GOP Candidates Lack Charisma

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - June 22, 2011

At my day job, I talk about politics every day. Accordingly, one could reasonably expect that my most akamai of listeners are the most apprised, aware and politically active people in Hawaii (at least I think so). So I found it interesting that, when the topic of a favorite GOP presidential candidate came up, not one person called to share an opinion.

Not one.

In the next segment the topic was, “Do women make better bosses and executives?” The phone lines lit up.

Why the disinterest in presidential politics?

A couple of reasons come to mind.

First, it’s early in the game. We’re in the latter part of June and Election Day is more than 500 days away. I mean, especially here in Hawaii, who plans that far ahead? Who gets fired up for an event that’s a year-and-a-half away? The only time we get excited about something that far in advance is our next trip to Vegas or retirement day.

For political junkies, there’s a lot to talk about. But just as most locals don’t want to be the first to show up for a party, it’s just too early for Election Day chatty-chat.

When you’re this far out from E-Day, there has to be a compelling reason to pay attention. Let’s face it, you have a lot on your mind: working, kids, paying bills, maintaining a household, etc. Presidential politics in June better have something going on that’s so fresh, so bold and so compelling that it can cut through all the other things occupying your mind. Debating the virtues of the Ryan plan, excoriating the president or extolling one’s own resume are standard fare. Now I’m not saying these aren’t relevant topics of discussion, but on their own merits it may be more interesting for some to watch paint dry.

At this stage of the game, someone needs to advance a compelling agenda that is provocative (not just for the sake of being provocative) for its captivating message delivered in a stimulating way.

Which brings us to a final point: the candidates themselves. We live in day and age where appearances, articulation and, yes, marketing can be as important as gravitas. It’s undeniable, and you can see this truism in play in elections through history. Kennedy beats Nixon in 1960 because in televised debates Kennedy looks unflappable while Nixon looks like he just came off a bender. In ‘68, it was Nixon who took down a less-than-scintillating

Hubert Humphrey, despite a third-party run by Wallace. Despite being in front of the American people for a generation, folks favored the “Sock it to Me” incumbent instead of supporting the milquetoast anti-war George McGovern in 1972. President Gerald Ford, saddled with the yoke of Watergate and a Nixon pardon, was defeated by an unknown peanut farmer who was the anti-candidate of our time. It didn’t hurt that Ford had the personality of a duck decoy, either.

This trend continues with compelling personalities defeating those with a less-than-stellar presence - Reagan against Carter and Mondale, Bush 41 against Dukakis, Clinton against Bush 41 (Quayle and Perot didn’t help) and Dole in 1992 and 1996, Bush 43 against the robotic Gore (Clinton didn’t help) and animatronic Kerry in 2000 and 2004, and, of course, the rock star-ish Barack Obama downing the curmudgeonly John McCain in 2008.

Each of these candidates had the technical qualifications, but ultimately, the victors had that unteachable quality: charisma. As of this date, is there a GOP candidate who possesses that essential quality? I think the jury is still out.

Ideally, I wish an election came down to a battle if ideas, proposals and execution. And, of course, that’s the meat to the potatoes. But we must acknowledge - and the GOP must accept - the ultimate winner also will instill excitement and energy with a dynamic personality and a measure of showmanship. That’s the potato to the meat.

Or, as Dan Quayle would say, potatoe.

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