Turn off the cable yappers for a moment, will you? Consider the political road ahead and where you hope it will lead. Then run these traps:
1. With the re-enlistments of triangulators William Daley, Gene Sperling, and Jack Lew, Barack Obama has tacked to the middle and, in so doing, established himself as the favorite for re-election. Absent Administration scandal or further economic decline, Obama is likely to enter the 2012 race as the prohibitive favorite.
2. The GOP has (by my count) 17 prospective candidates, all of them appealing to one or more slivers of the base, none of them likely to be embraced as a unifying candidate across party factions. The best known and best funded of the candidates are, in intra-party terms, sectarian rather than coalitional figures. The few candidates with crossover appeal to both social and economic conservatives trail badly. The present danger is that conservative support will be spread across multiple candidates and, as a consequence, conservative influence will be dissipated.
3. Given the current circumstance, and the historical stakes, conservatives should be thinking boldly not only about the 2012 election but about the 2016 election, as well. We cannot approach 2012 as a Bob Dole-style “whatever” election. We need to rally around a credible Presidential candidate even as we maximize both down-ballot opportunities next year and regime-change opportunities four years later.
4. Most of the current energy in the conservative movement is generated on the Tea Party Right. That energy can disappear as quickly as it arrived. Unlike political lifers, the Tea Partiers have put on hold the real communities, and real lives, to which they will be delighted to return after the siren of patriotic concern dies away.
5. The GOP must avoid the mistake it made a century ago. In 1912, the GOP nominated the dour and middle-roading William Howard Taft, ignoring the reality that all of the energy in the party was generated by the progressives — who promptly stomped off to join a third-party campaign with Teddy Roosevelt. The result was the election of Woodrow Wilson, the hardest-Left candidate elected to the Presidency before Obama himself. In the current cycle, the GOP must redirect Tea Party energy toward common goals. At all costs, it must prevent that energy from being turned against meritorious GOP candidates.
6. The Tea Party has numerous political heroes. Not all of them were created equal. As is the case in all political movements, some of them are summer soldiers, inconstant in the cause. Others are unprepared intellectually for the coming ordeal by Establishment fire. Still others are living unvetted lives that, in high-stakes confrontation, might not survive scrutiny. Conservatives of all stripes –Republican, Tea Party, independent, even Democrat — should insist on a standard-bearer who can give full voice to our case while bringing honor to our cause.
7. With all of these factors summed, we need a candidate whose fidelity to principle has already been tested and affirmed. We need a candidate who has already developed an integrated political philosophy and is thus composed in dealing with the rapid-fire issues of a national campaign. (We are working with a short runway here. The first GOP debate, on Fox, is less than four months away. CNN hosts the second debate in June.) We need a candidate who hasalready attracted major media attention and demonstrated that he or she can withstand it.
8. Finally, our candidate must have sufficient stature in both communities — the GOP and the Tea Party — to command bilateral respect, a measure of deference and, in the face of what will doubtless be dispiriting polls, a willing suspension of disbelief.
9. Q.E.D.: conservatives should support for the GOP nomination in 2012 — Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
Are you marching with me, brother?
Neal B. Freeman writes from Jacksonville, Florida.
This column originally appeared in the American Spectator online.