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CPAC 2011: Spring Training for Republican Campaign Metaphors

3 years ago
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Using a (gasp!) liberal definition of politically plausible, 10 Republican White House dreamers -- ranging from Michele Bachmann to Haley Barbour -- have featured speaking parts at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference beginning Thursday in Washington.

So what if the Republicans, showing rare reticence, have yet to begin the over-choreographed rollout of candidate announcements? Frustrated by the lack of candidate caravans canvassing all 99 counties of Iowa, the restive press pack is poised to treat the three-day CPAC meeting as the first step in the marathon that will climax with the exuberant Republican presidential nominee bathed in confetti at the 2012 Tampa Convention.

Impressionable political mavens may become overly excited by the results of Saturday's CPAC straw poll. After all, could there be a more statistically valid way to gauge national Republican sentiment than through an election with a hefty poll tax ($175 for a three-day ticket) held in a Washington hotel in the middle of the snowiest winter in memory?

Despite the unreliability of straw polls, there is, however, an enduring value to early GOP cattle shows (a phrase that only entered the political lexicon in the late 1970s). These round-robin speak-a-thons provide a first airing of the Republican rhetoric that will become the building blocks of stump speeches, debate answers and 30-second TV spots. What CPAC represents, in effect, is spring training for campaign metaphors.

Not even candidates who ran in 2008 like Mitt Romney, book-tour pros like Tim Pawlenty and veteran stem-winders like Newt Gingrich have their routines down yet. Everything is still a work in progress. Anti-Obama jokes that fall flat, policy pronouncements that veer towards the wonky, and self-deprecating stories that come across as oddball rather than endearing will soon be dropped from the set speeches. This is the moment in the campaign when a white-shirted would-be president has an uncanny similarity to T-shirted standup comic – both are honing their acts through constant practice in front of live audiences.

A warning to the unwary: Campaign rhetoric at this stage is entirely about running for president rather than being president.

Denouncing Barack Obama, as beguiling as it is for Republicans to hear, is not a governing agenda. At the beginning of the presidential race, it can be stipulated that any Republican elected president in 2012 would dismantle the Obama health care plan and would veto any attempt by Congress to increase taxes. That is Republican orthodoxy -- and no serious contender for the GOP nomination would dare depart from it.

In fact, it is a safe bet that the louder the applause at CPAC, the less relevant the triggering sentence is to the presidency. There are litmus-test issues for conservatives just as there are for liberals. So the hotel chandeliers will rattle from the cheers following every paean to constitutional government, every promise to uphold Second Amendment rights and every pledge to curb judicial activism. At a moment when the tea party movement is riding high, every Republican presidential hopeful will stress that he or she became a Ronald Reagan-worshipping conservative while hurtling down the birth canal.

Since the next president (or a reelected Obama) will not take office until January 2013, it is premature to get caught up in overly detailed prescriptions for the ailing economy. Remember at this point in 2007, presidential contenders in both parties were blithely assuming that the boom times would carry over to their tenure in the White House. The 21st century reality is that things can and will change faster than you can utter the fateful words, "collapse of Lehman Brothers." An obvious downside of a 20-month presidential race is that candidates begin running long before anyone knows what issues will dominate the election-eve agenda.

Make no mistake: There will be things worth listening to at the CPAC cattle show.

The challenge for all presidential candidates is to package their autobiographies in ways that provide a compelling glimpse of how they would handle a four-year lease on the Oval Office. For veteran political figures like Newt Gingrich, it is highlighting which aspects of their long careers make them viable in 2012. For the five current and former governors on the CPAC agenda (Mitt Romney, Haley Barbour, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels and Rick Perry), it is making the transition from state issues to national concerns. As for Michele Bachmann (and half-forgotten former U.N. ambassador John Bolton), the trick lies in convincing party activists that they would be serious contenders rather than irrelevant gadflies.

An obvious upside of the lengthy presidential race is that early stumbles are not necessarily fatal. (Prime example: The mid-2007 collapse of John McCain's campaign). That is the joy of these early cattle shows -- the stakes are still low despite the coiled tension of campaign aides and the overly definitive verdicts of the press corps.

Far more important than issues at this stage is for Republicans to begin to identify which candidates they can endure to see and hear on their TV screens campaigning for the next two years – and which candidates would lift their hearts if they ever got to take the oath of office.

Follow Walter Shapiro on Twitter (lucky you).








