastrophe, the president has projected a level of political tone deafness unrivaled by any administration in recent memory. “All that hopey changey stuff, as they say? That was real,” said President Obama at a New York fundraiser on September 20. “I need your help to finish what we started in 2008.”

The president’s verbosity has been coupled with very little substance and the American people have grown tired of the flowery language. This has created an opportunity for Republican candidates to run campaigns that favor specific solutions over lofty rhetoric — and a couple of them are already capitalizing on this.

Herman Cain speaks “American.” His light-hearted personality and frankness have made him a favorite among those viewing the recent GOP debates and this has been reflected in his recent poll numbers. But it is his specific plan — his 9-9-9 plan — that will offer him the chance to be more than just the flavor of the week.

Cain’s plan starts with throwing out the current tax code. He proposes to then pass legislation enacting a 9% business flat tax, a 9% personal income tax, and a 9% national sales tax. He says his plan will be revenue neutral from the moment it is implemented and he expects government revenue to actually increase as the plan brings much-needed certainty back to businesses. “In a Herman Cain administration, April 15 will no longer be a day to be dreaded,” said Cain in a recent ad. “My 9-9-9 economic jobs and growth plan is a major step toward tearing the chains off the backs of the American people.”

On “The Tonight Show” last Friday, Jay Leno asked Cain if his plan would adversely affect low-income families. Cain responded by explaining that the replacement of the 15.3% payroll tax with a 9% flat tax would allow poor families to pick up the 6% difference. On top of that, there would be no tax on used goods, which would give low-income families more of a chance to purchase big-ticket items such as homes and cars.

Newt Gingrich, who Herman Cain called “brilliant” during his “Tonight Show” interview, has also experienced a bump in the polls after several solid debate performances — and Newt is getting specific too. Gingrich released his new “21st Century Contract With America” last week during a campaign stop in Des Moines, Iowa. As a key architect of the original 1994 “Contract with America,” Speaker Gingrich has seen first-hand the level of support Americans will give to a well-formulated plan that is communicated in an effective way.

Gingrich has broken his new plan into four parts: legislative proposals, executive orders to be signed immediately after his inauguration, a training program for his transition team and appointees, and a grassroots support system. “The scale of what I’m going to propose is breathtaking, and I’m prepared to spend the next 10 years of my life implementing it,” Gingrich said prior to his plan’s release.

The “21st Century Contract” includes plans to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes and regulations, unleash America’s energy production potential, balance the federal budget, and more. Critics of Gingrich will say that he seems to be running for “professor-in-chief” — and I agree that this plan is fairly heavy — so his challenge will be to deliver this package in a way that people can easily understand. If he can get people to buy in the way they did in 1994, he may be able to capitalize on the momentum he has gotten from the debates.

During his final televised debate against Jimmy Carter in 1980, Ronald Reagan looked into the camera and asked, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” When the votes were counted, the overwhelming response was, “No.” Like the 1980 election, next year’s election will be a referendum on the failed policies of the current administration. But the American people are not going to turn the keys over to someone without a road map. The timing is right for Republican candidates to counter the no-longer-believable lofty rhetoric of the president with specific solutions.

Cliff Sims is the chairman of the Alabama College Republicans and founder of Generation NOW, an organization formed to educate and empower a new generation of leaders. His Twitter handle is @Cliff_Sims.