Michael Gaynor
History lesson: the presidential candidate who scares more voters loses
By Michael Gaynor
December 1, 2011

Obama ran as the candidate of hope and change when most people yearned for change and were willing to entrust their hope to the charismatic Obama instead of the cranky old man who described Obama as "a fine young man" instead of a stealth socialist who eschewed traditional American values and wanted to "fundamentally transform" America.

The top two Republican presidential hopefuls are the physically fit Mitt Romney, 64, and Newt Gingrich, 68 (whom Ann Coulter refers to as chubby).

Considering scariness, the choice of whom to nominate is easy: Romney.

Romney scares Obama, not the bulk of the American people.

Gingrich scares Americans who want their public servants to be persons of integrity in both their public and private lives, not Obama.

On "The Mclaughlin Group" show broadcast on November 20, Patrick Buchanan opined that the $1,600,000 paid by Freddie Mac to a Gingrich company signified that Freddie Mac had "bought Newt" instead of his business advice and "it wasn't a crime...it was corruption."

If it is too much to expect better than that in a Republican presidential candidate, then America is truly lost.

Thomas Sowell's latest piece, "Lessons of History?" (www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2011/11/29/lessons_of_history_112204.html) merits the careful attention of those who care about the upcoming presidential election.

We need to study and learn from our history, not blithely ignore it.

Sowell began by recalling the need "to learn 'the lessons of history'" and lamenting that "history gets much less attention these days and, if there are any lessons that we are offered, they are more likely to be the lessons from current polls or the lessons of political correctness."

Sowell added that "[e]ven among those who still invoke the lessons of history, some read those lessons very differently from others."

Sowell was setting the stage for challenging Michael Medved's conclusion that Republicans need a centrist presidential candidate in 2012, because "[m]ost political battles are won by seizing the center" and "[a]nyone who believes otherwise ignores the electoral experience of the last 50 years."

The late William F. Buckley, Jr. was right: the most viable conservative should be supported.

All of the leading Republican presidential aspirants are more conservative than President Obama.

Viability is the key criterion, especially now.

Losing with the most conservative candidate is a foolish option.

Winning with the most conservative viable candidate is the goal.

Medved is supporting Mitt Romney as the viable Republican presidential candidate and wisely so.

Gingrich, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman simply are not now viable opponents.

Worse, if Gingrich or Cain is the Republican nominee, Obama will be perceived as the candidate who has led a moral life, with his only wife of many years and their daughters center stage and no ex-wives, ex-mistresses or sexual harassment accusers to torpedo his campaign.

Sowell referred to President Reagan's "two landslide election victories" and wittily asked, "Since when did Reagan seize the center"?

The right answer is that Reagan never "seize[d] the center." He compromised with the Democrat-controlled Congress only to promote his conservative agenda, not because he was a centrist at heart. He may not always have reached the best deal possible, but that was his goal and politics is the art of the possible.

Sowell decided that seizing the center has been the problem of Republican presidential candidates and disputed Medved's reading of the 1964 presidential election.

Sowell: "To [Medved], Barry Goldwater got clobbered in the 1964 elections because of his strong conservatism. But did his opponent, Lyndon Johnson, seize the center? Johnson was at least as far to the left as Goldwater was to the right. And Goldwater scared the daylights out of people with the way he expressed himself, especially on foreign policy, where he came across as reckless."

The key to victory is not being scary to most voters, not seizing or eschewing the center.

Goldwater lost in 1964 because too many voters perceived him to be the scary candidate for him to win.

The message that Goldwater would bring about World War III was conveyed very effectively.

Sowell acknowledged receiving that message, by sharing this two-line verse titled "The Goldwater Administration" that he wrote in 1964:"Fifteen minutes of laissez-faire, While the Russian missiles are in the air."

Sowell concluded: "Senator Goldwater was not crazy enough to start a nuclear war. But the way he talked sometimes made it seem as if he were. Ronald Reagan would later be elected and re-elected taking positions essentially the same as those on which Barry Goldwater lost big time. Reagan was simply a lot better at articulating his beliefs."

The outcome of presidential elections depends upon voter perception of the candidates, not necessarily reality.

Each presidential election since World War II ended can be explained in terms of the desire of voters to be comfortable instead of scared.

In 1948 Harry Truman beat Thomas E. Dewey because he was the incumbent and he had done what needed to be done to end World War II with as few American casualties as possible. Not enough voters then did not want change. A better candidate than Dewey might have make change seem desirable to enough voters to win, but no such candidate rose to nominated instead.

In 1952 and 1956 the great war hero General Dwight David Eisenhower beat the intellectual Adlai Stevenson, easily. He was America's grandfather, re-elected at 66.

In 1960 World War II Navy veterans John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon very closely contested for the Presidency and either of them would have been the youngest person to be elected President of the United States. Anti-communists, neither scared the bulk of the American voters. (Nixon especially scared Far Leftists horrified that he had helped expose Alger Hiss as a Communist spy).

