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The Nice Talk Express…

This quote from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) certainly underscores John McCain’s changed campaign strategy, this time around:

"… there’s a huge difference between being the leader of a movement and a leader of a party. That means you’ve got to take folks that disagree with you and bring them into the tent and try to broaden the scope of the party. If (John McCain) does run, I think he feels very comfortable with the idea that this time around will be to lead the party."

In a sense, I agree with him. Barry Goldwater, for example, was the leader of a movement. His rhetoric was confrontational and divisive (for example, "extremism in defense of liberty…"). While this rhetoric served to inspire those already in the choir, it was absolutely repulsive to anyone on the fence.

Just 16 years later, Ronald Reagan became the leader of a movement — a party — and a nation. His language was inclusive (for example: "You and I have a rendezvous with destiny"). While his rhetoric was certainly tough ("Tear down this wall!," tough), he also had a warm side that attracted a group of people who came to be known as, "Reagan Democrats."

As you can see, Reagan’s ability to be likeable and Goldwater’s ability to be objectionable had more to do with stylistic differences than with philosophical differences. Both were conservative, but Reagan was a better communicator.

Clearly, in 2000, John McCain’s "straight talk" was also sometimes divisive talk (at least within the Republican Party). In that sense, he would do well to stylistically pattern himself more after Ronald Reagan than after fellow Arizonan, Barry Goldwater.

But he must also resist the notion that becoming leader of a "big tent" party means no longer taking stands. Ronald Reagan did not become the leader of the party by becoming as liberal as GOP party "insiders" were in the 1970s. Instead, he used his leadership ability to move the party (and the nation) to the Right.

Good leaders do not get to the top by becoming so watered-down they do not offend anybody. Rather, they adhere to their core beliefs, and find a way to bring the party — and the nation — with them.

John McCain is, perhaps, the current Republican frontrunner for the 2008 presidential race. It remains to be seen whether or not he will be able to unite the party behind him. But as a political observer, I have to say he is running a very good campaign, so far. It will be interesting to watch.

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Written By

Mr. Lewis has managed political campaigns and served as director of grassroots for the Leadership Institute, as well as political director for GOPAC. In 2002, Campaigns & Elections magazine selected him as a "Rising Star of Politics." He is the author of "Teaching Elephants to Talk." His blog can be read at MattLewis.org.

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