How 2012 Might Have Been

Republican Presidential Primaries

The Republican Primary season was already well underway. Before a single caucus or vote, though, we pretty much knew that Mitt Romney would win the nomination. He had the entire Republican establishment behind him, including true conservatives who wanted a “safe” candidate.

We know how that worked out.


What might have been had a strong conservative emerged in 2011? What if someone without baggage had prepared years in advance for a run against the weakened, staggering Obama? Truthfully, no Republican candidate met those two simple requirements: acceptable and prepared. Not even the “safe” Romney.

For 2016, we don’t need a middle of the road gay Hispanic Millennial candidate. We need a conservative who can win. That doesn’t mean anyone with a perfect ACU or Heritage score; it means someone with a great record on freedom and fiscal responsibility and government restraint who can charm the (iron) pants of Rachel Maddow and win roof-raising ovations from the America Legion and CPAC.  A candidate who low-information voters feel they know personally, and a candidate who can raise $2 billion without promising anyone anything except to be the best damn leader America can ask for. In short, we need conservatives who people genuinely like:

The Gallup organization has examined the public perception of American presidential candidates since 1960, focusing on the impact of issues, party affiliation, and likeability. From these factors, only likeability has consistently predicted the winning candidate [emphasis added'].

Wiseman, Richard (2009-12-15). 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (Borzoi Books) (p. 51). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Had such a candidate emerged in 2012, it would have been a very good year.


Raise your hand if you remember that brutally hot day in June when over-eager tweeters jubilantly declared the Supreme Court found Obamacare unconstitutional? As soon as I saw the first such tweet, I though, “better hold on.” 

Imagine if John Roberts didn’t need so badly to be invited to the A-List parties in Washington and New York. Imagine if he’d put the country and his oath of office ahead of his social life.

America might never recover from the damage to liberty done by Obama, the Democrats, and Chief Justice Roberts. And I really mourn for that party that never was.

Odds are that Obama and a Democrat Senate will get to fill two vacancies on the Supreme Court before January 20, 2017. That’s how monumental the 2012 election was.

The Tea Party

The tea party had a very rough year. While it’s easy to blame outside forces, let’s not. Let’s look internally.

I know this won’t be popular with some of you, but I have to be honest here. We lost our focus on three core principles of the movement’s founding: Constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, and federalism. Instead, we let the media, the left, and the religious right take us into territory where the tea prty didn’t belong.  There are plenty of organizations whose primary mission involves social issues. Many of us tea partiers belong to such groups. Fewer grassroots groups focus on preserving idea that governments are formed and animated by the consent of those they govern.

Beyond social issues, too often we gave into the temptation to speak our minds, to get immediate emotional gratification, without thinking about the long term. Too often, me included, we chose to show how smart and how right we were, instead of winning first, then turning our right thinking into right policy.

That lack of discipline cost us dearly. Not only is the tea party movement in danger, but the whole American Experiment is in trouble.

And, while I don’t think rallies will help advance our cause, not having rallies sure as hell didn’t win, either. I think I was wrong about that, and I’ll look at fixing it in 2013.

If tea partiers don’t commit to winning, though, instead of just being right, there’s really not much point in continuing. Had we focused maniacally on winning throughout 2011 and 2012, our memories of 2012 would be a lot brighter, and our hopes for 2013 more possible.

The Republican Party

The tea party’s 2012 was a Super Bowl victory compared to the Republican Party’s epic collapse. Lacking leaders, mission, purpose, goals, strategy, character, and charm, the GOP might not be national party come 2016. The Republican Party tries to win elections using Richard Viguerie’s brilliant direct mail method—send to a list, send again only to those who respond, repeat until you have a short list of people who donate every time you mail them. That’s a genius system for raising money, but it’s a death-trap for elections. The GOP has perfected the art of getting 100% turnout from a shrinking base of aging voters, and it shows no signs of willingness to change.

