February 13th, 2013 // 3:02 pm @ Oliver DeMille
First, they talk a lot about the 2016 election, but there is no real front runner to be the Republican candidate.
In fact, the few people who are mentioned as possible nominees aren’t drumming up much excitement.
But the second idea that keeps floating around in conservative circles is a much worse problem for the Right.
This argument goes something like this: “Well, of course we lost the election. After all, the majority of people in America want the government to take care of them. They voted for Obama because he promised more government programs, and as long as the electorate acts this way conservatism isn’t going to win much in the years ahead.”
This narrative goes along with the widely-publicized comments by Mitt Romney about 47% of the people wanting a government handout.
Whether or not this got reported accurately—and in this media environment almost nothing does—the reality is that far too many on the Right see things this way.
This is the general mood among many conservatives right now: “The people want socialism, so America’s future is dim, and only some great, overwhelming event or leader will ever get things back on track.”
On the one hand, if this sense of overwhelm gets the House of Representatives to finally take a stand and just shut down the non-essential parts of the federal government, then it is all well worth it.
Until the House gets serious about stopping the White House and Senate from continuing its reign of debt, deficits, credit downgrades, more regulations and increased spending/borrowing, the decline of America will continue.
And by shutting down the non-essential government, the House will operate from a position of power.
But there is a bigger problem with the current sense of Republican malaise.
To put it bluntly, it is downright wrong.
Republicans don’t keep losing the presidential election because a majority of Americans want government programs.
This is an issue, but it isn’t the issue.
No, the Right doesn’t win the White House as often as the Left because it persists in believing that the electorate votes in presidents based mainly on the issues.
This is inaccurate.
In the television era, the majority votes for the coolest candidate, pure and simple.
Does anyone really think that Eisenhower, Nixon or Ford could have won the White House in our current media environment?
Well, maybe Eisenhower’s status of war hero would have been enough, and for the record, Ford never actually won at the top of the ticket.
But Carter never had a chance against Ronald Reagan.
In short, the coolest candidates win in our modern American political milieu.
And Republicans aren’t prone to lifting a candidate through the primaries and putting in a nominee based on electability–which now includes charismatic television effectiveness, or put simply, coolness—rather than the issues.
Democrats believe in the emotional appeal of candidacy, and they often put up the most appealing nominee.
For many, if not most, Republicans, this feels like a cop out, a sellout of what matters most (ideas) to what is most likely to win (emotional appeal).
This isn’t because Democrats are shallow, despite what some on the Right may say.
It is just that Democrats generally think it is possible to get a candidate that is both strong on the issues and also cool.
Republicans would like to do the same, where possible, but they ultimately tend to go with candidates on the issues.
Just the issues.
If the candidate is also cool—like Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger—so much the better, but for most Republican primary voters the issues are the issues are the issues.
Election after election, the cool candidate wins.
Voters chose Reagan over Carter and later above Mondale, and they picked Bush over Dukakis.
Reagan was cool, and Bush benefited from just how cool Reagan was.
But if Clinton had been running in 1988, the first Bush would have lost.
Clinton was definitely cool, as both Bush and Dole found out.
Here is how the modern-era elections have turned out:
Cool Candidate Result Impact
Reagan Won 2 Terms
Clinton Won 2 Terms
Bush II Won 2 Terms
Obama Won 2 Terms
Lacking Cool Result Impact
Bush I Won 1 Term
In 2013, it might seem like Bush II doesn’t belong on the cool list. But just remember how intensely people supported him in 2000.
He was the frontrunner from the get-go, talked about for four years after 1996 as the next president (at least in Republican circles), the larger-than-life governor of Texas, the son of George and Barbara Bush, the next member of the dynasty.
And Al Gore was, well, he belonged on the list of candidates like Mondale, Dukakis and Dole.
Say whatever you want about any of these candidates and their political strengths or weaknesses, but a majority of voters thought they were boring.
On the same note, if Howard Dean had won the nomination he most likely would have won the election over Bush II—just apply the cool test.
Gingrich was the coolest leading Republican candidate in 2012, but he wasn’t as cool as Obama.
There is no way to verify this kind of historical “what if,” but today the Right is doing something just as ridiculous.
They are in denial, frustrated with the American voters, refusing to take responsibility for the fact that they need a real candidate.
Democrats already have their heir apparent, Hillary Clinton, and whether or not she eventually runs, the party is already laying the groundwork to win in 2016—their candidate will benefit from this, whoever it is.
Republicans have no such plan.
Their best hope right now is that Joe Biden is the next Democratic candidate (Biden has a lot of strengths, but in the modern television sense he isn’t cool, not like Reagan, Clinton, Bush II and Obama were cool.)
Republicans might luck out, for example if Rand Paul turns out to have the cool factor his father does combined with the party credentials primary voters look for, or if Marco Rubio can be more like Chris Christie or Christie can be more like Marco Rubio.
But right now, the 2016 Republican candidate for president is entirely unclear—which gives the clear advantage to Clinton II.
For Democrats, not having a real frontrunner yet wouldn’t be a problem.
Both Clinton and Obama came almost out of nowhere, for example.
But Republicans want someone who is known.
Even Reagan had to run twice before he won the presidency.
So, while it is possible that some new, exciting, cool conservative will arise in the next four years, it is highly unlikely.
The cast is probably set.
Republicans just have to decide who will win the lead role.
If they choose another candidate on the issues without giving much regard to coolness, they’ll lose again.
And again—until they figure out that the voters want a cool president.
For conservatives who consider this a frustrating, high-school approach to electing a president, you are probably right.
But until the Right puts up a presidential candidate that is both strong on the issues and cool, Republicans will keep losing.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.