The Way to Voters’ Hearts Is Proposing What They Don’t Want

You often see pundits making suggestions to political candidates like David Brooks makes in his New York Times column today (1/10/12):

If Romney is to thrive, he really needs to go on an integrity tour. He needs to show how his outer pronouncements flow directly from his inner core. He needs to trust that voters will take him as he really is….

He needs to stop opportunistically backtracking on his Medicare position, just to please whatever senior group he happens to be in front of. He needs to show that he is willing to pursue at least a few unpopular policies, even policies that are unfashionable in his own party. Since many people fear that he is a suck-up, it would actually help him at this point if he violated party orthodoxy in some bold and independent way.

He needs to step outside the cautious incrementalism that is the inevitable product of excessive polling and focus-group testing. He needs to find a policy like entitlement reform that is so important to him that he’s willing to risk losing the presidency over it. The eternal rule of presidential politics is that a candidate has to be willing to lose everything if he’s going to win everything.

My question is: Has any candidate ever successfully employed this strategy of wooing voters by promising to do things they think shouldn’t be done? In the history of the world?

Now, when you’re in office, you might make an unpopular move that turns out to improve the economy or what have you, and you could benefit politically from that. And during a campaign, you might be able to persuade voters that what they think is a bad idea is actually a good idea.

But basing your campaign on the assumption that there’s a significant number of voters who would say, “I like this guy–he’s telling me he’s going to do a lot of things I think are wrong”? That’s an idea that only a pundit could love.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.