America tuned in recently for the ninth GOP presidential primary debate. With tea party favorites Chris Christie, Sarah Palin, Jeb Bush and Mitch Daniels (all current or former governors, by the way) opting to sit on the sidelines in the secret hopes that their real chance to win the White House will be in 2016, the overall field is in place.
In watching the ninth straight debate (yes, I am a dork and have watched every single one from beginning to end), I have come to the conclusion that the candidates have solidified their narratives — or niche — thus far in the debates. Before the most recent debate, I wrote down a few sentences predicting what they would say based on their previous debate performances. They reaffirmed their narratives during the recent debate, as predicted. Let me explain:
Michelle Bachmann —– as the only female in the race, she has consistently mentioned her background as a mother and wife. She believes that her gender and unique experiences endear her to what working families are going through as they navigate the tough economic reality that many families find themselves in. As a tax attorney, Bachmann has also positioned herself as the only candidate who understands the tax code and the need to simplify it. No matter what the question is, Bachmann goes back to her niche and answers with some type of response that includes being a mom, repealing “Obamacare” and simplifying the tax code. I’m not sure where Bachmann goes from here, but she’s defiantly made herself a household name.
Rick Santorum – the only Catholic in the race and the only candidate who champions himself as the “defender of the family.” Santorum, a father of seven children, consistently expresses his frustration during all of the debates that family values, i.e. traditional marriage and the need to outlaw abortion, are not debated. Santorum’s niche is that he’s the only champion who speaks up for the traditional family unit and is not afraid to challenge his fellow conservative presidential hopefuls for not speaking about the family. Although he denies this, my hunch is that Santorum is running for vice president. Vice presidential candidates typically make up a deficit that the nominee may have, and if Mitt Romney becomes the nominee; many social conservatives will demand that he put someone on the ticket who speaks to them. Santorum could be that very person.
Newt Gingrich – the former Speaker is arguably the smartest candidate in the field. His objective is very clear — during every debate he clarifies the moderator’s questions and he answers very substantively while praising the other candidates. Gingrich is the elder statesman in the room who sees potential in each of the candidates’ positions and is determined to bolster each of them, knowing full well that he is not going to be the nominee. His niche is that he making all of the other candidates become better candidates by leading the through his answers.
Rick Perry – To date, his debate performances have been lackluster. Governor Perry seems to be dazed and not substantive in responses to the questions being posed to him. He frequently mentions Texas in his answers and has yet to run a national campaign. He’s still learning the ropes on how to be a national candidate and has yet to find his niche.
Jon Huntsman – the former governor of Utah and ambassador to China is the only candidate who brings significant foreign policy experience to the race. During the debates he often speaks forcefully about the trade imbalance between the United States and China. Huntsman’s niche is that he is the only person who understands America’s foreign policy and is able to hit the ground running in repairing America’s image around the world. My hunch is that Huntsman is running to be on the short list for secretary of state.
Herman Cain – The follower of the pack has now become the leader of the pack. The former head of Godfather’s Pizza, former member of the Federal Reserve and cheerleader of his famed “9-9-9 Plan,” Cain’s niche is that he brings a strong business acumen to the office of the presidency. Cain is quick on sound bites and his true niche is that he answers every debate question with a plain common-sense response. The only caveat is that the economic problems we face are more complex that simple answers. His poll numbers will fall, and like Bachmann, I’m not sure we he goes from here.
Mitt Romney – Like Cain, the former governor of Massachusetts brings a strong business acumen to the race. Romney’s middle-of-the-road messaging campaign works perfectly for someone who is already the nominee. The reality is that he is not, and his niche appears to be that he is trying to convince Republican primary voters that he is the only person who can win a general race against the president. Throughout each of the debates, Romney appears to be steady, calm and substantive. Will his niche messaging work? We’ll know after Super Tuesday.
Ron Paul – The Texas Congressman is a true libertarian. He believes that anything government touches is bound to fail. He created this niche in 2008 when he first ran for president and that message continues to this day. His niche is the most narrow and simplistic. It wins him straw polls in contest after contest, but at the end of the day, it wins him nothing else.
So we now know the political playbook — each candidate has his or her recipe for victory. My political instincts still tell me that this is Romney’s race to lose. Super Tuesday will prove me right or completely wrong. Stay tuned.