Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Heart and Mind

We are 62 days away from the first votes being cast in Iowa for the Presidential primaries. From the beginning of the process I did not have a preferred GOP candidate. I wanted to keep my powder dry and evaluate the candidates during the course of the campaign before showing any preference.

This is what I wrote when I handicapped the GOP race back in May.

I don't have a personal favorite at this time. There are a lot of candidates I could support. There is not one that I would reject in favor of Hillary Clinton or any other Democrat I can see running.
In fact, I believe that is going to be the first priority in most Republican voters minds when they vote in the primary. Can they beat Hillary (or another Democrat)?
I also wrote about the importance of creating a market position or brand as a key element for each of the candidates.

Running for political office is very similar to positioning a product in the marketplace. The same principles that apply to marketing and branding apply to a Presidential candidate.
Who are your target customers? How do you position yourself against your competitors? What are the principal features of your product? What are your advantages? What are the benefits to your "customers'? What are your key differentiators in the marketplace"?

I observed that there were likely three major brand segments that the candidates would fit in as the campaigns began. Establishment. Evangelical. Non-Traditional. I also predicted that there would also likely only be three candidates standing by the time we got to Super Tuesday on March 1.

This is how I saw those market categories in May.

Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, (John Kasich or Rick Snyder if they get in)

Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry

Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, Lindsey Graham

Rubio seems to be the leader in the Establishment segment. This was Jeb Bush's to lose with his enormous money advantage. He has lost it. Rubio has simply outclassed him at every turn. Bush has been particularly damaged when voters have seen Rubio and Bush together on the debate stage.

Carson has been leading in the Evangelical segment but Ted Cruz has done an effective job of working to position himself as attractive to both this segment as well as the Non-Traditional category.

Of course, Donald Trump has redefined the term "Non-Traditional" in this race as well as defying political gravity while doing it. Will he come back to earth? 

At this point, it appears to me that Trump, Rubio, Carson and Cruz are in the best positions to be the finalists for the nomination.

Who do I like at this point based on what I have seen?

Donald Trump

Trump has energized the race. He says things that many voters think but would never say. There is a lot of bluster and some blarney in him as well. He's like the "bad boy" that a lot of girls would like to date. However, will they marry him? His poll numbers look good in the dating phase we are in right now but are GOP voters going to commit to him long-term in the voting booth? That is a commitment I am not ready to make and my bet is that will be true for a majority of GOP voters in the end.

Ben Carson

Carson's easy manner and core values have put him on top of the Evangelical category but I just don't
think he is ready for prime time. It is a big jump from pediatric neurosurgeon to President of the United States. Given time, I have no doubt that Carson could do the job. He has done the best in the debates with his closing statements which he has had time to think about and prepare for. He is not as strong with "off the cuff" answers. I think that comes from his background in medicine where preparation, practice and precision were critical. A great life story but there are better candidates available.

Those two are Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Marco Rubio

If I picking with my mind, Marco Rubio is my guy right now.

I said this about Rubio last May and I have not altered my view.

At this point I believe the best candidate on paper is Marco Rubio.  He has a number of advantages. He is young. He is articulate. He is Hispanic. He is from a very important swing state. He has a good looking family.
His major negative is his ill-considered attempt to broker an immigration reform bill that was in direct conflict with the views of the vast majority of GOP primary voters. However, in a testament to his political skills, he has done a good job of pivoting from that miscue and putting some distance between his views then and now. We will see how that plays once the race really gets going.

Add to this the fact that Rubio (and Cruz) have clearly shown the most substance and style on the debate stages thus far. They, along with Carly Fiorina, have outclassed the rest of the field in the debates thus far.

Ted Cruz

If I am picking with my heart, Ted Cruz is my candidate.

Cruz is undoubtedly the smartest person running for President in either party. Princeton undergrad. Harvard Law. Liberal Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard has said Cruz "is off the charts brilliant" and "of 10,000 students I taught at Harvard over 50 years...he has to qualify as among the brightest of students."

While Barack Obama likes to claim he is a constitutional lawyer and scholar, Cruz really is. He was a Supreme Court law clerk to Chief Justice Rehnquist. He was Solicitor General of the State of Texas. He has made oral arguments before the Supreme Court over 40 times.

He was the U.S. Collegiate Debate champion while he was at Princeton. In addition, he has what some refer to as a "audio-graphic" memory where he can recall, almost verbatim, anything he hears. You saw evidence of that in the CNBC debate when he turned against the moderators with a perfect recitation of their "gotcha" questions of the other candidates. There would be no need for a teleprompter with this guy. His debate and listening skills may prove helpful in "negotiating" with leaders like Vladimir Putin.

Cruz is the most consistent, principled conservative I see running who also is a true constitutionalist. I don't think you are going to see a bait and switch down the road as has often happened with GOP candidates. 

Cruz is also in a unique position that he can span two of the brand categories I mentioned above-Evangelical and Non-Traditional. His recent surge in the polls seems to be at the expense of Carson with Evangelical voters. If Trump falters, where does the Non-Traditional voter go? Cruz is well positioned there as well.

Cruz understands that the problems in Washington are not due solely to Democrats. They are due to the very nature of the way Democrats, Republicans and special interests work together to consolidate their power and take power away from the people. He is the one guy who I think would be able to start dismantling this incestuous insiders game that we have in Washington today. That is why he is also probably the most feared candidate among the political elite.

I know there are Republican voters who think Cruz is "too radical" and "too much of an outsider" to get things done. I remember one other candidate who was referred to the same way. Go back to 1979 and see what people were saying about Ronald Reagan. That turned out pretty well in the end.

There are others who also wonder whether Cruz is likeable enough to win the general election. It is true that he is not Marco Rubio. Nor Barack Obama. However, he likely will be running against Hillary Clinton. Is there any question who most people would rather have a beer with?

I just finished reading Cruz's book, "A Time For Truth", so that I would have a better feel for who he is and what he believes. It made me a believer that he has what it takes.

My heart is with Cruz. 

I think a Cruz/Rubio ticket sounds pretty good to me right now.

However, where will the hearts and minds of voters be in 2016? 

That is why we have elections.

Postscript:  If you are interested in more background information on Ted Cruz you might be interested in reading "Why Ted Cruz is the Right Guy at the Right Time" by Sonya Sasser.

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