Those pundits and politicos evidencing shock and awe at the public's seeming embrace of Donald Trump's possible candidacy are missing a key point that will be critical to success in the 2012 election: the importance of style in the leadership equation.
The list of proposed Republican candidates for President has failed to produce much in the way of excitement. Even a leading contender such as Mitt Romney fails to elicit much positive response, despite many excellent qualifications. Others, though acceptable in terms of past experience and even legislative accomplishments, lack the excitement and/or charisma that the public seeks in today's candidates.
Few on the right doubt that, should he choose to run, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey would be the odds-on favorite for the Republican candidacy. It is worth comparing Governor Christie with Donald Trump, as they both evidence certain key similarities in their personal styles. Neither is afraid of conflict. Governor Christie has not hesitated to take on the political establishment and the unions that have controlled his state for years. Likewise, Donald Trump has been successful in the highly competitive real estate market, as well as in the intense battle for television ratings.
Both are plainspoken. Unlike many of the career politicians named as possible candidates, neither Christie nor Trump feels the necessity of sparing his opponent's feelings. The typical politician is always aware that he may someday need a favor from the one whom he is presently opposing; and, as a result, opposition frequently comes across as compromised and lukewarm. Indeed, to the public, political compromises are viewed more as concessions than wins.
Likewise, the left's reliance on extremism in the defense of political correctness has frightened many officials into half-hearted attempts to curry favor with both sides. The reactions of the Democrats and unions to Governor Walker's Budget Repair Bill in Wisconsin, and the accusation that by de-funding Planned Parenthood Republicans wish to "kill women," are indicative of what can happen when a clear position is taken. The tendency of conservatives to pursue practical solutions rather than emotional appeals often results in the perceived victory of the rabble over the rational as happened recently in coverage from Madison.
Neither Christie nor Trump fears this. Christie is convinced of the righteousness of his cause, and Trump's independence of thought is assured by his fortune and position.
As important as style is, though, it is only one component of leadership. The lack of substance in the form of knowledge, experience, vision, and integrity cannot be compensated for by speeches and slogans.
If there is one thing that has characterized the Obama administration above all else, it is a pitiful lack of leadership. Obama has always punted. He left the ObamaCare bill to the backdoor machinations of Reid and Pelosi, and much of the stimulus bill to his Wall Street cronies. He didn't begin to deal with the horrendous threat of the deficit until Paul Ryan boxed him into a corner. The American people expect their President to lead, not just his country but its allies in the free world. The reality is that true leadership requires both style and substance. In his early speeches, Obama's verbal facility and personal attributes clearly excited both his base and many independents. The high-sounding call for "Hope and Change" (a phrase so broad as to be meaningless) attracted many, especially among the young. In the rush of enthusiasm, the early warning signs were ignored or dismissed. The radical associations, the lack of any real experience, the refusal to release his long-form birth certificate and college records -- and even his revealing reply to "Joe the Plumber" -- were all given a pass by his star-struck followers and a compliant media.
Through their outspoken personal style, both Christie and Trump have created a positive response among the American people. Christie's experience speaks for itself. Whether Trump can withstand scrutiny over time is open to question, but, clearly, both have energized the race and made a salient point about the need for inspiration on the right.
If the Republican Party is serious about winning in 2012, it is critical that Republicans realize that style will be as crucial as substance in the contest. The combination of the two is requisite in conveying the essence of complex questions (such as economic policy) in a manner that the general public understands and trusts. What is required is an individual whose personal approach reflects strength and confidence tempered with grace and humor; one with the skill and the will to follow through. The American people need a Churchill, not a Chamberlain; a Grant, not a Meade; a Ronald Reagan, not a Jimmy Carter.
The beliefs, the spirit, the strength, and the capabilities that built this country might have been temporarily obscured but are still intact. And, historically, when we have needed a leader, we have found an individual capable of delivering the combination of style and substance that define leadership. We, and the free peoples of the world, are waiting.