It's an elusive quality. It's like chemistry, between movie stars. It's like tinnitus, for wine. Or is that tannins? You know what I mean — the quality of wine that keeps wine experts' voices ringing in your ears when you are stuck next to them at dinners.
It's like buzz. It's like the It factor.
It's what Bertie Wooster would call a certain indefinable Thingness.
Somehow, we have this idea that a person can be “electable.” Of course, you can’t be electable in a vacuum. If I am electable in the middle of a forest and no one is there to notice me or care — well, I’m probably Ron Paul. But the whole question of electability is, at best, a glorified form of guesswork. It's a study in group probability. “Do you think X can beat Obama?” is quite a different question than “Would you vote for him?”
I would define electability as “the vague sense that there are people out there who would vote for this guy.”
It's not likability.
Nowhere is this distinction more apparent than when it comes to Rick Perry.
If there's one thing that Rick Perry's current increasingly ineluctable progress toward the GOP nomination has taught us, it is that the two qualities are not only unrelated, they might not even have grown up under the same roof.
He's not even trying to be likable, unless you count posing with a puppy in his Twitter profile picture as "trying to be likable."
But so what? He can beat Obama, people think.
And this matters. It matters to an almost alarming degree.
Forget ideological coherence. The Republican Party, these days, is best defined as The Party of People Who Adamantly Do Not Want a Second Term for Barack Obama.
Maybe that’s harsh. But look at the numbers: 75 percent of those polled said they’d prefer a candidate with whom they disagreed on the issues if he seemed able to beat Barack Obama. That in itself is a strange statement. Party loyalty trumps loyalty to — the issues that drew you to this party in the first place.
Newt Gingrich had it right when he yelled at Brian Williams to stop making Republicans fight Republicans. We are all here for one reason, he said, and that reason is to beat Barack Obama.
That’s why people are so busy gazing into their scrying glasses. If all you want is to win, if you are willing to sacrifice all those other things you are supposed to care about in order to make sure you win — well, you’d better not lose.
Hence all the Indefinable Thingnesses.
Buzz. Chemistry. Electability. One of them’s bound to be telling.
If I were to develop a term today — let’s call it the Zomba factor — and poll enough people about it, we’d start to think this was something that mattered. “Sure, I like Rick Perry,” we’d say. “But Ron Paul has 8 times his Zomba factor.”
If it weren’t for trying to decide whether candidates and stars possess the Indefinable Thingness du jour, most of us commentators would be out of a job. True, most of us are now, but even more of us would be.
It’s like quicksilver. Try to pin it down and it scoots away.
And all these indefinable thingnesses seem to cluster around Rick Perry. If we were deciding to have beers with the candidates — I’d have one with Jon Huntsman, mainly to grill him for hair tips — I bet Perry would top the list as well, except among people who worry that he might try to compare himself to Galileo again.
Rick Perry blocks journalists on Twitter. His state executed 234 people during his tenure. And just a tiny plurality likes him.
But electable? Sure. Buzz? Through the roof? It factor? That depends on what your definition of It is, but probably.
“Vote for Mitt Romney?” people say. “I mean, I like the guy and we agree on the issues, but I don’t think he could win.”
“So you like the guy and agree with him?”
“Well, sure! But what does that have to do with electability?”