Republicans do not need to nominate a candidate anytime soon. On the contrary, if they want to beat President Obama, they should take their time before settling on a nominee.
In January of 2010, Harry Reid looked like a “dead man walking” politically. Fourteen percent of Nevadans were unemployed, and he was having a hard time getting above 43 percent in most polls. There was only one way he could win: destroy his Republican opponent before he or she ever got out of the blocks.
Sharron Angle eventually won the Republican nomination in June of 2010. I joined her campaign post-primary and had a front-row seat for the race. Within 48 hours of the primary, Reid went on TV with hundreds of thousands of dollars in attack ads, while Angle — a surprise candidate lacking a professional staff at that point — had not even hired a TV firm yet. The attacks came in waves and never let up. Her favorability rating dropped to 39 percent, with 54 percent rating her unfavorably. By September, Angle had hired an experienced team and righted the ship, but the damage was already done. Reid won reelection by defining Angle before she could fight back.
The GOP nominee will certainly be far more ready to take on Obama than Angle was to handle Reid in June of 2010. But heading into the 2012 campaign, President Obama is in a spot similar to Reid’s. Unemployment is at 8.5 percent, and Obama has a job-approval rating of 45 percent according to Gallup.
Like Reid, Obama will not be able to convince voters to give him a second term based on a record of achievement. Obama foreshadowed his playbook recently when he said, “Don’t judge me by the Almighty; judge me by the alternative.” One Obama staffer was even more blunt, telling GQ, “In a re-elect, all you’re really doing is trying to destroy the other guy.”
Armed with a billion dollars, Obama’s “killing machine” is poised to do a more effective job “destroying the other guy” than any presidential campaign has before. The advent of “super PACs” and their unlimited corporate contributions make it plausible that at least another billion dollars in vicious, personal attack ads will come out of Chicago. The aim will be to demolish the Republican nominee as early as possible.
The Republican establishment says the best way to counter this is to quickly pick a nominee. The thinking goes that a long Republican primary process weakens the eventual candidate, because the candidates will spend money on beating each other that is better aimed at beating Obama. But this year, that strategy plays right into Obama’s hand.
Ending the primary season early simply allows Team Obama more time to focus their fire on the GOP nominee. Spending the next five months under a blistering assault from the Obama “Death Star” in Chicago, aided by super PACs and the media, could be a disaster for Republicans.
As for the argument that the GOP nominee will suffer from depleted resources, don’t believe it. In 2010, Angle raised $28 million against Harry Reid in only four months. The Republican nominee for president has never lost because of a lack of money. He will have no trouble raising money against Obama.
A prolonged primary helped Obama in 2008. It helped Democrats identify tens of thousands of new voters in battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. And it gave Dems a priceless opportunity to attack the incumbent party while casual voters were paying attention for once.
This past weekend, Republican presidential candidates held two debates. They had three hours of free airtime to attack Obama’s record. It was a good thing for conservatism and for the Republican party.
It’s easy to get swept away in the feeling that this nominating process has to end early. But really, why should it? At the end of February, the Republican National Committee will have awarded only 174 RNC delegates out of the 1,143 needed to lock up the nomination.
A long primary would allow Republicans to protect their nominee, grow the party, and avoid handing Obama an early target.
Let’s hope history repeats itself.
— Jordan Gehrke is a Republican strategist. He joined Sharron Angle’s campaign as deputy campaign manager following the primary in June 2010. He founded the 999 Fund, a super PAC dedicated to electing Herman Cain.