The uses, and limits, of mimicking the opposing party’s president

I’ve noticed that when a modern political party loses more than once to the other party’s presidential nominee, it tends then to nominate a candidate who shares an important personal characteristic with its tormentor.

Ronald Reagan trounced the Democrats twice. Eventually they nominated (and won with) an exceptional communicator. Bill Clinton defeated the Republicans twice. They responded by nominating (and winning with) a candidate who could speak the language of compassion. After George Bush won for a second time, the Dems found success through a candidate who shared Bush’s likability advantage.

This is a sensible way for parties to react to defeat. It enables them to copy one important aspect of the other side’s success without giving in on substance.

So how will the Republicans react to President Obama’s success? The obvious answer is to nominate someone who shares his youthfulness. And it is likely that our next nominee — be it Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, or someone else — will be relatively young.

A second option is to nominate a candidate who shares Obama’s glibness and willingness to take serious liberties with the truth. Fortunately, we avoided this temptation following the Clinton presidency, but will we do so a second time?

If not, the beneficiary will be Marco Rubio. Rubio isn’t as unprincipled as Obama. Whatever one thinks about the merits of his immigration stance and about his tactics, the Florida Senator has taken a political risk by aligning himself with the Democrats on this hot-button issue. Obama was more of an opportunist.

Throughout the immigration debate, however, Rubio and his team have demonstrated an alarming lack of candor. They have also mimicked Team Obama to some extent in their willingness to use Chicago-style tactics against conservative opponents.

Candidate Obama and potential candidate Rubio have much in common. Both are/were young, fresh-faced minorities who made their name by speechifying, and thus have enormous confidence in their ability to talk their way out of a jam. Both receive plenty of slack because of who they are and what they represent. Both are prepared to put that slack to use by twisting the truth when necessary.

Obama is better at this than Rubio. But even if that were not the case, it would be a mistake for Republicans to nominate a presidential candidate who mimics Obama to that extent. We simply could not trust such a candidate.

Nominating a relatively young candidate will be homage enough to the Obama legacy.


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