What do people look for in a presidential candidate? Do you think it might be intelligence, political savvy, international statesmanship? Maybe it’s gravitas, dignity, seriousness, and experience in government. Could it be the ability to compromise, the talent to work with both sides, to be able to broker deals? Is it their conviction of an ideology that drives voters?
In the final analysis I don’t think any of those things really matter much to the average voter. The qualities that motivate voters most are much more sensory and less cerebral than those I mentioned. I think people want to feel good about their president. When all is said and done, people want their president to be upbeat and optimistic.
They want their president to be seriously American, unapologetically patriotic. Sure, they want the president to have what it takes to go toe to toe with all other leaders in the world, to have the strength to be able to make difficult decisions with intelligence and in keeping with the best interests of the American people. But they want their president to do all those things with an easy, confident manner and a sense of humor.
Voters want a president that smiles. They are just like most other people in everyday life; they are drawn to people who are friendly, happy, and easy-going. Ronald Reagan has been described as a great communicator, which he certainly was, but people didn’t vote for Reagan’s ability to communicate — they liked the guy. He smiled. He had an easygoing way about him. He told jokes. He never took himself too seriously. He seemed like the kind of man you could talk to. The kind of man you might like to spend time with.
In our recent history, certainly in the last 50 or 60 years, the candidate who seemed the most upbeat, the one who came off the most optimistic, was the one who won the presidency. Think of Kennedy and Nixon, Carter and Reagan, Bush and Clinton, Kerry and George W. When candidates of both parties tend to be dour or humorless, then the voters gravitate to the one who appears to be the lesser dour choice, as with McCain and Obama. Obama might not exactly be a lot of laughs, but compared with McCain he seemed the less sour of the two.
Herman Cain, the businessman who came out of nowhere to run for president, has suddenly emerged as a major contender for the Republican nomination. He started out as a long shot, coming from a business background and never holding elected office, but as people listened to him in debates and in interviews, the more they liked him, and the higher he rose in the polls.
Cain spoke of his 9-9-9 tax plan for America, he also comes across as a solid conservative on several key issues, but I don’t believe those are the reasons behind his sudden popularity. The main thing is, the man projects a naturally happy disposition. He smiles easily and frequently and has an infectious laugh. He doesn’t seem mean-spirited or vindictive in debates with his fellow candidates, and he never appears to take himself too seriously.
Herman Cain comes across as a happy man, a confident man. People see that in him, and they like it. Lately there have been charges of sexual improprieties leveled at him, and we shall see how he and his campaign hold up under that sort of muckraking that goes along with almost all high office campaigns these days, but in the meantime, people like what they see in Herman Cain.
Rick Perry, for all his posturing as “the good ol’ boy you’d most likely want to have a beer with,” comes across somewhat gruff and humorless. Michelle Bachman is so very serious and intense that even when she smiles you get the impression she doesn’t quite let herself relax. Of all the other Republican candidates, only Mitt Romney has the ease and friendliness that can draw people to him. He doesn’t have a nasty bone in his entire body, so it seems. Frankly, it might actually help him if he got a little tougher in some areas. Beware the old expression about nice guys finishing last, Mitt.
Fasten your seatbelts; this is shaping up to be a long presidential campaign for all of us.