With establishment squishes running the party from top to bottom, I expect Obama to get just about anything he wants for the next four years. Because the establishment fears the tea party far more than it fears Democrats, getting their attention will be difficult. The Party neither wants nor accepts grassroots support, and I have a hard time asking myself and others to help them, anyway. If there was every a time in which a new party could seize power, it’s right now.

Bill Hennessy

Everything that went wrong in 2012 you can blame on me. I did not have a very good year. I am sorry. I will try to do better in 2013. If I cannot, I will say “thank you” and move onto to something else. I’m not big into losing on principle when I know we can win on principles, as well.

I won’t make a lot of promises, but I will try to get better about one thing: speaking up when I see our movement going astray.  For the past two years, I bit my tongue. A lot. I was afraid that speaking my mind might create fissures we didn’t need.

Well, the fissures came anyway, and we got our asses kicked all over the country.

So I’ll say things that some people won’t like. I hope you will, too. But I’ll also do things that I have less faith in than others. And I’ll be thrilled to be proven wrong.

That’s all for 2012. Tune in tomorrow—it’s a brand new year.

New Hampshire Exposes GOP’s Diverse Base

Okay, Santorum and Gingrich didn’t get a bump out of their debates over the weekend.  More like the bump got them.

And Ron Paul did way better than I expected. Congratulations to Dr. Paul and Mitt. mitt-romney-fgr

I still think my Saturday night post accurately reflected the national impressions, though.  That’s backed up by this CBS News poll that shows Republicans believe Santorum most closely shares their values, but—and this is a J Lo but—they believe Romney is more electable.

Romney and Santorum bring different perceived strengths to the race as well. Romney is viewed as most electable (and most likely to be the eventual nominee), while Santorum is seen as the candidate who best represents these voters' values - up 17 points since November. Romney is right behind him on this measure.

I have to disagree with their judgment on Romney. Here’s why.

To win, the Republican nominee must do two things: 1) generate more energy within his base than Obama, and 2) he must attract the people who don’t trust unlimited government, but don’t necessarily care for the conservative base, either

Ronald Reagan did that.  Reagan won the support of many center-right factions:

  • Defense hawks (Cold Warriors)
  • Religious right (Moral Majority)
  • Fiscal conservatives (Supply Siders)
  • Strict constructionists (Constitutionalists)
  • Blue collar families (Reagan Democrats)
  • Independents (independents)

But Romney isn’t Reagan.  Romney is much more like John McCain, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, and Gerald Ford—the last four Republicans to lose a presidential election.

The reason those four lost wasn’t because they were bad men.  They were good men.  And it wasn’t really because their policies were out of step with most voters.  In fact, their policies were more reflective of America than those of their opponents.

The reason McCain, Dole, Bush, and Ford lost to Obama, Clinton, Clinton, and Carter was because they failed to pull together that broad conservative coalition. But the biggest reason they lost was that they failed to convince the last two—so-called Reagan Democrats and independents—that they offered a choice. And they failed to inspire the base to spend their vacation pounding the pavement or making calls.

A WSJ story today reveals some crucial facts:

Today's Republican Party has become steadily more blue-collar, more populist and more influenced by voters who act as much like independents as Republicans. All that makes the idea of attacks on capitalist behavior arising from the traditional party of capitalists a little less bizarre.

• Three-quarters of those who voted in the New Hampshire Republican primary had family incomes below $100,000, early exit polls indicated. Almost half had no college degree.

• In a stunning sign of how loose party affiliations have become, almost half of those who turned out to vote in the Republican primary actually identified themselves as independent voters. Big chunks of them went for Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., the least-conventional of the GOP candidates.

• Nationally, when the thousands of interviews conducted in last year's Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls are combined, Americans who call themselves blue-collar workers actually were slightly more likely to identify themselves as Republicans than as Democrats.

• And when the Journal/NBC News poll asked Americans in November who was responsible for the country's current economic problems, Republicans were precisely as likely as Democrats to blame "Wall Street bankers."

