How Not to Choose a Presidential Candidate

Undecided and loosely committed conservative voters face a tough decision on whom to support in 2012. How should they make their decisions? Pundits and activists offer plenty of advice for voters, but several factors are not worth considering:

Electability

While we should consider a candidate’s experience, record, and ability to communicate with voters, for many pundits and party leaders, this isn’t what electability means. It’s an alias for conventional wisdom.

Pundits and politicians make false assumptions like: a conservative can’t win the election. Also, “bird in the bush” theories propose that if the party jettisons social conservatives, then a large pool of voters would embrace the Republican Party. No proof is ever offered that this large pool of voters exists anywhere but in the minds of pundits. In the case of the abortion issue, the actual evidence suggests Republicans enjoy a large advantage because of their position on the issue.

Voters are far more concerned about the condition of the country than the factors  “electability” experts trumpet. Republicans should nominate a candidate who will put their best foot forward in representing the party. Unsubstantiated electability claims should be dismissed.

Identity Politics

There are good reasons to back Herman Cain. One bad reason is often cited by activists: in nominating Herman Cain, the GOP would neutralize the race card and gain a significant portion of the black vote. Andrew Breitbart doubled down and called for a ticket of Herman Cain and freshman Congressman Allen West (R-FL)

It is doubtful this tactic will provide lasting gains. Black conservatives are attacked as race traitors. Justice Clarence Thomas was once forced to withdraw from a school event in a predominantly black district due to threats of a protest. The GOP in recent years had a black House Caucus chairman, a black RNC chairman, and elected two black congressmen from the former Confederacy.

In addition, the party has nominated several blacks for the U.S. Senate, governorships, and seats in the House. It has done little good in advancing the GOP cause in the African American community. This is clearly not enough to win over the black vote.

Those who advocate a Cain candidacy on racial grounds are right that the GOP needs to increase its share of the black vote. However, they’re trying to take a shortcut. The Democrats dominate the black vote because they’ve politically organized in the black community. Republicans must do the same. It will take time, money, and effort to reach out. There is no easy way to victory.

Similarly, nominating a female candidate will not give the GOP any edge among women. To the contrary, women rate Sarah Palin more unfavorably than men.

The GOP should nominate the best candidate regardless of race or gender. Basing nominations on identity politics thinking it will gain brownie points has been proven to be baseless.

Forget Veep Madness

In addition to Breitbart’s Cain-West dynamic duo, N.M. Guariglia has called for Congressman West to spice up a Mitt Romney candidacy. In light of the 2008 campaign, these calls for West and other rising politicos, such as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) or Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), to be placed in the veep spot seem ill-advised at best.

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.")