In every election we get the “Which candidate would you rather have a beer with?” question. It’s a shorthand for testing how genuine, fun and likable a candidate may be. With the exception of Richard Nixon in 1968, the nicer guy actually does finish first in most elections. Politics after all is the marriage of personality and policy, so it’s worth looking at candidates from a non-ideological point of view, which by the way is how a lot of casual voters who turn out only in presidential races make up their minds.
We will start with an easy one. David Axelrod acknowledges Hillary Clinton had an authenticity problem in 2008. “In 2007, her campaign was this juggernaut of inevitability and it was a top-down experience. Voters don’t like to be told that their decision is predetermined. . . They want to be asked for their vote and more than that they want to have a genuine connection with the candidate.” Those darn voters, always expecting a human to whom they can relate. But not to worry — Axelrod assures us Clinton is on the way to being more authentic.
You can’t make this stuff up: A concerted effort is underway to show that Clinton is not an entitled, manipulative, preprogrammed politician. Let’s get real.
Hillary Clinton, at 67, is unlikely to change her basic personality. Unlike hairstyles, by the time you reach that stage in life, you are who you are. Views and tastes may change, but rarely does one undergo a psychic makeover after six decades. And boy, does that hold true for Hillary, who try as she might can never get away from being Hillary — entitled, unspontaneous, secretive and suspicious.
The Des Moines Register reports on her panel discussion at a community college: “In this unlikely location, Clinton dropped breadcrumbs about the agenda for her presidential campaign. She gave brief remarks at the beginning of the nearly 90-minute discussion with seven students and teachers, but spent most of the time questioning and commenting on their stories.” In other words, while using voters as props she avoids spelling out specifics or interacting with the media. “As an exercise in showing Clinton out interacting with everyday Americans, the early part of the trip was a mixed bag. She was cordial, if a bit formal, with the panelists. After the meeting, she directed a group photo and chatted a bit with a student headed to the Naval Academy, but didn’t hug anyone,” the report concluded. “It’s still pretty easy to see Hillary Clinton in the persona of former first lady, senator and secretary of state. If you’re expecting a Hillary Clinton who is letting her hair down and hangin’ with regular folks in the heartland, better keep looking.”
As she was trying to sell the “everyday” Hillary image, the New York Times reported that House investigators asked her about any private e-mail accounts — in 2012. She didn’t respond. In 2013, the State Department was asked; it did not respond. If you think the current president is imperious, contemptuous of Congress and lacking transparency, can you imagine a Clinton presidency? And if one believes people revert to hold habits and cling to past behavior when under stress, imagine how Clinton would behave in a budding scandal.
So that is Hillary Clinton. Republicans viewing this from afar are slack-jawed. It is as if they knew in advance in 2012 that Mitt Romney would disparage 47 percent of the electorate — and nominated him anyway — or if they knew Richard Nixon had an 18½-minute gap in the tapes — and nominated him anyway. Republicans shake their heads, enjoying the fun of watching the Hillary Scooby van (metaphorically) tip over. But before they get too excited, they should worry about not picking someone of their own with a genuineness deficit.
There are plainly candidates who have a challenge relating to folks. Jeb Bush acknowledges he is an introvert, and his name and cerebral style of politics pose a hurdle that he will have to overcome. He will need to find a way to connect emotionally with voters.
At the other end of the spectrum, former Texas governor Rick Perry is probably the best retail politician of the bunch. Engaging and friendly, he tells a good yarn and can find commonality with voters as the boy from Paint Creek who grew up in humble circumstances.
What about the rest? Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Ivy League-educated and pedantic in style, would not be described as easygoing. In place of humility, one finds anger. It’s a problem.
For Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), it is a good idea to deploy his lovely wife to assure us that he’s really a nice guy. Unfortunately, he’s not much of a people person. (The Post observed, “Paul has tended to sport a cool demeanor on the campaign trail, one less than comfortable with the glad-handing and backslapping that are the hallmark of retail politics”). On the more authentic and likable side of the equation are Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a preacher’s son who shops at Kohl’s, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), son of a bartender and a maid, who has political skills Republicans haven’t seen since the Gipper.
In short, the Republicans are a mixed bag when it comes to warmth, genuineness and likability. The primary voters should choose wisely.