The GOP presidential field is much like a warzone these days, with candidates hell-bent on annihilating the enemy, but with one difference: our candidates are intent upon destroying each other.
Many — though not all — of the Republican presidential contenders have lost sight of the big picture: President Obama is the adversary, removing him from the White House the endgame. The GOP presidential candidates have a much more shortsighted endgame defined: win the nomination at any cost, even if it means ruthlessly attacking their colleagues.
Look no further than a Republican primary debate to see the candidates pummeling one another. Remember when Rick Perry continually harped on Mitt Romney’s hiring of illegal immigrants to work in his yard, which was a simplification of the true story? Or when Perry accused Romney of “not having a heart”? Recall Michele Bachmann taking it a step too far by calling Herman Cain’s well-thought out 9-9-9 plan the “666” plan?
Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul have adopted a strategy of targeting fellow GOP candidates with attack ads. Bachmann’s latest ad is a montage of the GOP field’s worst moments, using Perry’s embarrassing “oops” moment as the finale. A Ron Paul ad suggests some of his competitors support socialist policies. He uses statements from Cain, Romney, and Perry in support of bailouts and stimulus, and then airs a quote from Glenn Beck: “Where are the people who say all of this stuff is socialism?”
News flash, Rep. Paul: Obama is the socialist. Dubbing any GOP candidates as such is disingenuous.
The candidates in GOP attack mode should use history as their guide. In the 2000 Republican presidential primary, then-Governor George W. Bush released an ad in October of 1999 stating:
I believe often times campaigns resort to mud throwing and name-calling. And Americans are sick of that kind of campaigning. … I’m going to run a campaign that is hopeful and optimistic and very positive.
Overall, President Bush avoided scathing personal attacks, a strategy that clearly served him well.
I would hope the current GOP field understands they have a greater mission than just seeing themselves assume the highest office in the land. I’d like to think that anyone wanting to be elected president next year is guided by a desire to amend the mistakes of the Obama administration and to set our country on the path to economic prosperity.
Newt Gingrich seems to have made it his mission to stay above the fray, and he has soared in the polls. He has not thrown caustic barbs at his colleagues, and has only attacked to defend himself when provoked. Gingrich has kept his sights on the big picture — beating Obama. Does he want the nomination as much as the others? Of course, but he understands what the GOP primary must be about.
In the November 12 debate, the moderator attempted to bait Newt into criticizing Romney. Gingrich responded:
No. … We’re here tonight talking about how every one of us is better than President Obama. … [Romney is] a friend who’s a great businessman … a great improvement over Obama.
Gingrich realizes he has soared to the top of the polls because of substance — his ideas and policy proposals — and not by attacking other candidates. Following Newt’s statement that night was a validation of this conclusion: roaring applause from the crowd.
The GOP field has not always been in fight mode. The field offered a moment of reprieve when Romney came to Perry’s side during his embarrassing “oops” moment. As Perry was floundering, Mitt Romney tried to help, saying: “EPA?” Seeing one GOP candidate come to the aid of another is a welcome change, but it should be the norm.
This isn’t to say that Republicans should never challenge one another, simply that Republicans should debate on substance and do so in a way that is tasteful and respectful. They should never engage in personal attacks and insult. This is always out of bounds, and every time Republicans sink to this level, President Obama must believe next year may be a bit easier for him.
During the 1966 California gubernatorial campaign, Ronald Reagan proclaimed the 11th commandment:
Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.
We do ourselves, our party, and our cause a disservice by engaging in petty infighting. Stop targeting one another. Target President Barack Obama.