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We live in The Divided Era of American politics – an Era defined by a roughly equal number of Democrats and Republicans, high partisanship and close Presidential elections.  Independent voters often hold sway and candidates court the middle in order to win.  Close victories, however, come without a mandate – a dynamic usually borne of larger victories.  If the Republican Presidential candidate wants a mandate, something necessary if they expect to carry the Senate and break the log jam in Washington, then that candidate must seek that mandate not just victory.  Fortunately for Republicans, the path to a mandate is the safest path to victory.

The stakes in this election are unusually large.  While calling elections the “most important of our lifetime” has become standard fair, this election will likely decide whether Obamacare will remain the law of the land.  Combined with the challenge posed by an emerging and erratic Iran, and the need for dramatic action on the economy, 2012 will be in an important election.

To be successful in those three quite difficult areas, however, a Republican President will need more than a bear victory – he or she will need a broad consensus – a mandate.  The economy will need bold tax and regulatory reform. Repealing Obamacare, while achievable, won’t lead to a broader consensus unless it is accompanied by a meaningful reform alternative.  As for dealing with Iran, that will require a strong President whose existence is likely dependent on success in the first two areas.

Absent a mandate, or with a victory solely dependent on people turning away from Obama, meaningful success is unlikely for a new Republican President and The Divided Era will continue – as will our problems – not mention a short Republican ascendancy.

To get that mandate, Republicans must convince Americans of 4 things: (1) that Big Government failed them, (2) that tax and regulatory reform will make a difference in voters lives, (3) that they have a plan achieve their goals, and (4) that Republicans are going to empower voters to help them achieve those goals.

Step One: Demonstrating big government’s failure should be simple.  Obama spent trillions and we have nothing more to show for it than years of high unemployment, high gas prices, high deficits and very few with confidence in Obama.  For an effective candidate, that should be enough to beat Obama but not a mandate.

Step Two: Why Tax/Regulatory Reform Will Make a Difference.  History is littered with examples of economies jump-started by tax and regulatory reform. Yet Republicans are losing this argument, including the payroll tax debate, through nobody’s fault but their own.  They are losing because they aren’t attempting to make the argument.  If JFK and Keynes can argue for lower tax rates, Republicans should follow them.  If the four major income tax cuts in US history resulted in much higher revenue, Republicans should make that case loud and clear and often.  Most importantly, they need to convince Americans, though real world examples, how their policies will help average Americans.  Explain to them how the corner restaurant was started with someone’s savings – savings that won’t materialize if we relentlessly tax and regulate people; and when that corner restaurant is never opened, the dishwasher never gets his job, doesn’t save for school and doesn’t become a lawyer like I did.

Step 3: Republicans need to tout a convincing PLAN on how they are going to effect change. Obama not only doesn’t have a plan for the future – he hardly has a reason for running – just ask the “tingleless” Chris Mathews.  In advance of the election, Republicans should get specific about their 100-day plan.  Roadmaps are easy to follow and inspire confidence.  Republicans should publish theirs.

Step 4:  Reagan and JFK were successful because their plans relied on the American public for success. Both placed the American spirit ahead of government programs by offering Americans the chance for achievement through real tax cuts. Their success became Reagan’s and so they were invested in him. Obama, for his part, simply is sending Americans the bill for his follies and rules with more disdain than engagement.

In short, in making their case to America, Republicans cannot be shy.  They must take the argument to the American public.  They need renew American’s belief in the American Dream and empower them to achieve it.  If they do that convincingly, not only will they win this fall – they will have a mandate – and bring a welcome respite from The Divided Era.