It’s November 13, 2013, right? Just making sure, because I’m already getting emails about who is/isn’t electable with respect to 2016. Really, I am.
I’m already seeing “He’s too conservative!” or “Not another RINO moderate!” or “He’s too libertarian!” So, I thought I’d share a few thoughts nice and early.
First off, electability isn’t just about where you fall on the conservative vs. moderate spectrum. I was told repeatedly that Romney and McCain were electable because of their moderate approach to the issues. They lost. Now that’s not to say that a moderate Republican can’t win. It’s also not to say that a solid conservative can’t win. The truth is that where you stand on the issues is a small piece of the very big puzzle of electability.
Here are a few reminders about what really makes someone electable. Let’s put the issues aside for a moment.
1) Charisma. Like it or not, you have to capture people’s attention. You have to be able to make people listen. You have to be able to pack events and inspire. And for those of you saying that you like your politicians boring, that’s fine. But most Americans don’t. And guess what? Most Americans don’t vote for boring, either.
2) Presentation. You can have the best policy ideas in the world, but if you can’t sell them well, you won’t get the chance to put them into action. Yes, a good politician–one who wins–is also a good salesman.
3) People need to believe that you believe what you’re selling. When Obama told people that he wanted to usher in transparency, hope, and change, people believed that he meant it. When he talked about wealth redistribution, left-wing activists believed that he was passionate enough about it to make it happen. If you’re running on a GOP ticket and talking conservatism like it’s your third or fourth language, you’re probably not going to win.
4) Likability. People–especially young people–like politicians they’d want to have lunch with. It’s just the truth. You can ignore the truth and keep losing elections, or acknowledge it and start winning. You don’t have to like reality, but you have to live in it if you want to succeed.
So, it’s not just about how moderate or conservative a candidate is. Sure, policy plays a role. But these politicians are people. They’re just people. And when most Americans look at them, they don’t just see policy. They see a woman or man they do or don’t believe, they do or don’t like, and they do or don’t feel inspired to pay attention to.
I hear someone say every day that Ronald Reagan wouldn’t win an election today. Sure he would. You know why? Because he would charm us. And make us laugh. And yes, we would want to get to know him. Sure, he’d know his policy. But he would also understand that people aren’t just voting for the message; they’re voting for the messenger.
If we’re going to start talking electability this early, fine. But let’s keep it multi-dimensional. Because this cookie has layers, my friends.
Follow Jedediah on Twitter @JedediahBila