Dear Potential GOP Presidential Candidate,
As the lineup is shaping up, it looks like it could be similar to previous elections: There will be a long list of equally unappealing candidates. Some dull person will be selected, having little chance to win against any potential Democratic candidate. It does not have to be this way. If you are thinking about competing for the GOP presidential nomination, here is my unsolicited advice.
First, you have to answer for yourself why you want to run. Then, you have to say it to Americans in a way in which you can convince them that you are the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan. A hint: It may help if you actually share Reagan’s political views.
Here might be your biggest problem. Reagan, as a mature politician, was a man with the purpose and the vision. What is yours, besides your desire to become president? Reagan saw politics as an ongoing confrontation of two basic concepts of social order. One is based on limited government, personal liberties and the free market; it is capitalism. The other one is based on an all-embracing government micromanaging the lives of citizens, and taxing them accordingly, in order to be able to do so; it is called socialism. Can you see our problems as the struggle between pro-capitalistic and pro-socialistic political concepts? Can you be as bold as Reagan was and repeat that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Then, can you act on it? Do you have a vision how to solve at least some of our problems by government doing less, not more?
At this point you are likely finding my advice unpractical, as America has changed, and it would be hard to get enough popular support just by literally following Reagan’s ideas. You are right; Americans got accustomed to all the goodies, guarantees and securities that government provides. For most Americans, Republicans included, this is what America is all about. The bad news for the Republican presidential candidate aspiring to revive the Reagan era is that this candidate needs to give Americans a cold dose of a reality check: He or she needs to tell Americans that if we really want to restore prosperity in America, there is no way to keep all of the entitlements they consider as a given. It is a tough job. Can you do it?
Can you win today running on Reagan’s platform? It is unlikely, because for too many Americans, Republicans included, it is the government’s job to solve their problems. Do you recognize that the problems that our country is facing in their core originate from the shift from capitalism to socialism? We have so many unresolved issues because so far socialism has not worked anywhere it was tried and it does not work to the extent that it has been implemented in the U.S. In their verbal declarations, Americans in general, and Republicans in particular, are for personal liberties and small government. However, the understanding of the free market is shallow, at best; the government assistance bringing help here and now is valued foremost. This is what Americans care about, Republicans included.
Americans still want all of the benefits of the free market and, at the same time, want the government to protect them from all of the negatives, the same way as socialistic governments do. The candidate telling Americans that this is unattainable will undoubtedly lose if this message is spelled out two months before the election. The candidate expressing this message 20 months before the election has a fair shot at winning the argument and then winning the election.
To achieve this, the presidential candidate needs to be able to overlook the renowned political consultants, who focus on pleasing the views of the public as measured in carefully crafted opinion polls. The presidential candidate that the country needs should be able to realize that America is in an ongoing crisis exactly because a majority of Americans are wrong in their understanding of our problems. The presidential candidate that our country needs shall be a leader who is brave enough to tell Americans that they are wrong in many of their political views, and is capable of convincing them of his vision. Do you have this understanding of our problems, or are you just one more of the misinformed Americans? Can you bring a vision that can move the country forward, or are you just one more among the millions of Republicans asking for doing, with greater determination, what has not worked so far?
There are two issues that are important for the country and for the presidential campaign: immigration and health care.
On immigration, you have to publicly notice that the failure of the immigration policy is the failure of the big, intrusive government. It is a failure of our almost 100-year-old idea that government should control immigration. You have to declare an openness to explore other theories explaining the immigration crisis we have, and other concepts of resolving it. You do not need to declare your support for the free market-driven immigration policy; you just need to legitimize this option as a valid alternative. This will open the public debate and soon the views of the vicious opponents of immigration will be ridiculed in the eyes of the many now-misinformed citizens. Can you do it? Or are you just one more among the misinformed?
On health care, the GOP asks for repealing Obamacare. It will not be as easy as it might appear. The Affordable Care Act passed to begin with not because it was good; it passed because the GOP did not offer anything better. Something better would mean deep deregulation of health care as it was before Obamacare came into the picture. The public is not ready to accept that profit-driven doctors, clinics and hospitals can provide better and cheaper health care. You need to show the public that you see how this could work, and you have to assemble experts giving credibility to your vision. Calling for repealing Obamacare will be hollow, and people will not trust you, unless you can present a simple and appealing vision whereby everyone can see how his or her health care would function without it.
Dear Potential Candidate, are you ready to go this path? Or do you want to follow the paths of John McCain and Mitt Romney?
A version of this text was published by Huffington Post