A successful presidential candidacy requires competence in many skills sets and excellence in at least a few.
Think of the decathlon in the Olympics: 10 events, but winning one or even two or three doesn’t guarantee the gold. You have to be at least competitive in each of the disciplines: sprints and runs of various distances, the discus, shot put and javelin, the 110-meter hurdles, the high jump, long jump and pole vault. You can’t win if you are awful in any of them, but you don’t even have to finish in the top three of any of them to succeed.
The winner accumulates the most points across all the events, having practiced and mastered to at least a very high level in every discipline.
Connecting with the deep-rooted conservatives activists in a large, public setting is one of the skills sets a successful GOP candidate needs, and perhaps even the one he or she needs most. And the annualConservative Political Action Conferenceis one measure of this one necessary ability.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., won the straw poll this past weekend at the 2015 CPAC, and that was expected. Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., won the room, and probably got bonus points from the conservative faithful for fending off the mainstream media on an alleged gaffe that many observers across the political spectrum judge to be a manufactured controversy. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., did very well in their best events: for the former, online engagement, and the latter in sheer wattage charisma.
For Jeb Bush and Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., CPAC and its summertime sister, the Western Conservative Summit in Denver in June, are thought by many to be their weakest “events,” but both passed their necessary thresholds this past week.
Christie’s sit down with my colleague on the airwaves, Laura Ingraham, went well and generated favorable reviews. Jeb Bush’s Q-and-A with Sean Hannity similarly exceeded expectations and allowed Bush to display a widely respected fortitude if not CPAC attendee agreement on various positions including immigration reform and Common Core.
Both did what they had to do and even more. Thus did CPAC fail to generate a consensus headline beyond the “Walker (and Carly Fiorina) really connected with crowd” standard takeaway. Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Ben Carson may have failed to set any media buzz a-blazing, but all three turned in strong and practiced appearances.
The real bottom line: No losers at CPAC. None.
Other “events” underway? Fundraising, staff selection, media savvy, and of course debate skills. There are many others including perseverance, good humor, a steady spouse and the most elusive of all qualities: timing.
Many in the GOP field have many strengths. None has insurmountable leads in so many fields as to “presumptive” or even “front runner.”
Which telegraphs a long and very competitive race among a strong field of candidates, the result of which will depend as much on the conditions obtaining in the world come a year from now, after a month of early clashes and on the eve of first of two “Super Tuesdays.” Nobody knows how this will shake out, and events far away are more than likely to be decisive in the GOP voting in the winter of 2016.
This column was originally posted on WashingtonExaminer.com.