We're reading and hearing a lot about "electability" these days, which is broadly defined as "fitness or ability to get elected to public office." That covers a lot of Tarmac, to say the least. For example, ingrained party affiliations, gerrymandering, and family or religious affiliations can make a candidate electable for state or local office, but he or she may have little electability in a national contest.
Witness Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Anyone with a minimal ability to read character can see that he's, well, just creepy. He has a base of right-wing, evangelical voters and not much else. His chances of winning 51 percent of the voters in a national contest are nil. Cruz could easily be president of Utah and the Confederacy, but unfortunately for him, the rest of the country still exists.
The bottom line is, Cruz lacks "cool," and cool wins elections. And by cool, I mean, basically, being comfortable in your own skin. President Obama has been the coolest president of my lifetime. He smiles and laughs a lot. He doesn't get flustered in public. He doesn't gratuitously insult or flatter. His speaking pattern is masterful, full of seemingly thoughtful pauses that lead to complete sentences. You may not like what he says, but he says it well. Our next president will not be as cool.
Oh, sure, other factors are important — competency, experience — but I'm convinced that cool, or its corollary, "likability," is how we most often elect our president. In a national election, you need to win across a broad landscape, millions of people of all ethnicities and political persuasions, a large percentage of whom, unfortunately, are not particularly well-versed on the issues. It's been said, ad nauseum, that voters are drawn to someone they could "sit down and have a beer with." And it's true, especially in this era of 24-hour media coverage, where candidates are exposed to public scrutiny as never before. If you're not cool, you can't hide it.
Reagan was cooler than Carter and Mondale. George H.W. Bush was cooler than Dukakis (though there was something of a coolness deficit in that contest). Bill Clinton was cooler than the elder Bush and Dole. Like it or not, George W. Bush was cooler than Gore or Kerry, who were smart, but stiffs. And, it goes without saying, John McCain and Mitt Romney were no match for Obama's cool.
Bernie Sanders is the coolest of the remaining candidates. It's a crotchety cool, but he comes off as authentic. Hillary Clinton is not cool. She is, by her own admission, "not a good politician," and her speaking style, while substantive, can be abrasive and mannered. Fortunately, if she gets the nomination, she'll probably be going up against the uncoolest candidate of my lifetime — Donald Trump.
Trump is a siding salesman, full of bluster and insults, with no coherent national or foreign policy positions that anyone's been able to discern, unless you consider, "We never win. When I'm president, we're going to win" some sort of policy.
Non-doctrinaire swing voters look for likability, certainly, but if they can't have that, they look for competence and sanity. And they don't want an uncool jerk as president. As Jeb(!) Bush said to Trump, "You can't insult your way to the presidency." Trump has basically insulted himself out of the presidency, turning vast constituencies against himself and his party. The last poll I saw had Trump's unfavorability rating among likely voters at 67 percent! If the Republicans nominate Trump (or Cruz), they're looking at a Goldwater-level wipeout election, no matter who the Democrats select.
Hopefully, such a result would make Trump go away for good — which would be cool with me.
In the 14 years I've been the Flyer editor, I've gotten lots of hate mail. It mostly used to come in envelopes filled with pages of scrawled handwriting. I read them and put them in the wastebasket, chalking it up as a natural by-product of writing for a liberal paper in the conservative South. Lately, the angry folks have switched to email, and it comes in waves ...