Imagine this scenario: Instead of entering the Republican presidential primary last year, what if one or more of the 17 GOP candidates had simply skipped it?
What if, in September 2015, he or she had announced to the nation: “You know me. You know what I stand for. I’ve decided to forgo the Republican primary and go right to the general election. I’m going to spend all my time and energy raising money, getting on the ballot in all 50 states and preparing my platform and message to the American public. When you get to the ballot box next November, you can find me on the Jeb Bush line (or the Marco Rubio or Scott Walker line).”
That candidate could have avoided all the dog-and-pony-show nonsense that this year’s presidential primary has entailed — the demeaning reality show debates, the state-by-state ideological gymnastics, and the constant burn of campaign dollars.
What if one of the Republicans had let the rest of the field devour itself, and then walked out onto the stage around now, rested and pristine?
That person might be sitting pretty.
An unorthodox strategy like that wouldn’t be viable for many; the candidate would have to be nationally known and respected already. But it could be a strategy going forward for candidates who fit that bill.
Traditional wisdom says this can’t be done. It says one needs the imprimatur of a major national party to be considered serious. It says one needs the political infrastructure the parties provide. But is that true anymore in big, high-profile races? Is having to traverse the myriad fiefdoms and interests of the major parties now more of a liability than a benefit?
Being the nominee of a major party used to mean instant access to door knockers, envelope lickers and phone bankers. But the internet has rendered these advantages virtually meaningless. Mail and phone banks are automated, and armies of volunteers can be organized quickly via social media. One doesn’t need to kiss the ring of every local party chieftain anymore. So why are they doing it? Campaigns don’t have to run this way.
In the early days of the country, candidates for president didn’t personally campaign. It was considered undignified, déclassé even, to do something so nakedly egotistical. Surrogates would instead travel the states extolling the candidate’s virtues. (I’ve often wondered if Arizona Sen. John McCain should have done this in his 2008 presidential race. His brand was stronger than his campaign skills.)
But somewhere along the line we fell into this current model, which grows longer, meaner and dumber each election cycle. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s working anymore . . .
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.