A Charisma Election?

by Steven F. Hayward

David Brooks makes the case in his Times column today that Obama has embraced his own inner Eisenhower, emphasizing prudence over boldness and change, partly out of political instinct, but partly out of calculation looking ahead to a tough reelection fight next year. And, he thinks, “It’s likely that he can win the next election simply by force of personality, by overshadowing his opponent.”  

It is well known that White House strategists have closely examined the way Reagan rebounded from the midterm shellacking the GOP took in 1982 to win easy reelection in 1984. Back in the 1980s, liberals comforted themselves with the view that Reagan’s political triumphs, especially his 49-state landslide in 1984, were the result of his “force of personality.” This was a way of avoiding the growing unpopularity of liberalism. They would point to polls showing Reagan’s policy ideas were less popular than he was, though these polls were often selective and offset by other polls showing equal support for both Reagan and his ideas.  

I’m not so sure that Obama, who increasingly comes across as cold and aloof rather than prudent, will outshine the eventual GOP nominee on the personality front, and that includes supposedly charisma-challenged candidates such as Daniels or Pawlenty. I can see the charisma of competence outshining the rockstar persona of The One quite easily. In other words, Obama looks more gimpy than Gipper.

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