By Ken Feltman
Presidential campaigns are unlike anything else. The only way to learn how to run for president is to run for president. Unexpected “rules” affect all candidates. If a candidate does not know the rules, or ignores the rules, his or her chances of success drop. It is that simple and that cruel.
To begin, the people who seek the highest office have self-esteem to spare. They believe that they are special and can blaze their own path to victory with a superior plan. While others may see an almost impossible uphill struggle, would-be candidates see their path to victory quite clearly. Jon Huntsman is confident. He can almost taste his path to the White House. Few who have been through a presidential campaign share Huntsman’s 2012 vision. Already, experienced hands see Huntsman’s path leading through 2012 to 2016.
Rudy Giuliani’s campaign team went around showing potential supporters a detailed and thoughtful campaign plan in 2007. But the plan ignored two of the pesky unwritten rules and Giuliani flamed out.
The first rule is: The early bird gets the worm. This explains why previous candidates have an advantage. They have the experience and organizational advantage from their previous campaign. They are ready to go and they know which of the early campaign events are important and which can be skipped. Mitt Romney was prepared. Tim Pawlenty began from scratch. He cannot seem to catch up to Romney’s organizational level.
Second is the old Woody Allen rule: Most of life is showing up. Dawdling while deciding is costly. If Sarah Palin really intended to run, she must regret that she let Michele Bachmann have the limelight at the New Hampshire debate.
Many people are encouraging Rick Perry to jump into the race. But Perry may be too late to put together the effort required to win, despite the record he has compiled in Texas and the solid credentials of the campaign staff he could assemble.
Meantime, announced and “thinking-about-it” candidates are trying to figure out how to be the alternative to Mitt Romney. They believe his flip-flopping past is Romney’s Achilles heel. As the other GOP candidates fight each other, Romney campaigns against President Obama. That helps him avoid possibly unfavorable comparisons with the other Republican candidates.
Romney knows that his lead is bigger than it appears in the polls and pundits’ predictions. He knows that unless he makes many small or one big mistake, he is the favorite. Everyone else is playing catch-up and gaining experience for 2016.