Remarks by Ron Nehring at CPAC 2013
Today our focus is how conservatives and Republicans should go about choosing the best candidates for public office in the months and years ahead.
I reject the notion that, everything else being equal, a candidate becomes more electable as they move further to the left. Rudy Giuliani and Richard Riordan were elected Republican mayors of heavily Democratic cities, defeating candidates who were more liberal and ideologically closer to their constituents.
Philosophy is very important, and for many people drawn to the conservative movement, it is the most important quality in a candidate. But philosophy is only one of several factors that contribute to a candidate’s overall strength or weakness on the battlefield. Philosophy, competency, the candidate’s personal narrative, and external political environment are all wheels that spin independently of one another, yet all directly influence the outcome.
Being conservative doesn’t automatically make you capable, or incapable, on the battlefield. Being conservative doesn’t automatically give you a compelling narrative that helps voters to identify you and someone who represents them. Being conservative does not automatically make one competent, or skilled, or ready to withstand the rigors of a highly competitive campaign. And it doesn’t mean the externalities are running in your direction either. These factors are all independent.
The most important trait I want to see in a candidate is one they seldom want to show, and may not possess, and that is humility. Humility is important because to learn, one must first admit there are things you do not know and that others do know. If you admit that, then you can learn. Otherwise, you don’t learn and you’re more likely to make mistakes because you’re not developing the skills you need to go up against very, very capable and resourceful opponents.
In my 24 years in the conservative movement, I’ve learned that politics is 75% relationships and 25% everything else. That isn’t a statement about how the world should be, but about how the world is. The relationships a candidate forges with voters, volunteers, activists, donors, and stakeholders make all the difference. Your ability to forge relationships is a function of your personality and skill, not your philosophy.
We need conservative candidates who are also highly skilled and competent on the campaign trail, and have a personal narrative that, when effectively communicated, makes voters confident that the candidate has the right values and will look out for them.
We also need a vibrant conservative movement that is active in every town and city in America. Do you have a growing conservative-affiliated club or organization that meets within 15 minutes of your house? If not, go out and build one. Go to the Leadership Institute, get the skills, and build an organization. When you do, make sure you create a positive, forward looking culture that encourages people to join and participate, and doesn’t scare normal people. We need to make it easier for someone who shares our outlook, who watches Fox News or listens to conservative talk radio, to get involved in a way that creates value for them.
Ron Nehring is a national and international consultant who served as Chairman of the California Republican Party from 2007 to 2011.
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