Election '12: What Dickey Flatt Would Tell the Candidates

04/04/2011 10:47 am ET | Updated Jun 04, 2011

In 1996, Texas Senator Phil Gramm ran unsuccessfully for president and although he never made it to the White House, he made a major contribution to American political life by introducing the Dickey Flatt Test. Flatt was a longtime Gramm friend and the Senator regularly invoked his name in order to gauge whether a government program was worth taking money away from his pal Dickey Flatt in order to fund.

For Gramm, Flatt may have symbolized the desires of the average American, but the connection between this average Texan and a powerful United States Senator came to symbolize something larger: the need for powerful people, often insulated from the real world in which Dickey Flatts live, to stay in touch with people who can tell them hard truths that others won't tell them. In fact, the lack of a friend like Dickey Flatt has caused dozens of presidential aspirants like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani to blow millions of dollars in races they had no chance of winning.

What would Dickey Flatt say to each of the current White House aspirants if they had him for a best friend? Read on:

Barack, you're the smartest man I've ever known. You know that, I know that. But you're in trouble. It's one thing to have a bad economy, but add spiraling gas prices and an unstable middle east and the Jimmy Carter comparisons are now starting to hit. You're in real danger here. You've got to get unemployment and gas prices down. Do whatever you need to do to get the situation under control. Turn it around with bold and decisive steps. Remember that time we played Hawaii Baptist and came back from being down by 20 to win? Don't believe the polls, that's where you are now. We came back and so can you. Forget about governing for the next 18 months. You've got to start campaigning now. You had two great years of governing from the Left and maybe you can do it again in two years. But for now, get back to the Center. Let the R's and the D's duke it out in Washington. Stay above the fray on the campaign trail. You're in for the fight of your life -- act like it. Go Punahou!

Newt, decisions have consequences that often don't go away. I'm not judging you for your divorces or the circumstances around them, but they make millions of Americans simply unwilling to ever vote for you. Even those who like you and think you're the smartest man in the country. And don't listen to advisors who argue that Reagan too was divorced. They just want a paycheck. Circumstances matter and your divorces have no relation to his. His wife left him. Forget about being president. Keep being a statesman. Keep cranking out those books. (Where do you find the time?) You'll never be president but you have a chance to go down in history as a brilliant man who engineered one of the most spectacular counter-revolutions in American political history and a really smart guy.

Donald, don't listen to the press, the birther stuff is genius... cat-nip for the right, and you're pulling it off. The Birthers have been waiting for a serious person to take on their issue and it looks like you're it. Watch the number of Republicans who question his birthplace go from 43% to 60% shortly. The flip-flops on abortion and gay marriage are also brilliant. You've locked up the Right-wing with those three issues. Ordinarily you'd have no shot with your divorces, but you're no ordinary guy. While the divorces make Gingrich toxic, for some reason it's OK because it's you. I know it's a double standard and I can't explain it, but it's true -- they will cut you slack in that department because you're Donald Trump and you've never claimed to be a paragon of virtue, so you get a pass. You probably won't win, but stranger things have happened. Give it a shot. What have you got to lose? The debates will be amazing especially if Palin gets in. Win or lose, your speaking fees will go through the roof and your ratings will double!

Mitt, if you love your family, please stop using up their inheritance. Unless you switch religions it is simply not going to happen. There I said it. When Jay Leno makes fun of a fat man he never says he's fat, he makes fun of his tie. When people say you can't be elected because of the health care issue, or because you're soul-less or because you flip-flop etc. they're really saying it's because you're a Mormon. And they're right. I know you -- you're a good guy and I'd be fine with a Mormon as president. But millions of Americans are convinced you're in a cult and they will simply not vote for you -- ever. Don't take it personally. It's not about you. It's about your religion. And it is not going away any time soon. The only way you ever sit in the Oval Office is if you get picked to be VP and the President dies in office. It could happen. But please: don't spend another dime on trying to get elected.

