In past election cycles, I have often been asked to poll for party caucuses to identify ideal or model profiles for successful legislative candidacies. Are voters looking for an earnest young family man, or someone working his way up from a school board? I recall one cycle in a Midwestern state wherein the perfect profile was that of a retired coach with grandchildren. In 2012, I think we can strike that off the list, especially in Pennsylvania. But you can be sure that Americans everywhere most always have some very definite ideas about the kinds of men or women they would prefer to see leading us.
So now we pause to ask, what sorts of leaders are Americans looking for? My stock response is that voters are nearly always seeking the opposite of what has most recently failed them. Today, most of all, I think voters wish for strength and an apolitical background. Obama and politicians in general have not demonstrated muscle in rallying us against economic calamity and government debt. We want George Patton, or Dick Butkus, or Geronimo, or Rosa Parks, and we have instead been given men and women of neverending political careers who have soft hands and weak spines, who love to talk and gesture, but who never take risks on our behalf that might muss their hair or sink their poll numbers.
Interestingly, I don’t think smart is what we want, either. I know that Rick Snyder was successful in the Michigan gubernatorial race last year with the “one tough nerd” pitch. I suspect that “tough” was more persuasive than “nerd.” Some people say that this cycle would have been the perfect interlude for a Ross Perot, with his poster-board charts and “looking under the hood of the car” rhetoric, but I just don’t think this is the time for ethereal populism. We’re looking for warriors, not thinkers. There is a reason that Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump showcases Cabinet picks on 'thank you tour' Trump: Time changed award to 'Person of the Year' to be 'politically correct' Feinstein after dinner with Clinton: She has 'accepted' her loss MORE had a run-up in the early primary polls. He has that crazy guerrilla-soldier mentality that a lot of voters want and seldom see on the menu of our politics.
The word I have been toying with, in trying to define the ideal candidate for 2012, is “insurgent.” I think a candidate has to be coming from outside the normal political process and order, and he or she has got to be frighteningly menacing to the established order, as Geronimo in the Southwest or Rosa Parks on a Montgomery bus. Most importantly, insurgents take risks that others fear taking. That’s the right stuff for now. It’s a formula that Arnold Schwarzenegger employed to win with his 2003 “Governator” insurgency. And Mitt Romney might benefit from showing a little of his Bain Capital bad-boy side as he promises a national turnaround.
David Hill is a pollster who has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.