By Cheri Jacobus - 11/03/11 10:54 PM EDT
Too often, so-called “conventional wisdom” in politics is neither conventional nor wise.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) built a solid presidential campaign over the course of a couple of years. Hardly a fly-by-night, flash-in-the-pan candidate, he was disappointed by early low numbers, bowed to pressure and dropped out of the GOP presidential contest in order to make room for stronger contenders. Hindsight being 20/20, many political observers now view his withdrawal as premature.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), often viewed as the grown-up on the debate stage, was written off as a surefire loser because his campaign staff quit when he failed to adopt their strategy, thus giving them their desired “out” to leave and head to other campaigns. While certainly possessed of his flaws, Gingrich’s gifts are numerous and of eminent value to the party and the country, making the notion that he is not to be taken seriously an unserious one. As voters focus more sharply on the race and their candidates, they begin to look at the qualities that matter most, many of which Gingrich has in abundance: brains, experience, communication skills and courage. His poll numbers have been inching up, little by little, as voters start paying closer attention. Tossing him off the stage too early deprives us and the other candidates of his wisdom and experience.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in early 2008 was pretty much left for dead — political roadkill in the dust of the Straight Talk Express, the campaign bus of 2000 lore that he could no longer afford. Images of the maverick senator dragging his own luggage through airports as he flew coach from campaign stop to campaign stop seemed to suggest his best days were over, and the GOP presidential nomination that had seemed within his reach by a hair in 2000, now seemed never more distant. McCain went on to win the Republican presidential nomination.
If a candidate who does not wrap up the nomination more than a year before the general election is viewed as useless, then perhaps we need to revisit and redefine our expectations. The field can produce only one nominee at a time. But the talent being developed, the seeds planted for the future and even a possible Cabinet can emerge from a robust primary — no matter how tortuous the weeding-out process may seem, or how uncomfortable the Kevlar needed to compete.
When the 1992 presidential elections loomed, and President George H.W. Bush enjoyed nearly a 90 percent approval rating after the Gulf War, big-name Democrats were hesitant to risk running against him, and the A team sat it out that year. A young, little-known Southern Democratic governor had presidential aspirations and thought ’92 would be a good year to make a practice run, get some decent name I.D. and see where his survival skills needed honing before the “real” race down the road. Bill Clinton ran for “practice” in 1992 and ended up winning the gold.
There are likely a few Democrats who wish they’d not sat out 2008 for an inexperienced Barack Obama, not listened to “conventional wisdom” and instead had just gone for it anyway. An even better bet is that there are a handful of Democrats who wish they had the nerve to buck “conventional wisdom” in 2012 and run against President Obama for the Democratic Party nomination, party loyalty and critics be damned.
Rather than weakening, the GOP field remains strong and gains strength with each challenge and stumble. While some candidates necessarily should exit when their presence is negatively affecting the party, let’s not confuse the fat lady singing with a mere routine warm-up.
Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.