Mike, if Chris Christie doesn't run, you're the only other guy who can beat Obama. You can do this, but you're going to have to make a lot of changes to show that you're serious. First, what's with the weight gain? You write a book about losing weight and then put it all back on again? I'll know you're serious about this when you drop 50. People want to see that you have the self-discipline not just to take weight off but to keep it off. If you can get the nomination you will beat Obama. You're reasonable, not a hater and you can match his personality and charm. But you've got to repair your relations with the Club-For-Growth crowd. Meet with them and apologize for your testiness. Give them a mea culpa for raising so many taxes in Arkansas and sign whatever pledge they put in front of you.

Chris, I can't believe what I'm hearing from you these days. Your party wants you to run against a popular president because they think the Republic is at stake and you're whining about not feeling ready? Get serious. In a time of war who asks an 18-year old whether he feels "ready?!" He's drafted and he serves. What's the matter with you? Look, we all know the real reason you're not feeling "ready" is because of your wife. She's a great gal and I told you to marry her, but your country needs you and you've got to do the right thing. It's not about you. It's about your country. Tell her your country needs you and she needs to make the sacrifice. Now, about the weight thing: Don't lose one pound. For some reason the weight thing is working for you. You're the perfect foil for Mr. Perfect in the White House who is so self-disciplined its scary and it's about time we had a fatty in the Oval Office. Your girth communicates something other than a lack of self-control. It says, "I'm too busy fixing stuff to eat healthy and besides, I don't care what you think." That's a winner and fits your brand. Don't change a thing. Did I already tell you that your country needs you? Get your rear end into the arena. Your brand of take-no-prisoners, no-nonsense governing is what the country craves. You have amazing gifts. Use them now and don't pull a Mario Cuomo on us. And don't forget: the White House comes with its own chef.

Rick, I don't know how it happened but somehow you lost your mojo and it's not ever coming back at the presidential level. You spent too much time palling around with Bono and working on issues that didn't fit your brand and didn't help the people of Pennsylvania or you. Then you let that reporter trick you into saying Man-On-Dog. You're not going to be elected president. But you might be vice president. So stay on the sidelines, raise your kids, make some money and don't listen to the sycophants who want you to run so they can get a paycheck. Wait for your veep moment. Spend the time in PA, proving to the nominee that you can deliver the state for him or her.

Tim, on paper you're a great candidate, but something's just not clicking. You've got this Midwestern niceness that just oozes out of you and just doesn't communicate strength. I know you're making an effort to look tougher and not be so agreeable all the time, and while I appreciate the serious looks these days and the macho pose on the cover of your book, it just comes across as a nice guy trying too hard to be tough and it's not working. Be who you are: a nice guy and drop the tough guy act. You might make a good VP choice though. Go make some money, raise money for other candidates and be real nice to Christie and Huckabee. That's your ticket to being president one day.

Sarah, remember what Ann Coulter said about you: everything you possess, you can't get from a book. Everything you need you can get from a book. You may very well be president someday but not now. You're not ready and you know it. In Reagan years, it's still 1957 for you. Don't even think about running in '12 or '16. Put away the Blackberry. End the TV show. Raise your children and read books. Lots of books. Read Chambers, Schlafly, Reagan, Will, Buckley, Rusher, Goldwater, Limbaugh, Levin, Coulter, Buchanan and others to remind yourself of what you believe. Then read books that articulate the views of your political enemies so you know what they believe. Once you've done all of that, write a weekly column, no more tweets and show the country that you have a fully formed and cohesive view of the world. Then you may just be president: but not until at least 2020.

Mitch, don't even think about it. The Bushies are trying hard to push you but you and I know it's not going to work and your instincts are right: a 5'7" balding guy from Indiana is not who GOP primary voters are going to go to war with against one of the smartest presidents who's ever run. Lay low. Keep governing Indiana well. You might make a good veep. Stay out for now.

Haley, maybe. But only if Christie doesn't run. It's time for a no-nonsense fatty but there's only room for one. See what he does.

Michelle, why not? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. But please, go on Hardball. If you can't face Chris Matthews, how do you anticipate facing down Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, or Putin?