Presidential Campaign

Presidential Campaign

What Obama could learn from Wilson

Our twenty-eighth president, Woodrow Wilson, was no paragon. He had flaws. His stubborn refusal to compromise torpedoed his dream of a League of Nations. He  failed to halt segregation in the federal departments and was slow to support women’s suffrage.  Yet he was a bold thinker, a committed doer and an effective orator. Employing those skills, Wilson managed to persuade a reluctant Congress to enact laws that profoundly changed America’s economic environment.  And he won a second term in office.

As he campaigns for reelection, President Obama could learn from Wilson’s leadership as both governor and president.  He could tap his predecessor’s playbook for boldness, resoluteness and advocacy.

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Memo to Mitt: Name names

Now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, all eyes are on his prospective running mate. If you don't believe me, then you haven't been paying attention to the Web, talk radio hosts or TV commentators. 

Some potential candidates, like Capitol Hill insiders Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rob Portman of Ohio or Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, make sense to me. Others, like Washington outsiders Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Susana Martinez of New Mexico or Bob McDonnell of Virginia don't. 

Naming names isn't that far-fetched. The late Congressman Jack Kemp, Bob Dole's GOP running mate in 1996, thought we should in 2000. That's when he and retired Sen. George Mitchell, a Democrat, appeared together on "Larry King Live" and endorsed the idea.

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Elections have consequences: Fast forward to Lame Duck session

“This will be the most important election of ourlifetime.”  You’ve heard it so many times before that it has become cliché. But for those most concerned about the far-reaching policy outcome of the political fight, the election merely serves as a draft for the upcoming legislative season. The confluence of events scheduled to occur during the fifty-five day ‘lame duck” session and the first 100 days of the 113th Congress will have a profound effect on each of our lives and the fate of our nation.

The 2012 election comes at a pivotal moment. Our nation is at a crossroads, with record spending, record debt, and a quality of life deteriorating for most Americans in a way that we couldn’t have imagined a decade ago. The choices made in November will go a long way in determining what the America that our children live in will look like.

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Presidential transitions and think tanks

The once clear line between interest groups and think tanks has become increasingly blurry during the well-publicized struggle for control of the Cato Institute. Scholars, such as Tevi Troy, have recently criticized the rapid drift of some well-known think tanks from their core values of impartiality and nonpartisanship which defined their historic mission (Winter 2012 edition of National Affairs). More and more, think tanks of the left and right blur the line between simply informing the policy process and advocating for particular policy outcomes. In doing so, they may sacrifice their trusted position as purveyors of policy information and possibly their status of nonprofit organizations.

In light of this year’s campaign, nowhere can this phenomenon be as clearly observed as during recent presidential transitions. While interest groups dominate voter mobilization, campaign finance, and issue advertising, it is think tanks which control transition planning. The Brookings Institution was the first in 1960 to play this role; sidling up to both Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy with an array of technocrats who had planned out the necessary steps the new president would need to take upon election--they even offered free office space and use of their library. In a largely non-ideological fashion, Brookings opined on the manner in which a transition should be executed, which policy areas were most critical, and which federal positions needed to be filled first. Kennedy’s victory signaled the ascendancy of Brookings as the voice of rational, non-partisan government planning.

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A tight race to the finish

In 1976, I was a full time speechwriter for President Ford. By June 1, he had not locked up the nomination, and was trailing Jimmy Carter in the polls by 33%. After a good acceptance speech at the Republican Convention in August, he was behind by 10%; after the first debate with Carter, the race was even. Though Ford eventually lost, this story illustrates how volatile the electorate can be. It is no different in 2012. As I write, a CNN Poll shows Mitt Romney behind Barack Obama by 10%; but the CBS/New York Times Poll shows the race dead even. So between now and the election, what can these two candidates do to improve their odds of winning? To answer this question and handicap the race, I focus on four major factors.

First, President Obama is going to need a large lead in the polls to win. He has run behind his predicted poll numbers in every race he has been in. He ran behind his poll numbers against Hillary Clinton in the primaries of 2008; he didn’t beat John McCain by nearly the margin predicted in the polls in the general election. Thus, if  Romney is only 5 or 6% behind in the polls, he has a real shot at winning. Advantage Romney.

Second, each candidate will have an important choice to make when it comes to selecting a vice presidential nominee. But President Obama has a slight advantage, and here is why. The Republican Convention comes first. So if Romney is doing well in the polls, and has made a smart choice for a running mate, Obama can dump Vice President Biden, and pick a fresh new face that might improve the president’s odds of winning. It hasn’t been done in a while, but Franklin Roosevelt dumped two vice presidents, John Nance Garner and Henry Wallace, during his presidency. Advantage Obama, if he dumps Biden.

