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The Unbearable Lightness of Being a ‘GOP Pro’

12:35 PM, Aug 14, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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I’m reassured—indeed, encouraged—indeed, buoyed!—by this morning's Politico article, "GOP pros fret over Paul Ryan." "GOP pros" are the stupidest part of "the stupid party." For one thing, they're not very professional—why are they using the press to take shots at the Ryan pick in the first place? For another, they're cowardly—“nearly all the Republican professionals interviewed for this story said they would share their unfiltered views only 'on background' rules of attribution." Most of all, they're a terrific contrarian indicator.

 When "GOP pros" are most full of fear and apprehension about Republican prospects—for example, Reagan in 1980, Gingrich in 1994, and the Tea Party in 2010—Republicans tend to do well. When they're confident and complacent—for example, at the George H.W. Bush White House in late 1991 or the George W. Bush White House in early 2005—the GOP is heading for a fall.

And remember in 2009 that GOP pros were petrified about Dick Cheney taking on President Obama on the war on terror. As I noted then:

So while some Hill Republicans were fretting about getting a positive message out and others were launching substance-free listening tours, while GOP operatives were wringing their hands about whether Republicans could recover from the Bush years, and while most senior Bush alumni were in hiding, Dick Cheney--Darth Vader himself, Mr. Unpopularity, the last guy you'd supposedly want out there making the case--stepped onto the field. He's made himself the Most Valuable Republican of the first four months of the Obama administration (ably assisted by a few bold denizens of the Hill like the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, Pete Hoekstra).

Of course, this has resulted in some Republican political operatives' doing what they do best: complaining, on background, to the media. "As Cheney Seizes Spotlight, Many Republicans Wince," was the front-page headline in Thursday's Washington Post. Two Republican "strategists" spoke "on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid." Profiles in courage! One of them opined that Cheney is "entirely unhelpful." The other elaborated, "Even if he's right, he's absolutely the wrong messenger.  .  .  .  We want Bush to be a distant memory in the next election."

The GOP pros were wrong. Cheney won the debate, Obama eventually caved on the war on terror but only after inflicting political harm on himself and Democrats, Gitmo stayed open, and Republicans did well in 2010.

As they will in 2012—that is, if the Romney camp keeps its nerve and ignores the varieties of pseudo-sophisticated conventional wisdom on offer from GOP pros without (and some within). Then, with Romney-Ryan close to victory in late October, and with Republican congressional candidates benefiting from a nationalized debate on the deficit, economic growth and Obamacare, we can all enjoy the spectacle of “GOP pros” racing to say—on the record!—how enthusiastic they'd always been about the Ryan pick.

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