10:41 PM EDT, September 13, 2011
On Monday night, the aspiring GOP hopefuls took the stage in Tampa.
Judging from the reactions I heard inside the debate hall, there was a little something for most conservatives.
Maybe you liked Rick Perry's swagger, Mitt Romney's business acumen or John Huntsman's diplomacy.
But polls show that few Republicans think any one of these folks has the total package.
So who does?
Think about it for a minute. If you could create the ideal GOP candidate — taking a little something from Republican presidents throughout history — what would he or she look like?
Well, that's the question I posed to several prominent Republicans — two well-known politicians: Gov. Rick Scott and former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty; and two behind-the-scenes guys: Orange County GOP chairman Lew Oliver and local GOP fundraiser Frank Kruppenbacher.
Here's what they had to say:
Gov. Scott offered the most detailed response, saying his ideal candidate would have parts of six different past presidents. (We used his wish-list for the accompanying graphic.)
Scott said he craved someone with Abraham Lincoln's wisdom and Ronald Reagan's charisma. He'd mix that with a bit of both Bushes — George W.'s resolve and H.W.'s "honor and class." He'd then top all that off with Dwight Eisenhower's foreign-policy resume and Teddy Roosevelt's persona and enthusiasm.
Crotty also craved someone with Roosevelt's gusto, referring to it as Teddy's "go-for-it-ness."
Oliver said Reagan best personified the party's needs — conservative core principals, eloquence, an understanding of world issues and a track record "that does not alarm independents."
(Of course, Oliver also said it doesn't matter who's nominated, saying: "There is essentially no Republican candidate who can lose to Obama at the moment.")
Kruppenbacher liked Lincoln and Reagan, but said Republicans could learn a few things from Bill Clinton, as well.
Specifically, Kruppenbacher thinks the party — and country — need an optimistic, fiscally responsible centrist. "The ideal GOP candidate needs to be optimistic and positive, leading by building, not destroying," he said. "Negative rhetoric is a crutch for a person who is weak at leading."
All four men make good points.
So, did you see the next Lincoln, Reagan or Eisenhower on stage Monday night?
If there was a common theme among the politicos I asked, it was that the GOP candidates must sell themselves with more than declarations of gloom-and-doom.
Gov. Scott said Americans want "a positive message, an inspiring vision, an optimistic outlook, and a plan for making it happen."
And that may involve changing some campaign strategies.
Because the current field has the poor-mouthing of America down pat — repeating words like "broken," "treasonous" and "Ponzi scheme" throughout the night.
Never once did anyone utter the words "optimistic," "inspiring" or "hopeful," according to a CNN transcript.
Republicans obviously must cite problems and go after Barack Obama. They'd be derelict campaigners if they didn't.
But the Republicans mentioned above said candidates would also be wise to remember how past presidents connected with voters.
After all, there may be some perpetually unhappy souls out there, but most Americans still believe this is a great country with bright days ahead.
And they'd like to elect someone who shares that sentiment.
For a recap of Monday night's debate, check out the blow-by-blow reports filed live from the Tampa fairgrounds at orlandosentinel.com/takingnames.
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