In 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson, who had become President after Kennedy was assassinated, won a huge victory over Goldwater. That mushroom cloud television commercial ran only once, but it made Goldwater seem much too scary to be elected and apparently inspired Sowell to compose the verse quoted above.

In 1968 Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace. He said he had a plan to end the war in Vietnam and a plurality of voters preferred him. Humphrey, Johnson's vice president, and particularly Wallace, were relatively scary to most voters.

In 1972 Nixon overwhelmed dovish liberal George McGovern, who, notwithstanding his military service during World War II, was too scary to be a Cold War President.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter, a southern governor, narrowly beat Gerald Ford, who became President after Nixon resigned as a result of the Watergate scandal. Sowell concluded that "Ford, after narrowly beating off a rare challenge by Ronald Reagan to a sitting president of his own party, seized the center in the general election — and lost to an initially almost totally unknown governor from Georgia," and attributes Ford's defeat to centrism. But Carter proved to be a comfortable presidential candidate the first time he ran, the polls showed that Ford nearly overcame a great gap during the campaign and the Watergate scandal and Ford's pardon of Nixon were campaign millstones that proved a bit too heavy for Ford to carry. Ford said during a presidential debate that Poland was a free country, but that was not yet true and since Ford was trying to describe the present instead of to predict the future, it was a scary statement.

In 1980 Reagan beat Carter. With due respect to Sowell, it was NOT because "Reagan was simply a lot better at articulating his beliefs" than Goldwater. It was because Reagan was (1) familiar as a long-time movie and tv star who had hosted "Death Valley Days" and written thoughtdfularticles for many years, (2) affable, (3) sincere and (4) NOT perceived as scary, despite the efforts of the liberal media establishment and the Carter campaign, as well as articulate, and the thought of four more years of the then well known Carter WAS scary.

In 1984 Reagan beat Walter Mondale, Carter's vice president, easily, because he remained affable and articulate and convinced voters that he was not too old to be President, while Mondale scared voters as soon as he accepted the Democrat Party presidential nomination by saying that he would raise taxes.

In 1988 George H.W. Bush, Reagan's vice president, easily beat Michael Dukakis. Sowell attributed that to Bush "coming across as another Ronald Reagan, with his 'Read my lips, no new taxes' speech." It also was not Bush, the youngest American fighter pilot during World War II, was comforting, while the sight of Dukakis in a tank in his own tv commercial was terrifying.

In 1992, with Ross Perot taking 19% of the vote as a third party candidate, Bush lost to Bill Clinton, a southern governor. Sowell opined that after becoming President Bush "turned 'kinder and gentler' — to everyone except the taxpayers" and "[i]n other ways as well, he seized the center." Bush was no Reagan, and Clinton comfortingly exuded empathy and even said that he felt other people's pain. Bush had become scary by breaking his "no new taxes" pledge. His eventually generally perceived inability to identify with most Americans — exemplified by his unawareness of the price of a gallon of milk during a presidential debate — also made him scary.

In 1996, Clinton beat Bob Dole. Sowell attributes that to Clinton seizing the center, but the disabled World War II veteran Dole seemed too old for the job and that was scary.

In 2000, George W. Bush narrowly beat the Al Gore. Bush was the candidate most voters would prefer to have a beer with and Gore appeared weird in the presidential debates. Gore was the scary canddiate. The election eve release of news of a Bush DUI conviction early in his adult life probably reduced, but did not eliminate, Bush's margin of victory in the Electoral College.

In 2004, Bush narrowly beat John Kerry. Thanks to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth exposing Kerry and Kerry's own words ("I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against It" ), Kerry came across as the scary one. Dan Rather and Mary Mapes failed in their attempt to discredit Bush — that is, to make him the scary one — with fabricated documents.

In 2008, Obama beat McCain. Sowell wrote that McCain lost to "a man that most people had never even heard of, just three years earlier," and attributed it to McCain's centrism. But, unlikely prior black presidential aspirants Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, Obama was a soft-spoken Harvard Law School graduate who was perceived as NOT scary. Obama ran as the candidate of hope and change when most people yearned for change and were willing to entrust their hope to the charismatic Obama instead of the cranky old man who described Obama as "a fine young man" instead of a stealth socialist who eschewed traditional American values and wanted to "fundamentally transform" America.

The 2012 presidential election is less than a year away. Obama is now generally recognized as a leftist and America is still a center-right country, so Obama is yearning for an opponent who can be made to seem scarier than he is (and he still has the liberal media establishment helping him).

If Obama is re-elected, it will be because the Republicans did not nominate a viable conservative.

Sowell concluded: "Candidates should certainly reach out to a broad electorate. But the question is whether they reach out by promoting their own principles to others or by trying to be all things to all people."

NONE of the Republican presidential aspirants is "trying to be all things to all people."

Most, perhaps all of them, have learned over time and changed their positions in some respect as a result of learning.

That is a good thing, not a reason to be scared.

A candidate who doesn't learn or won't adjust to reality when he or she recognizes it is SCARY.

© Michael Gaynor


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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