What All Winning Presidents Have in Common

Ali Rizvi has been saying this for a while now, and he’s probably right: the most charismatic candidate is bound to win any presidential election. It has always been the case since presidential debates were televised in 1960. Even when the victor had low charisma, his opponent had even less. It’s sobering:

John F. Kennedy was a charismatic, and Richard Nixon was not, in 1960.

Lyndon Johnson had more charisma than Barry Goldwater in 1964.

Richard Nixon wasn’t a charismatic, but even less so were Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and George McGovern in 1972.

Gerald Ford had zero charisma and could never have won the presidency. He simply inherited it as the vice-president when Nixon left.

Jimmy Carter had little charisma, but he had infinitely more than Gerald Ford in 1976.

Ronald Reagan was a strong charismatic; neither Jimmy Carter in 1980 not Walter Mondale in 1984 stood a chance.

George H.W. Bush had low charisma, but he had more than Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Bill Clinton was a strong charismatic, unlike George H.W. Bush in 1992, and Bob Dole in 1996.

George W. Bush had low charisma, but what little he had was more than Al Gore (panned as a robotic drone by even his fans) in 2000 and John Kerry (the monotonous professorial bore) in 2004.

Barack Obama was a strong charismatic, unlike John McCain in 2008, and Mitt Romney in 2012.

Finally, Donald Trump was a charismatic in 2016. An ass-clown charismatic, to be sure, and a toxic demagogue, but a charismatic nonetheless. So was Bernie Sanders for that matter. Had Sanders won the primaries, he could very well have beaten Trump (it was only because of Bernie’s thundering charisma that he did as well as he did in the primaries, against everyone’s expectations). Both Sanders and Trump were charismatics promising something better in the wake of a colossal failure of the two-party system.

Rizvi says: “When charisma comes into play, ideology doesn’t matter. Policy details don’t matter. Experience doesn’t matter.” I’ve been saying the same thing about charisma for some time now, especially when it comes to the way even academics and scholars get hoodwinked by a president’s charisma. But I didn’t realize how clear the pattern is until Rizvi laid it out.

What this means is that Trump will probably win the 2020 election unless the Democrats can produce an equally strong charismatic — someone like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Those two also happen to be very good candidates, which is what should matter most, but unfortunately does not. It doesn’t matter how good candidates’ policies are if they can’t win. The sad truth is that people are suckers for charisma.