If there is such a word as “likeability”, it is one of the most clear and direct ways for a voter to cut through the noise in an election season and predict for themselves what is going on in the race. Most voters (conscience of it or not) use this measure in checking their own internal “gut” feelings about the candidates.
Sure, campaigns are always about the policies of the candidates and externally about the country, state or local city’s economy and prospects- but beneath all of it there runs this constant foundation connecting the voter’s ability to “like” a candidate. A better way to describe it would be to call it an attraction to the candidate as a person.
Wise polls know this. How candidates introduce themselves to the public counts more than the sum of many things they will do in their career. How they exit the stage is also greatly remembered by the public who do not engage in politics to any heightened degree. Many candidates forget that with each election comes a moment of reintroduction and with each completed term, an exit.
Voters like to be able to describe a newcomer to politics in a sentence, and sum up a person’s career in few words.
“George H. W. Bush lost because he raised taxes.”
When he entered the race, he was known as a wealthy war hero who wouldn’t raise taxes. Simple and compact for the lesser engaged voter to understand. People looked little at the many thousands of things he did in his life that had greater consequence. The same is true of Reagan, Carter, Clinton and yes even Obama.
So when does a candidate introduce himself to the broader American public and establish their own attractiveness in the eyes of the passively informed? Is there a predictable date or event you may ask?
No. It comes in all sorts of events or circumstances. Candidates become known through things like chance, controversy, scandal or even heroics. Remember Rudy Giuliani’s introduction to America? He was walking down the road covered in soot barking out orders in between coughs on 9/11. Another New Yorker who wanted to run for Rudy’s old job introduced himself to America through sexting pictures of himself on Twitter. Everyone got to know his name and details about his life too.
This year a wonderful man who I have known for some time had the chance through patience and faith to introduce himself in one of the most enduring and traditional forums possible. A venue actually constructed for candidates to show who they are as much as what they’ll do. An event that had been hijacked by posturing, theater and pandering for most of the past two generations as consultants and high stakes TV personas were sought over honest-to-goodness humility and frank rhetoric.
How Mitt Romney sat through this summer without attempting to “force” himself into opportunities to share his calm and self-assured voice and demonstrate his mastery of detail and executive leadership is anyone’s guess. He was either extraordinarily shrewd or remarkably humble. Either way, what people saw at home was mighty attractive compared to who they heard he might be- and far more attractive than his opponent on stage in the first, second and third debates.
President Obama is a man of many gifts and talents and has served in an extraordinarily difficult day and age. I think that for all the President has done well, he did not serve himself well by removing from view the one thing that voters truly care about regardless of what they say in polls: Voters want to know who you are. They want to know how you think. People want to know if you are trying to help them – even if they don’t agree with how you’ll go about it.
This is why a liberal like Sen. Carl Levin and a conservative like Gov. John Engler can both win over 65% of the vote on the same day on the same ballot in Michigan even though they both had credible opposition. With both of these leaders, even the most disengaged voter could describe who they believed them to be (as a person) in less than a sentence. They both had the kind of credibility money cannot buy in politics.
Despite conventional wisdom, this kind of credibility can’t be destroyed with money either. This summer hundreds of millions of dollars were spent trying to create a caricature of a man without first asking those who knew the man what kind of person he really is. This is an incredibly cynical and borderline maniacal approach to engaging the goodwill of voters for yourself, and thankfully it has turned out to be an extraordinary waste of time and resources. It leaves me to wonder why anyone would bother to risk running such a tact in a presidential race in the first place.
The good news is this approach failed and failed miserably. Whether or not the Obama campaign pays the price of losing due to this miscalculation, the true cost of trying to define a person for someone he is not grows daily. The extreme lengths to mislabel and misrepresent a living person almost made the investment a resource to Mitt Romney because it created a greater contrast than what existed before. Mitt is actually viewed better and more attractive once people had the chance to see and hear from him directly compared to what they would have had the President not set the bar so low for Mitt to clear.
The truth about all of this is Mitt Romney is a wonderful man. He is the person who I have always seen rise to the occasion. Mitt has always done this in a way far differently than I would have advocated or expected and at the same time his character and method makes people appreciate him more when they see it first hand. This is simply what has happened in the presidential race this month and it is a good thing for America. It shows that two people, two parties and two billion dollars can try and buy every trick, move and twist in the book and in the end the American public will still lean toward the person that has the most genuine “likeability” anyway!
Craig DeRoche is the Vice President of Justice Fellowship and is the former Speaker of the House in Michigan.