Sunday, February 05, 2012

Hail to the Stiff?

As Mitt Romney takes another step to the nomination and gains momentum, the question of personal chemistry comes to the fore. Would Americans elect a president they viscerally dislike?

In a Slate piece titled “Romney is Kerry. Maybe Gore,” Jacob Weisberg argues:

“Romney strongly resembles two similarly unloved Democratic nominees from the recent past, Al Gore and John Kerry. Gore and Kerry both suffered from the same characterizations that get applied to Romney-—too wooden in person while too flexible in their views. Their supporters often argued that qualifications were what mattered. But ominously for Romney, both Gore and Kerry lost winnable races because of their flawed personalities.

“George W. Bush, on the other hand, got elected and re-elected, despite his enormous, substantive shortcomings, because ordinary people found it easy to relate to him at a personal level. They felt he wasn’t trying to be someone different from who he was.”

We are back to the “Would you want to have a beer with him?” argument, which in an era when TV debates keep flip-flopping frontrunners (remember Rick Perry until GOP voters realized he might dribble the brew on his manly chest?) is not as frivolous as it sounds.

The likability issue dates back three decades to Ronald Reagan, who beat Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, both of whom projected higher IQs but couldn’t match the Gipper’s Hollywood-trained talent to appear folksy and accessible.

Even Bush I (with no “vision thing”) seemed more comfortable in his skin than Michael Dukakis but then ran into Bill Clinton who charmed the electorate into overlooking his bimbo eruptions on the way to the Oval Office and stained-dress impeachment.

After the South Carolina debacle, Mitt Romney took on an attack coach and developed pugnacity. Can he hire someone who will teach him to be likable?

Although he should have no fears about outcharming Gingrich, Santorum and Paul, Barack Obama and his killer smile are waiting in the wings.

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