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The virtues of planning a transition early

As we head into the heart of the presidential campaign, a tired political narrative threatens to reawake. It has been tradition that candidates who plan for an electoral victory too early are accused of being presumptuous, arrogant, and disrespectful to voters and the electoral process. President George H.W. Bush accused then candidate Bill Clinton of “measuring the drapes” of the White House long before Election Day and others have been criticized for “counting chickens before they hatch.” As was the case in 1992, these rhetorical barbs are often ineffective and failed to get President Bush re-elected, but this type of accusation and the media attention that it generates pose more serious long-term risks.

The risks are two-fold. First, if thorough planning does not commence early, the new president may not be prepared to make the plethora of policy, organizational, and personnel decisions. President George W. Bush began his planning in late 1999, enabling a smooth transition, despite the truncated timeframe necessitated by the vote recount. President Obama officially began his transition in May of 2008 when he announced Chris Lu would begin planning. The thorough vetting of thousands of individuals for hundreds of positions in government simply cannot occur in just two months. Furthermore, in an increasingly fragile and security conscious time in our nation’s history, a seamless transition in national security is critical. Congress has helped facilitate this by permitting the early security screening by the FBI of selected individuals from each major campaign. Candidate Obama had nearly 100 advisors pre-screened, but Senator John McCain requested early security screening of just a handful of advisors, risking a gap in the transfer of sensitive information had he won. This is a risk not worth taking ever again.

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Don't believe it - Newt loves the media

Newt Gingrich’s media-bashing may be red meat to GOP crowds, and it’s often an effective tactic – when you don’t like the question, shoot the messenger. However, Gingrich’s tirades against the media don’t jibe with the easy relationships he’s long held with members of the Fourth Estate. I know, for twelve years I was one of them.
 
To understand Gingrich’s campaign, you must first understand Newt. Most importantly, above everything else he wants - no needs - to be the center of attention. And there is no one who can put him there as well as the media. In the 1980s, when Newt was a backbencher trying to take down the Democratic leadership in the House, he was persistent and dogged about getting to know reporters. Few were more effective than Newt at going off the record to tarnish a colleague. When he entered leadership and concocted a plan for GOP takeover of the House, he cultivated the media to go tell the story. He needed them.

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Obama's immigration policy: Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul

President Obama’s recent executive order to shorten the time that illegal immigrants would have to spend away from their U.S. citizen spouses, children or parents while seeking legal status is unfair to both Americans and the immigrants who escape the harsh conditions of life in countries like El Salvador, Mexico, Russia or Guatemala. Here is an issue the U.S. Congress should rise to the occasion and be heard.

It is unfair to Americans because the executive order creates an even larger pool of workers who now compete for fewer and fewer jobs. In a time when black unemployment among teenagers is a staggering 38 percent or when two million Americans with a bachelor’s degree are unemployed it seems counter intuitive to enlarge the size of the labor market by allowing more illegal immigrants the chance to enter the job market.

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The conservative paradox - Romney the competent

Conservatism, Reaganism and 1980 they shout!  RINO’s and off with their heads.  And in the case of Mitt Romney, no core convictions, plastic and a flip-flopper.  And that’s the nice stuff.

So where is it that the conservative movement wants to go in context of the race for 2012?  During my daily radio show and through my tea party activism, I have heard many of the concerns and the often visceral reaction to the ascendancy of Mitt Romney to the Republican nomination.  At times, it seems that Mitt Romney was the anti-Christ of the conservative movement.  Somehow his life’s experience, changes in viewpoints along with his private and public life have all been in vain according to the chatter of the movement.

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As voting approaches, questions over Republicans' outreach to Latinos increase

Each presidential campaign brings with it political strategists and demographers saying Latino’s influence is growing and neither party has a lock on the fastest growing segment of the electorate, yet the truth is Republicans have a huge deficiency of trust.  In spite of this reality, the Republicans have not developed a serious political plan targeting Hispanics.
 
The GOP establishment has done little to begin communicating with Latino voters, the segment of the electorate I believe could decide the outcome of the presidential contest.  It is important to note that groups such as American Crossroads have engaged in Spanish-language advertising, the Hispanic Leadership Network is conducting grassroots activities and the Republican State Leadership Committee has pledged to recruit 100 Hispanic candidates for state legislative races.  While these outside efforts are significant, it does not translate to a commitment on the part of the national party starting with its presidential candidates.

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