WASHINGTON – The value of free advice is measured by what you pay for it, and Republicans don’t usually ask me for mine.
Nonetheless, the GOP’s presidential race is one of the most fascinating political brawls in years. It’s about to hit full stride, and I can’t resist kibitzing. I know the leading candidates will take my guidance for what it’s worth.
You were pro-immigration until you weren’t. You optimistically embraced the changing nature of our nation until you ran an ad about “all of us who feel out of place in our own country.” You left McCainville to enter Trumpland.
Your supporters see your weaknesses as your strengths: Yes, you might be well-positioned to pull all parts of the party together. But in appeasing everyone, you’re creating the impression, as an Iowa pastor told my Washington Post colleagues Sean Sullivan and David Fahrenthold last month, that you’re a candidate “talking out of both sides of his mouth.”
If you lose, this will be the principal reason. You need to show some conviction, perhaps by taking at least one inconvenient stand. In primaries especially, winning requires you to decide whose votes you’ll write off. You won’t make it by remaining everyone’s second or third choice. Somebody’s got to trust you deeply.
It hasn’t panned out that way. You made a lot of mistakes and seem unhappy in your work. Your name is a problem. Most liberals don’t realize how many conservatives view your brother as a big government guy. Meanwhile, many in the so-called Establishment wing worry that another Bush won’t win.
You at least found a purpose when you went after Trump in last year’s final debate. The paradox: The only way you’ll have a chance of winning is to forget about winning. Relax. Run as the guy you said you’d be, the upbeat candidate of inclusion. Marry your attacks on Trump to a positive vision of a welcoming GOP. Be the candidate whom Republicans horrified by Trump and Ted Cruz can repair to with pride. It may not work. But it’s the only thing that can, and you might at least start enjoying the campaign.
E.J. Dionne’s email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @EJDionne.