Note to candidates two years from now

RedState has no fewer than 73 rules for prospective Republican presidential candidates, including (including me? We’ll see):

1-Run because you think your ideas are right and you believe you would be the best president. Don’t stay out because your chances are slim, and don’t get in because someone else wants you to. Candidates who don’t have a good reason for running or don’t want to be there are a fraud on their supporters.

2-Ask yourself what you’re willing to sacrifice or compromise on to win. If there’s nothing important you’d sacrifice, don’t run; you will lose. If there’s nothing important you wouldn’t, don’t run; you deserve to lose.

3- If you don’t like Republican voters, don’t run.

4-Don’t start a campaign if you’re not prepared for the possibility that you might become the frontrunner. Stranger things have happened.

5-If you’ve never won an election before, go win one first. This won’t be the first one you win.

6-Winning is what counts. Your primary and general election opponents will go negative, play wedge issues that work for them, and raise money wherever it can be found. If you aren’t willing to do all three enthusiastically, you’re going to be a high minded loser. Nobody who listens to the campaign-trail scolds wins. In the general election, if you don’t convey to voters that you believe in your heart that your opponent is a dangerously misguided choice, you will lose.

7-Pick your battles, or they will be picked for you. You can choose a few unpopular stances on principle, but even the most principled candidates need to spend most of their time holding defensible ground. If you have positions you can’t explain or defend without shooting yourself in the foot, drop them. …

10-You will be called a racist, regardless of your actual life history, behavior, beliefs or platform. Any effort to deny that you’re a racist will be taken as proof that you are one. Accept it as the price of admission. …

12-Ask yourself if there’s anything people will demand to know about you, and get it out there early. If your tax returns or your business partnerships are too important to disclose, don’t run. (We might call this the Bain Capital Rule). …

14-Run as who you are, not who you think the voters want. There’s no substitute for authenticity. …

16-If you never give the media new things to talk about, they’ll talk about things you don’t like.

17-Never assume the voters are stupid or foolish, but also don’t assume they are well-informed. Talk to them the way you’d explain something to your boss for the first time. …

19-Voters may be motivated by hope, fear, resentment, greed, altriusm or any number of other emotions, but they want to believe they are voting for something, not against someone. Give them some positive cause to rally around beyond defeating the other guy.

20-Optimism wins. If you are going to be a warrior, be a happy warrior. Anger turns people off, so laugh at yourself and the other side whenever possible, even in a heated argument.

21-Ideas don’t run for President; people do. If people don’t like you, they won’t listen to you.

22-Your biography is the opening act. Your policy proposals and principles are the headliner. Never confuse the two. The voters know the difference.

23-Show, don’t tell. Proclaiming your conservatism is meaningless, and it’s harder to sell to the unconverted than policy proposals and accomplishments that are based on conservative thinking. …

27-Be ready and able to explain how your plans benefit individual voters. Self-interest is a powerful thing in a democracy.

31-When in doubt, go on the attack against the Democratic frontrunner rather than your primary opponents. Never forget that you are auditioning to run the general election against the Democrat, not just trying to be the least-bad Republican.

32-Attacking your opponents from the left, or using left-wing language, is a mistake no matter how tempting the opportunity. It makes Republican voters associate you with people they don’t like. This is how both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry ended up fumbling the Bain Capital attack.

33-Be prepared to defend every attack you make, no matter where your campaign made it. Nobody likes a rabbit puncher. Tim Pawlenty’s attack on Romneycare dissolved the instant he refused to repeat it to Romney’s face, and so did his campaign.

34-If your position has changed, explain why the old one was wrong. People want to know how you learn. If you don’t think the old one was wrong, just inconvenient, the voters will figure that out.

35-If a debate or interview question is biased or ridiculous, point that out. Voters want to know you can smell a trap. This worked for Newt Gingrich every single time he did it. It worked when George H.W. Bush did it to Dan Rather. It will work for you.

36-Cultivate sympathetic media, from explicitly conservative outlets to fair-minded local media. But even in the primaries, you need to engage periodically with hostile mainstream media outlets to stay in practice and prove to primary voters that you can hold your ground outside the bubble. …

38-Hecklers are an opportunity, not a nuisance. If you can’t win an exchange with a heckler, how are you going to win one with a presidential candidate? If you’re not sure how it’s done, go watch some of Chris Christie’s YouTube collection. …

40-Never whine about negative campaigning. If it’s false, fight back; if not, just keep telling your own story. Candidates who are complaining about negative campaigning smell like losing. …

44-Voters do not like obviously insincere pandering, but you cannot win an election by refusing on principle to meet the voters where they are. That includes, yes, addressing Hispanic and other identity groups with a plan for sustained outreach and an explanation of how they benefit from your agenda. Build your outreach team, including liaisons and advertising in Spanish-language media, early and stay engaged as if this was the only way to reach the voters. For some voters, it is. …

47-If you’re not making enemies among liberals, you’re doing it wrong.

49-The goal is to win the election, not just the primary. Never box yourself in to win a primary in a way that will cause you to lose the election.

51-Some Republicans can be persuaded to vote for you in the general, but not in the primary. Some will threaten to sit out the general. Ignore them. You can’t make everyone happy. Run a strong general election campaign and enough of them will come your way. …

54-If you’re not prepared for a debate, don’t go. Nobody ever had their campaign sunk by skipping a primary debate. But looking unprepared for a debate can, as Rick Perry learned, create a bad impression that even a decade-long record can’t overcome.

55-The Iowa Straw Poll is a trap with no upside. Avoid it. Michele Bachmann won the Straw Poll and still finished last in Iowa. …

63-Don’t plan to match the Democrats’ operations and technology, because then you’re just trying to win the last election. Plan to beat it.

64-Political consultants are like leeches. Small numbers, carefully applied, can be good for you. Large numbers will suck you dry, kill you, and move on to another host without a backward look. …

69-Getting distance from your base in the general on ancillary issues won’t hurt you; they’ll suck it up and independents will like it. Attacking your base on core issues will alienate your most loyal voters and confuse independents. …

72-Never, ever, ever take anything for granted. Every election, people lose primary or general elections because they were complacent.

73-Make a few rules of your own. Losing campaigns imitate; winning campaigns innovate.

To reinforce a couple of points: The party follows presidential candidates who win. Whether the GOP was on board with “compassionate conservatism” in 2000, they were as soon as George W. Bush became president. Whether the GOP was on board with what became Reaganomics in 1980, they were as soon as Ronald Reagan became president. If I win in 2016, the GOP will become a party of conservatarian ideas.

Truth be told, though, I don’t want to run for president. I’d rather be Lyn Nofziger.

 

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