On the Prize: Essay for January 7, 2011

The New Year has turned and we have officially entered into a year divisible by four. In other words, it is a Presidential election year. We have just finished Week 1 and already he have had the first caucus and in a few short days the first primary of this election year.
The candidates spent about $12.5 million on advertising in Iowa. Considering there were less than 125,000 votes cast in the caucus that comes down to about $1000 per vote. In the meantime, some 3 million Cornhuskers had to endure mind numbing and incessant ads day and night. Mitt Romney won Iowa by a scant 8 votes, capturing just over 30,000 votes.

Let’s put this in perspective. One hundred twenty five thousand votes are enough to win a Congressional election. Thirty thousand votes in an entire State is nothing. Most of the losing Congressional candidates in Massachusetts earned three times that many in 2010. It is not a mandate: it is a snapshot. There will be 125 million votes cast in November. What those votes represent is the crucible of challenge.

It is said that primary challenges make for better candidates. I believe that is true to a point. This beauty pageant has been a long and tedious one so far with ten candidates in the limelight and another ten candidates, mostly fringe, lingering in the shadows. Some candidates, people like Buddy Roemer, have not caught fire because of lack of exposure; others with exposure, like John Huntsman, have not caught fire. Go figure.

The American electoral process may be described as a play in three acts. Act I is the ritualistic mating and vetting dance where each candidate auditions and elbows the others for time. We have just entered Act II, the primary stretch to determine the nominee. It resembles the first Act but only for a short while. Victories yield momentum and donations, losses yield nothing but unfulfilled expectations and suspensions of campaigns. Act III is the head-to-head competition between the two party nominees. Will this year bring a third party candidate, too? I hope not.

Ironically, there are three factions in the Republican Party at this moment. There is the evangelical conservative, now led by Rick Santorum; the libertarian side, headed by Ron Paul; and the conventional, establishment side, headed by Mitt Romney. What amazes and disturbs me now is just how heated and divisive the interactions between these factions have become at the grassroots level.

If Facebook is any guide at all, there is very angry debate going on amongst conservatives who are seeking the anti-Obama. By necessity, they congregate in the Republican camp because there is no place for them amongst the Democrats. But it does not mean that all is well in that expanded Republican circle. These factions are in conflict right now. Each has their own candidate for the moment but the real test will be if they can coalesce once the three candidates whittle down to one. And that decision can come fast if Mitt Romney can keep his head of steam.

Romney has the national footprint and the broad financial base. He will be difficult to overcome because he has played the game according to the standard rules. He has been at this for years and the organization and discipline shows. But it is just that discipline and mastery of the established rules that have labeled Mitt as an establishment candidate in the eyes of the libertarians and less than effervescent in the eyes of the evangelicals.

Here is my suggestion for the anti-Obama forces: get together. There is only one chance to remove Barack Obama from office before damage is done to this country that we cannot begin to imagine. He cannot kill this country and he cannot kill our spirit but he can do us harm.

Too many people are seeking a sweeping victory that will not only reverse the damages wrought by Mr. Obama, but of The Great Society, The New Deal and Wilsonian Progressivism. It is a bridge too far. As in first aid, you must immediately stop the bleeding. Once that is done, you can deal with each malady as it presents itself.

The November elections will be a referendum and an opportunity to flip the rudder hard over. Like an aircraft carrier, this ship of state will take a few miles to perceptively change course. The first step is a Republican victory in November by the candidate who is the Republican nominee, no matter who it is. It is time to circle the wagons around the candidate, yes, but then on the party, too. The party needs fixing to be sure, but the country needs our help first. That is the prize. Let us keep our eyes upon it.

Press on.

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