Thursday, March 8, 2012


“Many Republicans shudder at the thought of a brokered National Convention, but one of the GOP’s most accomplished political strategists believes it could improve the party’s chances of ousting President Obama.” So said Lou Cannon, former White House correspondent for The Washington Post and the author of the famous book, “President Reagan – The Role of a Lifetime”, described by many as the definitive account of the Reagan presidency. In his March 2, 2012, article in Real Clear Politics, Cannon quotes the now-retired Stuart K. Spencer as saying “We need a donnybrook of a convention.”

In his prime, Stu Spencer was a highly-sought-after political strategist who ran congressional and legislative campaigns for the California Republican Party. He gained national attention when he and his partner, Bill Roberts, managed the campaign of Nelson Rockefeller against Barry Goldwater in the closely contested but decisive California Presidential Primary; and he later managed Ronald Reagan’s successful campaign for Governor of California. In 1976, Spencer advised the sitting President, Gerald Ford, and (according to Lou Cannon) played a “key role” in “derailing Reagan’s challenge” for the Republican nomination for president in that year.

In the Presidential Campaign of 1980, (after Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976) Spencer was “back with Reagan” at the request of Nancy Reagan. This time, Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States, and thwarted President Jimmy Carter’s bid for a second term. “The rest, as they say, is history”.

As most Republicans know, 1976 was the last time Republicans had “a donnybrook of a convention.” Many of the same issues and fault lines within the party that faced Republicans in 1976 also face Republicans today in the bitter primary races between Romney, Santorum and Gingrich. Whereas Gerald Ford was characterized as a “Rockefeller Republican” by the Reagan forces in 1976, Mitt Romney is today characterized as a “Massachusetts moderate” who is the darling of the Republican eastern establishment that can deliver large amounts of cash to a candidate but few, if any, electoral votes from the northeastern states. On the other hand, Rick Santorum, like Reagan before him, has been characterized as “too extreme” in his views to be electable in November.

Indeed, Romney supporters are fond of saying that President Obama and his advisers are salivating at the prospect facing the conservative Rick Santorum in the general election presidential race. It is noteworthy that President Jimmy Carter likewise was salivating at the thought of having Reagan as his opponent because Carter and his advisers believed that the conservative Reagan would turn off moderate independents voters in the general election. However, Santorum has yet to demonstrate that he has the broad public appeal that Reagan had in 1976. Reagan was essentially a “happy warrior”, whereas Santorum often appears angry and frustrated.

As we watch the news – talk shows night after night, we almost universally hear respected commentators tell us a contested or brokered Republican National Convention would split the GOP and is extremely unlikely to occur in any event. Spencer’s answer is that the party is already badly divided and that the current crop of GOP candidates has already alienated independent voters. Indeed, a PEW survey taken in February found that only 32 per cent of the voters have a favorable opinion of Governor Romney, the established front runner.

Spencer’s conclusion that a “donnybrook” of tumultuous Republican convention would be best for the Republican Party in 2012 is not based on his fear that disagreements within the party will keep many Republicans from supporting Romney or whoever is the eventual Republican nominee. According to Lou Cannon, “Spencer does not buy that. He says Republicans of all stripes share a negative view of Obama and will back the nominee, while Democrats will vote for Obama although Democrats could have a turnout problem. Spencer’s concern is independents, who he said will decide the election. He finds their declining support for the current Republican candidates ominous for the GOP.”

Stuart K. Spencer therefore thinks we should select and unite behind a new untarnished face to lead the charge against President Obama in the fall of 2012. He believes that the bitter primaries, the relentless negative advertisements of the Super PACS, and the overall inability of the candidates to generate broad public appeal have contributed to the decline of broad support for any of current Republican candidates.

Stu Spencer is now retired. Although still sought out for political advice by many, perhaps he is now truly past his prime and out of touch with today’s political realities. Perhaps.

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