Dear Republican candidates running for president in 2012:
You are up against one of the most media-beloved presidents in history, one journalists will do almost anything to protect. You are running against a man who has created a cult following and a narrative that transcends popular culture. How is it possible that this is the best we’re doing so far?
Now, before we get too ahead of ourselves, it is the beginning of summer and not exactly in the fall fever of primary politics. But just like an awkward blind date, you need a good opening line. The average American can’t tell you the difference between Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman (yet). Most young voters my age don't remember Newt Gingrich's claim to fame; after all, the Clinton impeachment trial was so ‘90s.
What the Republican Party needs is a candidate unafraid to put the president up against the wall and call him out on all the damage his administration has done, especially to the economy, in the last three years. Right now, we have a candidate who is afraid to confront his opponent during a debate and is more comfortable tweeting and arguing from the safety of Fox News. If Tim Pawlenty can’t confront Mitt Romney, he sure as hell can’t confront President Obama. The good news is that it’s still early—people aren’t tuning in the way that they will be in the fall, so there's still time to make this happen. Here are my seven tips for anyone who is running for president with the intention of winning the nomination and not to get a show on Fox News. If you simply want a show on Fox News or to be a flash-in-the-pan icon for the evangelical movement, please disregard everything I'm about to say.
Tip No. 1: So You Think You Can't Dance? That's OK. You are not cooler than President Obama. No, you are not. No, seriously, you are not, not even you, Sarah Palin—no matter how many motorcycles you jump on in a sexy leather jacket. Obama is the cool kid; let him be the cool kid. You should instead take on the role of the smart candidate, the serious candidate, the one who isn’t concerned about how well you dance on Ellen. You should want to fix the economy and stop the bleeding that is going on in Washington. We are living in some of the most serious times this country has ever faced, and the next election can't turn into a popularity contest. At the end of the day, even if you are cooler than Obama, the media will never let you be cooler. This isn’t a battle you can win.
Tip No. 2: Sharpen Your Message. That means stop making confusing commercials. Don't use Fred Davis, the man responsible for viral political commercials such as this one. The infamous political ads like Carly Fiorina’s “Demon Sheep” and Christine O’Donnell’s “I Am Not a Witch” are so confusing, it's almost like they were paid for by Democrats. Stick to clear, concise messages. Do not use gimmicks. Gimmicks belong almost anyplace except a Republican presidential primary. You’re not trying to be cool, remember?
If Sarah Palin enters the race, there will be a proverbial tsunami of media coverage for months. Don’t panic, and ride it out.
Tip No. 3: Forget About Iowa. You don’t need the Hawkeye State. You just don’t. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are already making smart strategic moves by opting out of the caucus. Whatever historical or ideological relevance the Iowa caucus has will more than likely not get you to the White House, but it will probably get you a sweet gig at Fox News. Trust me on this one—you live and die in New Hampshire. If you’re a phony or can’t back up what you are saying, the people of New Hampshire will know it. Go there, campaign your ass off and tell the truth. Be a real person and show them who you really are and what you really believe. This process, more than anything, is about giving people something to believe in. Give these amazing citizens of New Hampshire a reason to believe in you.
Tip No 4: Be Prepared to Outlast Palin Fever. The big question is if Sarah Palin will decide to run for president. It's anyone's guess at this point, and I don't think even she knows the answer. If she enters the race, there will be a proverbial tsunami of media coverage for months. Don’t panic and ride it out. The cream always rises to the top and at some point she is going to have to do something other than come up with clever sound bites.
Tip No. 5: Take the Gloves Off. Don’t be afraid to call other candidates out on their selfish intentions. A lot of people run for the media attention and possible jobs and pay raises in their speaking tours. This election shouldn’t be about that. Tell Newt Gingrich that he’s wasting everyone's time.
Tip No. 6: Make Friends With Rachel Maddow. You’ve got to do interviews outside of Fox News. This isn't an option, you can't become president talking only to Greta Van Susteren.
And finally, Tip No. 7: This is the most important...forget the extreme right. You aren’t going to be their candidate anyway, Michele Bachmann is. Those people also wouldn’t vote for Obama if their life depended on it. Reach out to independents, women, and Republicans like me. The ones who struggle with feeling isolated in our own party. We will come out and support you with unbelievable enthusiasm if you don’t treat big-tent, socially liberal Republicans like us as a mutation in the original design. There isn’t anything wrong with Republicans like me, and trust me, there are a lot more of them out there than you realize, and some of them are just hitting voting age.