GOP nominee must be more than the anti-Obama candidate

There is great euphoria within the Republican Party.  President Obama is at the lowest point of his presidency, as seen by the surge in his disapproval number which now stands at 55%.  Obama appears quite susceptible to defeat next November.  Recent polls show him neck-and-neck with several potential GOP foes.

However, defeating Obama will not result by just being the "Anti-Obama" candidate regardless of who the nominee eventually is.  Recent history proves that just being anti-incumbent is a recipe for failure.  The strategy failed for Democrat John Kerry in his race to defeat George W. Bush in 2004 and the same anti-incumbant campaign strategy contributed towards Bob Dole's loss to the incumbent president, Bill Clinton, in 1996.

While it's true that Barack Obama ran a largely anti-Bush campaign with success in the 2008 campaign,  remember that Obama was not running against an incumbent

Recall that, in 2004, the Kerry camp was predominately absent of new ideas and policies during the campaign.  Instead, Kerry was simply against the then current and proposed Bush policies.  That was the near extent of his campaign.  Kerry was criticized for failing to explain how he would have handled Iraq differently than Bush, how he would have paid for increased government spending, and why he didn't vote to ratify the Kyoto Treaty, among other items.

Liberal voters and groups were energized in their quest to defeat President Bush, as they despised his policies, and seemingly the man himself.  However, independent voters were searching for reasons to vote for Kerry, rather than just voting against Bush.  Kerry gave them little reason to vote for him, absent of those who had an "anybody but Bush" mentality. 

Noted author Bob Woodward spoke of this absence of ideas in the Kerry campaign.  Woodward noted, "I think anyone who runs for President and doesn't define how he or she would use the power of the Presidency... you're not going to win. I think you could make the argument that John Kerry failed to say, "I will use the power of the Presidency to do...what? It was not clear. "

Kerry faced a susceptible incumbent candidate in George W. Bush, but he failed to deliver any substantive ideas and policies that appealed to the voters.

Enter 2012.  Republicans and conservatives are eager to boot out a feeble incumbent president in Barack Obama and they will be driven to the polls by their disdain for Obama's policies if nothing else.  However, the independent voters, which comprise 32% of the electorate, will not be moved to vote for the GOP nominee if his or her message is just purely anti-Obama and absent of ideas, just like they were not moved to vote for Dole or Kerry when either of these men faced the incumbent president.

Noted political commentator, Michael Barone, recently opined on this subject, as he noted that the top GOP contenders are still searching for specific positive messages to send to the voters.

The recent speculation that conservative lightening rod, Representative Paul Ryan, might run was evidence that conservatives are especially seeking a candidate who can articulate conservative principles versus Obama, as Ryan has done in the past.  That individual, whomever he or she is, may very well be within the current crop of candidates.  However, the brief enthusiasm regarding a potential Ryan bid is a clear indication that conservatives are thirsting for someone who can carry the conservative banner and who can go mano-a-mano with Obama on issues and policies.

The two primary issues likely to be at the forefront next year during campaign season are jobs/economy and deficit/government spending.  Therefore to succeed, the GOP candidate must do more than just criticize the failed policies of Obama on these two subjects.  This has proven to be a losing strategy in the recent past.  He or she must have a well-crafted and positive plan on the major issues in order for the Republican Party to again capture the White House. 

Chad Stafko is a writer and political consultant living in the Midwest.  He can be reached at