When blue collar families and independents see establishment Republicans, they figure they might as well vote the Democrat who will at least throw them some largesse

There a many Americans who want government fixed. They want the Fed managed at least, if not dissolved. They are willing to go through the pain of winding down entitlement programs and realigning powers of the states to Constitutional intent. 

But they won’t go for half measures that create a bunch of pain and confusion but resolve nothing,eliminate no unconstitutional program, shut down no counter-productive cabinet department, and create new layers of bureaucracy through which we all must wade.

Maybe the blue collar voters and independents are wrong about establishment Republicans. Maybe I am, too.  And maybe so many people find Obama dangerous (I do) and anti-American (I do) that they will vote for anyone the GOP nominates. Our desire to avoid bad things is very powerful.

Then again, our desire to move toward good things is important.  If the only choice we on the right offer non-aligned voters is the lesser of two evils, Obama will be win re-election. 

There is no Reagan on the horizon, no Shane character to ride into town and save the day.  We have a choice between Romney, Paul, Santorum, and Gingrich.  Among those last three, I see none with a distinct advantage in gaining the nomination. Unless two quit. Soon.

But the larger problem is with the party itself.  Its establishment seems to have no idea how to inspire, and its insurgents have no idea how to team up.

A Maniacal Focus for 2012

I’m almost finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple co-founder and genius Steve Jobs. Jobs’s life left insanely good lessons. Some lessons instruct us on how to do things. Others warn us of bad things to avoid.

One of the good things Steve Jobs taught us:  focus.  Maniacal focus on things that mattered, and a pathological aversion to distractions.

One example.  When Jobs returned to Apple after 10-year exile, he took stock of all the projects underway.  He found dozens of development and research efforts.  Most of them were, in his words, “shit.”

The product review revealed how unfocused Apple had become. The company was churning out multiple versions of each product because of bureaucratic momentum and to satisfy the whims of retailers. “It was insanity,” Schiller recalled. “Tons of products, most of them crap, done by deluded teams.”

--Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (p. 337). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Jobs killed 70 percent of those products.

Jobs was famously direct, blunt, rude. When people on an Apple product team heard Steve Jobs call their work “shit,” it stung. Not only that, the project cancellations put people’s jobs in jeopardy.

Finally, Jobs gave one of the insulted teams a great reason for his harsh assessment of their work.

“You are bright people,” he told one group. “You shouldn’t be wasting your time on such crappy products.”

--Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (p. 337). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

To help the people focus, he drew a simple diagram on a whiteboard.


From dozens of projects, the new Apple would focus on only four, one for each quadrant in this simple drawing.

I know a lot of bright people who get lost in a sea of good ideas. We’re taught from birth to look for opportunities everywhere, to never tell others “no” when they ask us to pitch in and help.

But if you say “yes” to every good idea, you’ll never ship the great ones.

I don’t believe in New Years’ resolutions, but I do believe in using milestones as checkpoints. And the start of a new calendar year is as good checkpoint as any. So here’s my focus for 2012.

Spiritual: Say the Rosary every day.

Work: Create one insanely great new thing in 2012, all the way to market.

Civic: Through The After Party program, begin a new era of effective citizenship in St. Louis

Family:  Be present in the precious little time I spend at home

Four areas of life. One focus for each.

None of these is new. But reading the Jobs biography reminded me that it’s critically important to remain focused.  Yes, I’ve deviated from Jobs’s two-customer model. For good or ill, my life includes four customer types, each holding a warrantee that I must honor.

3 Moves After the Tea Party*

It’s 2011.  The Tea Party movement is almost two years old

Two years after the Boston Tea party, the Revolutionary War was well underway. In April, 1775, British Lieutenant General Gage sent troops to Concord, Massachusetts, to seize a garrison held by revolutionaries.  It didn’t go so well for the Brits.


By 1776, the Continental Congress declared our independence from Great Britain citing human rights.  With words that echo through the centuries, we declared that human beings have certain rights, and:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Where does this new American Revolution go now? 

