The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

We Need a Good Campaigner to Win and Be a Good Governor


At Red State, Erick Erickson offers another astute roundup of the state of the Republican field and perhaps his most succinct assessment of the dilemma and the current mood of the GOP grassroots is this: “A president spends the least amount of time debating and giving speeches and it seems conservatives are about to pick their guy based on the job criteria at the bottom of the classified ad and not the top.”

Welcome to the challenge of the American political system. You can’t win the presidency without being a good campaigner, and yet the skills required to be a good campaigner are completely different, and perhaps diametrically opposed, to good governance.

  • Campaigning requires appealing to the broadest swath of voters possible, which usually includes persuading moderates of your moderate sensibilities while simultaneously persuading your party’s passionate base that your heart lies with them. Campaigning means often hedging, blurring, or punting on hard decisions, while the job of being president is almost entirely a series of hard decisions. (Thus the difficulties of a man who voted “present” so often in the current role.)
  • Campaigning is about motivating all of the interest groups within your party, while governing is about breaking the news to them that they can’t get everything they want. (Another aspect of the job this current president hates and tries to avoid.)
  • Campaigning is about appearing to represent a nation’s ideals, hopes and dreams; governing is about dealing with realities as they are. (“Hey, maybe we need a secure, faraway place to keep captured al-Qaeda, after all!”)
  • Campaigning is about developing a wide-ranging, ambitious agenda that offers some tangible benefit to every American; governing is about prioritization and deciding which desirable goals get the most time and energy and attention and which ones are left until later, or perhaps never. (Obama’s message to Hispanics is that he really will push for amnesty someday, promise.)
  • Campaigning is about the future; governing is about the here and now.
  • Campaigning is about optimism; governing is about realism.

Considering the state of our deficit and debt, the next president is going to have to spend a lot of time saying “no” to people, and the American electorate has gotten quite used to presidents saying “yes” to spending requests and appropriations bills that come to his desk.

For what it’s worth, Erick prefers Gingrich to Romney… and then salutes the former speaker by comparing him to Hannibal Lecter. Of course, that’s in reference to Gingrich’s demonizing Romney’s business success at Bain Capital, a bit of anti-capitalist demagoguery that has left some other conservatives fuming.

Tags: Barack Obama , Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich


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