3. Think about the debates. Eventually the GOP nominee will need to get on the stage opposite the incumbent president. He or she will need to be more presidential and more credible than the fellow the moderator refers to as “Mr. President.” That is no easy task. It helps to be not old, not a grouch, and not imprisoned by policy minutiae to the exclusion of broader themes and an aura of gravitas. That’s what Ronald Reagan had to do in 1980 and Bill Clinton in 1992 — convince the public to like them and to trust them to fix what ailed the country.
4. Be able to run a full-throated attack on Obama and the Congress. If the task will be to throw the bums out, then a successful GOP leader is going to have to combine core conservative ideas with a healthy serving of populism and unbridled opposition to liberal-dominated government. What did the candidate do to fight Obama-ism? Was he part of the spending pork-a-thon? In short, the candidate is going to need to both distance himself from Washington and show some political bona fides in having battled the very policies he is now running against.
5. A little boring is okay. If we are facing stagflation or multiple international crises we don’t need a stand-up comedian or a pop culture icon in the Oval Office. Former Vice President Dick Cheney showed us that you need not be more charismatic or “cooler” than Obama to win a policy debate, just better informed and more focused on a clear, fact-based message. Yes, we don’t want to run afoul of Rule #3, but there is something to be said for running a stunt-free campaign.
6. Figure out the demography. The old, white, southern men don’t vote in great enough numbers to elect the next president. Take a credible position on immigration and stress the benefits of assimilation as the key to the American success story. Explain why conservative ideas benefit the poor and newcomers to America. Make the argument for the American dream. And if the party’s tone on immigration has been off-putting, change the tone and lead by example.
7. Don’t banish a single person from the party. Rush Limbaugh, Colin Powell, David Frum, and all the silly conservatives who backed Obama should be part of the campaign and part of the candidate’s outreach. Even, you know, Democrats are welcome. Never should the words “not a real Republican” pass from the candidate’s lips, as tempting as it may be. Only fools think a minority party losing market share needs to thin the herd.
Now how hard could that be? Harder than you think. There may be only a handful of Republicans in the entire country who could get all seven right. But that is fine — we only need one and we only need him or her by 2012.