Last week's GOP debate featured 7 hopefuls (Romney, Pawlenty, Gingrich, Paul, Bachmann, Santorum and Cain) with another half dozen still sitting on the fence (Huntsman, Palin, Perry, Giuliani, and Bolton) plus or minus a few. Conservative activists are still trying to draft a few up and coming conservatives (Rubio, Christie, and Ryan).
All of the above names are by and large good conservatives, and all would very likely be a dramatic positive shift from the current occupant of the Oval Office. But there is a big difference between being a solid and principled conservative and being able to lead this country. The GOP should take a lesson learned from the Army when looking at presidential hopefuls.
20 years ago, the Army changed it's rank structure to reflect a post cold war mentality. Previously, there were two routes for career soldiers to take in the army-leaders and followers. Anyone who enlists in the army starts with the rank of private (officers being the exception, they are given commissions rather than enlisting). The ranks go buck private (Enlisted-1 paygrade), private second class (E-2) and then private first class. After that came a career choice in the old system-soldiers could be promoted to specialist (E-4) or corporal (also E-4). The pay was the same, but corporals were tagged as leaders, had command responsibility, and were soon promoted to sergeant. Specialists could continue to get promoted and thus get paid more, according to their experience and training.
Flash forward 20 years, and you will find a much different army. The rank of corporal still exists, but it is given out only in the rare case of a specialist ready for promotion but for whom there are no available positions. Privates automatically become specialists, and from there they can make the leap into the Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) corp, or they can stay at the rank of specialist. The result? Any soldier who wants more pay or more responsibility has no choice but to move into a leadership role, or they will be left by the wayside. In today's Army, a soldier who is good at his individual job (be it carrying a machine gun, working in supply or cooking) is strongly encouraged to get promoted to a leadership role, regardless of their ability to lead.
So what does this have to do with the GOP presidential field? The exact same concept applies. Congressman and Senators who are really good at their jobs are being encouraged to run for president, regardless of whether or not they are able to lead. Paul Ryan is a perfect example. He is a great congressman, and has the vision and clarity to help lead the Republican party in Congress over the next decade. But president? Being a steadfast conservative with strong conservative principles and a vision of government reform does not mean that he is ready or able to lead this nation. GOP activists are pushing strong conservatives to run for the ultimate leadership role simply because they are strong conservatives, not considering whether or not they are good leaders.
President Obama is beatable, as evidenced by the latest poll numbers. But the GOP needs to look not just for the candidate who can beat Obama, but for the best conservative candidate who can lead this country out of the quagmire that the Democrats have pushed us into. As President Obama has been instrumental in pulling the country to the left, we need someone who can lead the country back to the right, with leadership being the key to the shift. Those who hold out hope of a Christie or Rubio run need to realize that we need those strong conservatives in the positions they currently occupy, untarnished by a failed presidential run. We need to pick a candidate who has shown that they can lead, not just a candidate with strong conservative principles.
Just as not every soldier is born to lead others, not every conservative is born to lead this great country. Beating President Obama may seem a foregone conclusion to many, but replacing him with the right leader is at least as important as the desire to make President Obama a one term president.