Paul reminded us yesterday what a low threshold for criticism and mildly probing questions he has. He has demonstrated that behavior over and over and also wound up in hot water for hiring and briefly defending the Southern Avenger, for plagiarizing speeches and for playing it too cute by half with his “board certification.” Isn’t this a problem for someone who wants to lead a country, end dysfunction inside the Beltway and presumably work with Congress to obtain desired ends? If you don’t work well with others and can’t abide by nettlesome rules (like citing others whose words you use), it becomes difficult to govern, which Paul has never had to do. (He has run a medical practice and a Senate office, which doesn’t exactly prepare him as chief executive.)
Cruz, of course, has picked fights consistently with colleagues, misled them on an ill-advised shutdown and become famous by denouncing other Republicans as sellouts. His burning ambition and lack of cooperative legislating give the impression that everything he does is calculated to advance his career and enhance his ego rather than to bolster the party or the movement.
In other words, Paul and Cruz seem like the co-workers from hell — the guys who won’t get along with others, who lay blame at everyone else’s feet and who grandstand but produce nothing of value. And they are often purveyors of doom, seeing the country a step away from tyranny and ruin. Sweetness and light they are not.
In particular, women voters may find them off-putting. (Pollster Whit Ayres likes to say that when women voters see purveyors of a harsh, anti-government message, they may see “images of their ex-husband“). Statistically speaking, those who identify with libertarianism, Paul’s natural base, are overwhelmingly male.
In some respects, both candidates suffer from the Obama precedent. Not only did President Obama make it harder for ill-prepared candidates to escape real scrutiny, but his refusal to interact with Congress, his penchant for go-it-alone governance and his hyper-partisan nastiness with opponents also remind us that personality and character have a lot to do with whether a president succeeds.
In short, being obnoxious or standoffish is not a good for one’s presidential prospects and it is especially off-putting to women. Voters generally want someone who is tough, but not a loner or an irritable scold, as a chief executive. After Obama, they understand all too well that the president must work well with others and persuade skeptics to follow him. Paul and Cruz might want to consider staying home more often and letting their intelligent, engaging and attractive wives campaign for them. If two candidates ever needed skillful political wives to soften their image, it is these two.