The 2011 General Election has yet to be held, but already the mainstream media and its associated pundits are decrying the fact no one candidate has emerged as a prohibitive favorite for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination. Of course, not a single actual vote has been cast in the nominating process and the first caucus and primary balloting is about two months away.
Such angst is fed by the Left’s desire to narrow the field to a single target, someone who can be investigated, pummeled and scorned in the months leading up to the GOP’s quadrennial nominating convention late next summer in Tampa, Florida. With seven or eight candidates vying for the affections of primary voters, it is hard to draw a bead on the eventual winner since we don’t yet know who that person will be.
Such “nattering” should be ignored. There is a well-established process for selecting a presidential nominee and that process must be allowed to unfold. The nomination of a candidate for President of the United States is steeped in tradition; it requires a candidate to master all the elements of campaigning: retail politics in Iowa and New Hampshire, fundraising ability to compete on Super Tuesday, and organizational skill in acquiring the delegates who ultimately select the nominee.
Aside from the mechanics, the process currently unfolding allows voters to examine every nook and cranny of the candidates’ record, platform and personality. It allows a Rick Perry to stumble through early debates, or a candidate like Herman Cain to gain attention, while the other side is also focused inward. Mitt Romney can refine his defense of Romneycare, Newt Gingrich can advance real policy options, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul can duke it out as the undercard, and voters can learn John Huntsman actually governed a state.
On the other side of the coin, candidates who have been suddenly thrust onto the national stage have not fared well. George H.W. Bush picked a little-known young senator from Indiana who bounded onto a stage in New Orleans like he had just been told to “come on down” on The Price is Right. Dan Quayle immediately found himself in a service record controversy that threatened to derail the entire 1988 Republican National Convention and his image never recovered. In 2008, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin energized the party’s conservative base, but her post-Labor Day emergence set up a vetting by the news media that exposed all her negatives at precisely the time millions of Americans tuned into the campaign.
There is every reason for Republicans to take their time in arriving at an eventual nominee. President Barack Obama is among the most vulnerable of incumbents at this point in a first term. With unemployment running at unacceptably high levels, and the economy struggling to not slip back into recession, the Republican Presidential Nomination has high value in that the one certainty of the 2012 campaign is that it will be highly competitive.
Aside from when an incumbent sits in the White House, political parties almost never arrive at a nominee ten months prior to their convention. Just four years ago, the GOP had a highly competitive contest that was resolved in John McCain’s favor in early February. And, we should not forget that Barack Obama himself did not clinch the Democratic nomination until after a protracted struggle with Hillary Clinton that did not end until mid-June. He, of course, went on to win the election.
Republican voters in Pennsylvania would actually benefit from a nomination fight that goes deep into the primary schedule. As usual, Pennsylvanians will not vote until late April – after all the other major states and most of the smaller ones. Typically the nomination is decided well before anyone in Penn’s Woods gets to cast a vote. But, in a multi-candidate field with the current front-runner polling at less than a third of the vote, it is possible Pennsylvania could be a factor. Four years ago the Obama/Clinton fight energized state Democrats – creating a surge in voter registration that has benefitted their party ever since. A competitive presidential primary in Pennsylvania would be a healthy tonic for the state GOP.
Thus there is every reason for Republicans to take their time and not allow outside interests to affect the pace of nominating a presidential candidate. It is important that the party gets this one done right, not quickly. The candidates need more time to build their campaigns and communicate their messages; voters need more time to learn about the candidates. And, at some point we will collectively make a decision – a decision upon which literally hangs the fate of the nation.
Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)