Roger L. Simon

GOP Woes: It's the Candidates, Stupid!

Republican Rick Saccone heads to the polling place to cast his ballot, Tuesday, March 13, 2018 in McKeesport, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

The L.A. Times is chortling that the failure of the Republicans in the Pennsylvania 18th can be ascribed at least in part to voters not being all that impressed with the recent tax reforms after all.

I demur. It’s not the message; it’s the messenger. At least in this instance—in fact in too many recent instances—it’s the candidate, stupid.

It’s time for the Republican Party to ask itself why it is running such abysmal candidates. First with Roy Moore for the senator from Alabama, of all places, and now with Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania, the GOP seems to be picking some of the least charismatic, most old-fashioned dullards in the country. They are reinforcing the cliché that to be a Republican is to be out of synch with the modern world.

Think of this from the perspective of the younger voter, anyone under forty for that matter, and you will see what I mean. Moore, and to a somewhat lesser extent Saccone, seems to come from another era.

And it’s not a question of the candidate’s actual age—although that can help—it’s a question of his or her energy. Trump, as we know, has plenty of that—maybe even in excess. And it’s also not a question of conservative ideas being old or out of date.  They can be more modern and forward thinking than liberal/progressive ideas with the right messenger. But you have to have that person.

Republicans were supposed to have that “deep bench.” What happened? It’s almost as if the GOP has now chosen as their slogan “If you’re under forty, we don’t want you!” Not exactly a winning prescription.

Yes, the Democrat who ran in Pennsylvania was more of a centrist—a Republican in Democrat clothes, etc., etc.—but the GOP using that as an excuse is a ticket to self-destruction later this year and more than a flashing hazard light for 2020. It also should be noted that the Democrats are so angry and motivated this year that many of their candidates are going to have the luxury of running to the center in general elections. Despite whatever apparent internal dissension they obviously have, the base will stick with their candidates no matter what.

The Republicans should leave these excuses and obfuscations to Hillary Clinton and concentrate on what they can improve if they wish to block the Democrats’ “blue wave.” That means giving some serious thought to how they choose their candidates and thinking more creatively (if that’s possible in the sclerotic world of politics) about who might be a good candidate.

Forget, too, blaming libertarians for their marginal votes. Run exciting candidates and more of the libertarians will vote GOP. Most do already anyway.

The Democrats, of course, are loaded with dullards of their own. But this was a district Trump won by twenty points in 2016. That makes this dead-heat election a twenty-point turnaround. If that’s not a wake-up call, what is?

It also should be a warning to fractious Republicans that it’s time to hang together for the greater principles of conservatism. Bannonism doesn’t look smart now. It just looks selfish. (It’s hard to believe someone as bright as Steve Bannon could really have thrown his support to someone as antediluvian as Roy Moore.) The NeverTrumpers ought to disconnect their dislike for Trump the person from the many legitimate conservative programs he has been able to get through and consider what will happen if they are reversed. The way in which our intelligence agencies and FBI have been suborned by the left should give a warning of what lies ahead if the Democrats get back in control. It could be a “no tomorrow” situation. The most devoted NeverTrumpers could end up yearning for Donald.

Trump as well has to do some serious thinking about his own tactics. He’s a smart businessman and must realize his “government business” is increasingly in jeopardy. It’s certainly far from terminal, but the problem may be more serious than he thought or is willing to admit. The usual Trump rhetoric, let alone his coattails, didn’t do much for the hapless Saccone. Probably nothing could have. But that doesn’t mean some course correction isn’t necessary from POTUS.

But above all, for this November and 2020, time to rewrite Carville: It’s the candidate, stupid!

(Yes, “It’s the economy, stupid” is important too—but you get my point. You need both.)