The Proper Way to Coalesce Around a Candidate

Hint: Do it gradually

(Because I have to work for a living) I missed John Dickerson’s piece yesterday on efforts by some Republicans to rally around one presidential candidate (Pick One).

John Dickerson

The Republican presidential pageant is vastly more diverse than the Democratic coronation. The GOP field includes a female CEO, a black surgeon, two Cuban Americans, a lawyer, and a preacher.

This all-but-a-candlestick-maker group is the most robust Republican field in history. But while some Republicans celebrate their diversity and strength, some conservatives see it as a challenge.

One of those concerned conservatives would be me.

John outlines several groups attempting a coalescing operation.

  • The 603 Alliance

Named the 603 Alliance, after the [New Hampshire’s] area code, the group is committed to picking a Republican candidate who shares its members’ views about limited government and who promises to be an executive operating within a strict interpretation of the Constitution. The alliance hopes to bring candidates together in an October caucus where members will agree to gather behind one horse.

According to John, this group “isn’t taking social issues into account when making its decisions about which candidate to unite behind.”

  • The Council on National Policy

There’s a separate effort by social conservatives to find their own one true candidate. In mid-May, National Journal reports, the Council on National Policy will hold meetings to vet candidates.


We have two groups, one focused on limited government, the other focused on social issues.

Are they going to battle it out over different candidates?

“Whoever they will pick will be a conservative. Whoever 603 picks, will be a conservative,” says [603 Alliance’s] Wendelboe. “If their person and our person are in the top three, that is OK. What matters most is that there not be a dozen candidates people will split their votes over.”

I like that thinking.

And, of course, these are not the only two groups working on this.

Bob Vander Plaats, a social conservative leader in Iowa, says the process of uniting is a delicate one. “The people are as excited as I’ve ever seen them in the conservative base,” he said, “so I’d hate to short-circuit the process.” Vander Plaats’ organization, the Family Leader, will hold a series of events this summer to help its members and other social conservatives “do a thorough job of vetting candidates on their character and competency and the company they keep—who they are putting around them—on cash—do they have the resources to go the distance—and prayer. We pray that God would lead the one that we would be behind.”

I like that thinking as well.

While the process is playing out, the challenge is keeping the voters and activists from peeling off to support candidates. “Hopefully there are enough of us not committed by Thanksgiving to say we can get behind a candidate,” said Vander Plaats. “If I break early for Huckabee and someone breaks for Santorum and Jindal, we’re going to fail by division.”

Love the analysis.

How would I build on it?

Thinking in blue chips

Long before the 2016 race began to take shape, I began thinking out what I wanted in a president at this time in history. Eventually I posted my thinking (Imagine a President Who…).

The idea—for me, anyway—is to get away from the kind of shallow and premature ideas of electability that have crippled Republicans in the last two races. (I’ve also observed this phenomenon in various Senate races in the last decade.)

Instead, focus on what we need done and evaluate the ability—and passion—of any candidate to accomplish that mission.

As I began to be drawn to this or that potential candidate, I asked myself why I was drawn.  If it was simply because I liked the person, I set him aside.

The actions I think are most mission-critical to the presidency at this time are my blue chips. If I had the power, they would be my non-negotiables.

If you’re a candidate and your blue chips are my blue chips, my support is yours to lose.

Mentally, I’ve ranked candidates according to the overlap of my blue chips with theirs.

Thinking in clusters

The next step is to begin clustering candidates.

As I said, I’ve had list of candidates ranked according to blue chips.

As time progresses, I allow the idea of electability to begin playing around the edges of my list.

Then the ranked list begins to morph into an unranked cluster of candidates I can believe in.

Here’s what’s cool about that

When you begin thinking in clusters (of candidates you can believe in), there grows the possibility of your cluster overlapping (not matching) someone else’s cluster.

Then you focus on what you have in common rather than what divides you.

That’s the strategy I think these various groups should keep in mind.


To pick up on Vander Plaats’s point:

  • If Huckabee is totally unacceptable to the 603 Alliance (and I assure you he is), then Vander Plaats’s group should not even entertain the thought of coalescing around him—unless there is no other social conservative in the race.
  • If the favorite candidate of the 603 Alliance turns out to be hostile to whatever is the most potent blue chip of social conservatives, then they should not even consider him—unless there is no other limited government candidate in the race (which I can assure you is not the case).
  • The conservative—not moderate—candidate who will succeed is the one in the overlap of all these groups’ clusters.

John concludes his analysis with an observation I find odd:

In the end, the greatest challenge to all the efforts to unite behind one candidate is that leaders are asking people of passion to act tactically. That’s not only hard for them to do as a matter of personal constitution, but it’s exactly the kind of behavior that you’d expect from people who value pragmatism over principle. In other words, moderates.

Pragmatism is easy to espouse—and equally easy to laze out on.

Real pragmatism takes a hard-headed look at what works and what doesn’t. And is based on applying your ideals in the practical world.

With that in mind…

  • If what you’ve been doing hasn’t worked and you refuse to change your approach, whatever you’re doing isn’t pragmatism.
  • If your pragmatism is all about getting and staying elected and isn’t based on getting your ideals to work in the real world, then you’re probably confusing pragmatism with posturing and empty ambition.

Maybe we need to start thinking of pragmatic idealism.

That would be an amazing overlap that could win elections and accomplish a great deal of good.



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