How Not to Choose a Presidential Candidate

While Sarah Palin’s addition to the ticket brought excitement to an uninspiring McCain campaign, it has done great harm to Sarah Palin’s brand. Had Palin not been tapped, she likely would have served out her first term as governor of Alaska and won a second. If she were running for president right now under those circumstances, she would be seen as a dark horse candidate in the midst of a gradual process of introducing herself to America. She would be talking to local media in early primary states, any national interviews would be on a cordial basis, and tea party conservatives would be warming to her campaign.

Instead, if Palin runs, it’ll be as a battle-scarred, media wars veteran driven from office by Democrats who abused the ethics process to financially ruin her. Palin’s problems began during the campaign because she was not in charge of what interviews she gave or how she was presented to the American people.

While Palin energized the campaign, she overpowered rather than complimented the McCain candidacy. The lesson is clear: If the Republicans nominate a candidate in need of a veep who will energize the party, they have chosen the wrong person.

Rather than taking the chance of sacrificing promising leaders as the vice presidential candidate  for a lackluster principal, conservatives should support a strong nominee and hope for a veep who is conservative, credible, and relatively quiet.

Out-of-Context State Records

It is standard practice for candidates to be attacked for their records in state government, but those attacks are often misleading.

In 1996, a Bob Dole attack ad slammed former Governor (now Senator) Lamar Alexander (R-TN) for signing a bill that allowed violent offenders to leave prison after serving less than half their sentence. It left out that this was actually an increase over what they were required to serve previously.

Attacks on Mike Huckabee’s fiscal record never consider that Huckabee led a state where the 80%-90% Democratic legislature could overrule Huckabee’s vetoes. Huckabee had to either work with the legislature or find himself irrelevant.

Certain issues at the state level, such as cap and trade and health care, are easily analogous to national issues. Many others require in-depth knowledge of the state to understand the context in which the decision was made, as well as its actual effect..

Reason magazine wrote in a 1975 profile of Ronald Reagan, “One’s administrative decisions, constrained as they are by existing laws, institutions, and politics, do not necessarily mirror one’s underlying philosophy.” As such, the smart thing to do is to take statements about the minutiae of a candidate’s state record with a grain of salt, and look at their philosophy and governing style instead.

Drafting the Perfect Candidate

The hunt for the perfect presidential candidate is never-ending. For many voters, no potential field is satisfying. Some conservative activists are pinning their hopes on a draft campaign to get a candidate who has said no to a run, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Draft campaigns are tools of the past. Up until the 1960s, when the majority of delegates at the national convention were mostly free to support whomever they wanted, a candidate could jump in days or weeks prior to the convention and run a credible campaign. With nearly all delegates chosen in expensive nominating contests, candidates can only run for president if they’re willing to commit more than a year to this process. As of this moment, only Rick Perry and Sarah Palin still have much chance to insert themselves as serious contenders.

None of the candidates running are perfect, but one of them will almost certainly be the Republican nominee. Rather than hoping for someone else, the wise voter will begin to sift through the declared candidates to find the one who is best-suited to lead America.

(Also read: "The stupid Palin woman.")