How to deal with liabilities
No, I'm not talking this time about unfunded liabilities; I'm talking candidates' shortcomings. Every candidate has them, but voters have to decide which ones matter, while candidates have to decide how to minimize them.
Politico reports that Newt Gingrich was confronted about his history of extra-marital affairs at a college event:
"You adamantly oppose gay rights... but you've also been married three times and admitted to having an affair with your current wife while you were still married to your second," Isabel Friedman, president of the Penn Democrats, said to Gingrich. "As a successful politician who's considering running for president, who would set the bar for moral conduct and be the voice of the American people, how do you reconcile this hypocritical interpretation of the religious values that you so vigorously defend?" . . .
"I'll bet almost everybody here can gather the thrust of your question," he said. "I appreciate the delicacy and generosity in the way it was framed. ... I hope you feel better about yourself.
"I've had a life which, on occasion, has had problems," he added. "I believe in a forgiving God, and the American people will have to decide whether that their primary concern. If the primary concern of the American people is my past, my candidacy would be irrelevant. If the primary concern of the American people is the future... that's a debate I'll be happy to have with your candidate or any other candidate if I decide to run."
His initial response was defensive and obnoxious. The question was entirely legitimate and is going to come up again and again should he run. Is he going to ask Brian Williams and Wolf Blitzer if "they feel better about themselves" when they also ask him? And free advice: When a woman is asking about your history of infidelity, it's especially bad to come across as a bully.
The rest of his answer, however, was quite good and the only feasible way for him to deal with it. It may, in fact, work -- just as Sarah Palin successfully dealt with the controversy surrounding her daughter's pregnancy. Now, certainly, the missteps of a child of a candidate are different from a candidate's missteps, but, contrary to the mainstream media portrait, Christian conservatives are forgiving types.
I would suggest that the marital problem, however, is only one aspect of a larger issue for Gingrich: his flakiness. His penchant for harebrained schemes, his disastrous tenure as speaker of the House and his personal history, in a sense, are all part of the same issue, namely a lack of personal discipline, restraint and soberness. Republicans are orderly types, and they generally go for the "dependable dad" figure, not the errant brother who's got one whacky get-rich scheme after another.
In a far different category is Mitt Romney. Chris Cillizza posits:
While Iraq was the preeminent issue for Democrats at this time in the 2008 campaign, the still-struggling economy and continued unrest in the Middle East have pushed health care as an issue to the back burner. The issues, of course, can change by the time voters start casting ballots in early 2012, but the issue matrix matters -- and the more immediate concerns there are that have nothing to do with health care, the better able Romney will be to avoid seeing his campaign defined by that single issue.
If you talk to Tea Partyers, GOP activists, House and Senate Republicans and campaign operatives you'll conclude this is dead wrong. The central issue for conservatives is the size and role of an ever-growing federal government and the consequences that entails for economic growth, jobs and the tax burden on ordinary Americans. The aversion to Romney because of RomneyCare is not, as Chris suggests, only the creation of Romney's opponents. I have yet to come across a Republican office holder or activist not aligned with a candidate who thinks this is a fixable problem.
Chris also writes: "The 2008 Democratic primary was Clinton-versus-Obama, with a little bit of Edwards thrown in at the start of the process. The 2012 GOP field is expected to be much more wide open. That means Romney doesn't necessarily need to rack up huge numbers in order to win early states. He can win with 30-35 percent of the vote if there are enough viable candidates in the running." However, the trend seems to be going the other way for the GOP, with more contenders dropping out of than getting into the race.
For now, the search for a candidate unburdened by baggage goes on. At some point the Republican electorate will simply need to decide which is the best of the lot.
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