Last night, I celebrated the New Year as do most New Years: by myself, watching subdued, almost depressed events in Las Vegas and New York.  The moment gave me a chance to ruminate as midnight approached: what next?

Here’s a short list that came to mind:

1.  Let’s Have a Tea Party:  After reading the numerous news accounts about 2010 being the Year of the Tea Party, I realized that I may have underestimated the impact of the movement.  That’s easy to do, I think, where you’re in the middle of something.  It’s clear now, though, that the world sees this rebellion as something to advance, to to admire, or to fear.  That deserves a party.

2.  Let’s Paint the Future:  I say and write this a lot.  I will continue to say it and write until it gains some ascendency.   The Tea Party movement – or whatever we call its evolutionary posterity – needs to move from defense to offense.  Offense includes proposing substitutions for the present system.  For example, how do we wind down Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security to minimize or prevent disruptions to people’s lives?  How do we restructure the tax system to both pay off our national debt and to encourage economic growth? What will education look like after we eliminate the Department of Education? 

3.  Let’s Broaden Our Interests:  At some point in the recent past, philosophers stopped applying philosophy to the world and began looking at philosophy as an end in itself.  That’s when the world stopped taking philosophy seriously.  The philosophers had isolated themselves from real life.

If we narrowly study only the Constitution, US History, the Founders, etc., we will become very dull, except to the few others who study nothing but this narrow subject. The world will compartmentalize us away, as it has philosophy.

Conservatives need to use our understanding of the founding principles, not as ends in itself, but as a guideline to apply right reason to problems of the day. 

I mention this repeatedly, too,  because I sense many of us becoming insular in our studies. Erudition requires breadth of knowledge, especially in adjacent matters. Depth in some area is central, of course, but it’s not the end.  Once you’ve hit water, digging deeper won’t make the water cooler or clearer.

* I used the term After the Tea Party.  I don’t think the name “tea party” should or will go away.  But I think we need to broaden our thinking.  The tea party era must give way to the leadership era.  If we stop moving, we die. 

Get Good Candidates. Start Now.

Conservatives (tea party, et al) and Republicans better learn to get along. Quickly. Just as quickly, the two need to recruit, vet, and prep some A-list candidates. Candidates for offices from President down to school boards.

That’s because the winners in 2012 will either belong to a conservative coalition or the most radical elements of the Democrat Party.  Here’s why.

Pollster Frank Luntz points out in today’s Washington Post that the largest ideological faction in the United States is the combination of GOP plus tea partiers:

[W]hen asked "which best represents your views?," about a third of registered voters, 36 percent, chose Democrats, while 25 percent chose the GOP and 22 percent opted for the tea party. Together, Republicans and the tea party movement represent 47 percent of America to the Democrats' 36 percent. That's a recipe for massive electoral success in 2012 if they stay united, but unprecedented failure if they pull apart.

That means that the American electorate thinks the way it did in 1980 and 1994: conservative, not Republican.  We expect elected officials to be likewise.  The reason some “tea party” candidates lost had more to do with their personas and less to do with their politics.  Voters in Nevada and Delaware saw Sharon Angle and Christine O’Donnell as less than serious. 

Peggy Noonan explains beautifully (as always) in a recent Wall Street Journal column:

Even in a perfect political environment, those candidates who were conservative but seemed strange, or unprofessional, or not fully qualified, or like empty bags skittering along the street, did not fare well. The tea party provided the fire and passion of the election, and helped produce major wins—Marco Rubio by 19 points! But in the future the tea party is going to have to ask itself: Is this candidate electable? Will he pass muster with those who may not themselves be deeply political but who hold certain expectations as to the dignity and stature required of those who hold office? [emphasis added]

There are many in the tea party movement who need to understand that last sentence.  Supporting candidates who believe 100 percent what you believe but have zero percent chance of winning is a “principled” decision if there is a reasonable alternative who can win.