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7 Comments

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jjohnblack046

wallygv520811:40 PM Feb 8, 2011 Bachmann is running the blood pressure up on the left and promoting conservative feminism. She is praiseworthy and a true American patriot; contrast will be her major contribution to the 2012 cycle.

..................................................................................The only person who's blood pressure are up seems to be the upper managment people in the republican party. And just look at how they seem to be distancing themselves from her and Palin. And a true patriot she is? That's your opinion.

February 09 2011 at 5:05 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
fpfp040408

January 2011 - 187,000 jobs added.AND the Nightly Business Report said that the Dow is soaring (( up OVER 4,000 points )) because our manufacturing sector is at a six year high. They also report weekly where the jobs are being created -It is time to acknowledge that President Obama and his administration and legislation is indeed working. THANK YOU PRESIDENT OBAMA & GOD BLESS PRESIDENT OBAMA

February 09 2011 at 3:57 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
lolopuffin

Oh, boy! Election time again! I have a few thoughts:
1. This time, when I make a contribution, please don't spend it all trying to get me to contribute more.
2. Old men shouldn't make laws preempting the beliefs and needs of young women. Abortion is a horrible choice but that's between the woman and her conscience/God. Abortions always have and always will happen, legal or illegal. Let's not rehash this issue.
3. Same sex marriage is like playing house. It's not valid in my view but if they want to pretend, let them. Legal partnership rights are uncontested. I'm tired of the wasted effort on something that is none of our concern.
4. The UN is not good for the US. Sell the building and get out.
5. Social Security withholding and employer matching contributions don't belong in the Federal budget revenue section. I don't mind investing in America via these funds but let congress borrow it and make regular principal and interest payments. Oh, wait, it's all gone. Nevermind.
6. In 1987 we had IRCC and many illegal aliens were provided amnesty. It was estimated that there were two million illegal aliens in the US. In 2010, we have twelve million illegal immigrants and the vast majority are unskilled and uneducated. The Lady said, "Give me your tired, your poor..." but she didn't say sneak over the border, grab all the goodies being handed out for free and don't bother yourself about being a productive citizen with any loyalties to your new country. Government job #1, protect our borders from invaders.
7. It's wrong to have a taxation system that is so complicated that most taxpayers need a computer program or tax professional to prepare their own tax bill. Simplify! Every American should be invested, paying $10 each year for the poorest and much larger sums for those blessed with the freedoms to succeed, using their God given abilities and educational opportunities in our country. What is the point to having a very high tax rate to be reduced to a small fraction by schemes? Lower the rate and remove further reductions of that rate, which will increase compliance. Those who are wealthy need to be big boys and girls, paying back some of that money to support the country that gave them the opportunities to succeed.
8. How can it be that our Department of Defense is unauditable? Clean up the mess and require them to be at least as accountable as a small business owner. Billions of tax payer dollars lost to fraud is not immaterial.

That's my short list for my GOP. Skip the catch phrases and meaningless rhetoric.

February 09 2011 at 3:24 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
tplapper

The only Republican I would vote for would be Ron Paul. If not him then third party. Sarah Palin makes a mockery of the GOP and makes all Republicans look low IQ for supporting her. I predict Huckabee will we the last person standing. People will pass on a certain Mormon because of Romneycare and his flip flop on abortion and gay marriage.

February 09 2011 at 11:22 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
exitar01

'Denouncing Barack Obama, as beguiling as it is for Republicans to hear, is not a governing agenda' Good statement. I want to hear what, in detail, they are planning to do not the K rove policy of run down the oppostion and say nothing but platitudes about what you will do as president. I can hope but I doubt, giving the past history of GOP politics.

February 09 2011 at 11:09 AM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
jkanon

I would love to see political campaigns restriced to 6 months. Can you imagine the joy and freedom of not having to read or listen to the nonsense that makes up our political scene years in advance of an election.

February 09 2011 at 8:49 AM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply
wallygv5208

Bachmann is running the blood pressure up on the left and promoting conservative feminism. She is praiseworthy and a true American patriot; contrast will be her major contribution to the 2012 cycle.

February 08 2011 at 11:40 PM Report abuse -20 rate up rate down Reply
lrmail

"...pledge to curb judicial activism..." except Scalia and Thomas, of course! Their kind of judicial activism is apparently perfectly acceptable.

February 08 2011 at 11:11 PM Report abuse +24 rate up rate down Reply

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