What do the 1976, 1980, 1992, and 2000 Presidential elections have in common? In the General Election, the candidates that were most able to position themselves as the candidate of change won the Presidency.
In 1976, there was still the Watergate hangover and Americans were upset with Gerald Ford over the Nixon pardon. Jimmy Carter promised change and won an extremely close election partially due to his use of the misery index. The misery index was created by adding inflation numbers with the unemployment numbers. Carter promised to lower the misery index and bring positive change to the Presidency. Unfortunately for him, the only change he brought was for the worse.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan positioned himself as the candidate for positive change. Fortunately for us, he was the real deal. His message and policies of “Peace Through Strength” won the Cold War and changed the world for the better. It was “Morning Again in America”. He was rewarded with a landslide victory in 1984.
1992 was probably the most interesting of these elections because you had two candidates that successfully positioned themselves as the candidates of change, Perot and Clinton. Perot was successful at that because he was simply far different than any candidate the American public had seen in recent memory. Clinton was ultimately successful because he hammered Bush “It’s the Economy, Stupid”, implying that he would change the emphasis from foreign affairs to the economy, marking a change from the previous administration. Having two candidates for change created insurmountable odd for Bush, who clearly was not the candidate for change, to overcome. (Bush had won the 1988 election because exhaustion with eight years of Reagan/Bush had not yet overtaken the general public and Mike Dukakis ran a horrendous campaign. Public exhaustion clearly existed in 1992 and it cost Bush the election.)
2000 is a little different story, because the true results of the election were muddled as a result of the various TV networks decision to call Florida before the polls actually closed. My thinking is that Bush’s victory would have been significantly larger, because it has been reported that many intending Bush voters went home in the Florida panhandle and in other parts of the country because it seemed that their votes would not matter as Florida, a key state had been one by Gore. Nevertheless, Bush won significantly more states than Gore mostly due to his exploitation of the electorate’s natural desire for change after having the same administration in power for eight years. Part of Bush’s message was an argument for tax cuts and an end to nation building. He also vowed to return dignity to the Oval Office. He won because he marked a departure from the past eight years.
2008 is no different in the fact that the person who wins the General Election will be the candidate that most positions his/herself as the candidate for change. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama can make the easiest case that he is the candidate for change. He is a fresh face and not much is known about him. There is no widespread dislike for him. Furthermore, he is a black man and would be the first Black President of the United States. While he is a senator, he has not been in Washington long enough to be labeled a Washington insider. These factors make him tougher to beat than Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton can conceivably campaign as the candidate of change simply because she is a woman and is not President Bush. However, she is seen as a Washington insider and the case can be made against her that a Bush then a Clinton then a Bush and then a Clinton again is not change. The public either is tired of the Clintons or can be brought to be. Furthermore, she has a long-standing hatred of her by both Conservatives and Liberals.
On the Republican side, John McCain cannot be the candidate for change in the general election as he is simply not the maverick he once was. He is seen as a staunch supporter of the Iraq War and the Democratic candidate could paint him as simply four more years of the Bush Administration.
Rudy Giuliani could be seen as a new kind of Republican, liberal on social issues and conservative on economics and national security. However, on national security, he too could be painted by the Democratic candidate as four more years. Also, because of his long-standing notoriety, he is perceived, whether it be true or not, as a part of the Republican establishment.
Mike Huckabee could paint himself as the candidate for change, were he to suddenly raise millions of dollars almost overnight and build an organization in the coming states, thus surviving the primary. His problem is that his resources are truly limited, the party base does not like him, his ideals relating to certain key policy areas are not different than his Democratic opponent’s, and as has been seen by his recent numerous gaffe’s, he is not up to campaigning against the Democrat machine.
Remember, no matter who our candidate or theirs is, Republicans have to overcome the stranglehold the Democrats/Liberals have in the media and the schools. Our message has to break through those barriers and reach the average American. Huckabee has the wrong message AND does not possess the ability to break through the barrier. He would be beaten in a landslide. (My unsolicited advice to Huckabee is to drop out soon, so he can run for Senate in Arkansas, which is a race he could actually win.)
This leaves Governor Mitt Romney. He cannot be painted as a Washington insider as there is nothing to suggest on his resume or record that he is one. He is not a lifetime politician and cannot be painted as part of the Republican Party establishment. In the General Election, instead of having to defend and layout his Conservative credentials, he will be able to highlight his record of turnarounds. He will be able to demonstrate that he is the only candidate that has actually brought change to his environment, instead of simply talking about it. He will be able to highlight the change he brought to the business world at Bain & Company and Bain Capital. He will be able to show how he changed the course of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, which greatly improved the spirits of Americans after 9/11. He will be able to contrast himself against Clinton and will be a fresh face to the American people compared with her. His face is still relatively fresh to the average American non-primary voter. Against Clinton, he has advantage in that scenario. An Obama/Romney match-up is a little trickier and the mechanics of the campaign, (I.e. the ads, debates, written articles, and speeches) will be vastly more important as both candidates could credibly argue that they are the respective candidate of change. However, Governor Romney still has the advantage of having a record of change, while Obama, also being the potentially first Black President, only has rhetoric of change. On paper, those factors give Governor Romney the edge.
The FBI teaches its new agents that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. We all understand that if we do not learn from history then we are doomed to repeat it. History has shown us that, whether for correct or incorrect reasons, that an exhaustion factor arises after two-term, scandalous, and/or controversial Presidencies. The American public craves for something new. If the Republican candidate does not embrace the general public’s desire for change, then the Democratic candidate will. Strategically and in reality, Mitt Romney is the Republican candidate that is best positioned to position himself as the candidate for change, as he has not only rhetoric on his side, but a record of change as well.
As he has said so many times already, change begins with us. God help us all if that change winds up being the change of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Let us learn from history and embrace the concept of change, before it is taken from us and th
e opportunity is lost.