Would Mitt Romney Win If He Looked Like Chris Christie?
Does Romney seem too perfect to be president?
Mitt Romney’s had the kind of week that could almost make those who don’t care for his politics feel sorry for him — almost. First there were new revelations regarding offshore accounts. The words “offshore accounts” are usually about as helpful to a rich candidate running for office as the words “paternity test” are to a candidate. The moment voters hear them they tend to think something’s fishy and the smell is hard to shake no matter how a campaign tries to spin it, or mask it. Then there was Speaker John Boehner, the highest ranking Republican in the House, who did the world’s worst impression ever of an actual Romney supporter when he said, “The American people probably aren’t going to fall in love with Mitt Romney…Mitt Romney has some friends, relatives and fellow Mormons ... some people that are going to vote for him. But that’s not what this election is about.” (I’m sure the Romney campaign has a thank you bouquet on its way to the Speaker’s office as I type this).
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But perhaps the most embarrassing indignity of all is the revelation that Rupert Murdoch, the man whose media empire has served as a conservative kingmaker for more than a decade, simply doesn’t like him. That’s right. A man whose television networks have given contracts to people like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich finds Mitt Romney annoying, unlikable and depending on which gossipy sources you believe, too weird for office. That’s saying something. But you know whom Murdoch would, allegedly, like to run for President? Gov. Chris Christie. He apparently went so far as to try to draft Christie at one point. While news outlets have given a variety of reasons why Romney and Murdoch never hit it off, no one has seemed to really nail down exactly why the American people find Romney as off-putting as Murdoch seems to. Here’s one theory: Romney doesn’t look like Chris Christie.
There are a million theories about what spurs Americans to vote for certain candidates, even when doing so appears to defy logic. Studies show that the taller candidate has historically had an edge in presidential elections. There are those that swear that the candidate with the best hair wins. (A google search of this will land you in an internet blackhole, 26 million hits strong.) Then of course there is the so-called “brew test,” as in “which candidate would you most prefer to have a beer with?,” a measure that is both startling and slightly embarrassing in its accurate prediction of the tastes of the American electorate. This question has correctly predicted the outcome of the last seven presidential elections.
Which brings me back to Mitt Romney. Raise your hand if you’d like to have a beer with him? Or even a martini? How about coffee? My guess is the only people currently raising their hands while reading this are those Boehner mentioned: Romney’s friends, family and a few others. Even the die-hard anti-Obama voters who will be voting for Romney by default probably want that to be the extent of their relationship with the man. Yet it’s not as though Romney has done anything in his lifetime that should really warrant making him a social pariah, and that may be his problem.
The fact that he was a Rhodes Scholar made Bill Clinton the epitome of an intellectual elite, but his extramarital woes proved he had weaknesses just like the rest of us. George W. Bush was open about his early battles with alcohol, something that made him more relatable to the average Joe than other equally privileged candidates, among them Bush’s rival, former Vice-president (and fellow son of privilege) Al Gore. Gore and Romney actually share the same problem as candidates: the picture of perfection.
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Both men seem like the kid in class who has to raise his hand first so the instructor, and everyone else, knows he actually read the homework assignment. Or the kid who wasn’t content just being Student Body president, but had to run for Student Council president too because it looked better on a college application. And also managed to convince the homecoming queen to go steady with him.
For some, this kind of perfection breeds resentment. The fact that “elite” has become a dirty word among some segments of the electorate is indicative of the fact that plenty of voters won’t vote for someone who makes them feel insecure about their own intelligence, accomplishments or station in life. On the other hand, one of the main questions I ask before casting a vote consists of, “Is this person more well-read and intellectually curious than I am?” If I can’t say yes with confidence the person is not getting my vote. But for others the illusion of perfection (and let’s face it, that’s what it is, because no one is perfect) breeds something worse than resentment. It breeds suspicion.
When unsavory allegations first surfaced about former Vice-president Gore’s personal life there were those who simply presumed that this was the other side of the seemingly perfect façade he had been presenting the American public for decades. Fair or not, there are those who believe that if someone seems “too perfect” one day, the other shoe is destined to drop and next thing you know some unsuspecting neighbor will find himself speaking into a news reporter’s microphone saying, “I’m just shocked. They always seemed like such a nice family.”
My point? For all of the handwringing about whether or not Americans demand too much of candidates and their families, the dirty little secret of American voters is we actually like flawed candidates.
That’s part of the reason why a Chris Christie probably seemed like such an appealing alternative to Romney. Christie doesn’t present an image of perfection and doesn’t try to. That’s not to say that if he were to mount a serious presidential campaign he wouldn’t have to lose weight. As much as Americans recoil at perfection, there hasn’t been an overweight president in a century. But much like former Governor turned GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s nationally covered weight loss, Christie’s own struggles would make him more relatable to average Americans, especially now that so many are grappling with the same struggle too. (It’s worth noting that President Obama’s candor regarding his early experimentation with drugs didn’t engender a great deal of criticism from conservatives or anyone else, and if anything won him credit for being forthright).
But of course this all leaves Romney in a bit of a bind. His lifelong devotion to his religious teachings mean he has never indulged in some of the temptations that bedevil so many—including so many former presidents—from alcohol to women, even caffeine. You would think this would work to his advantage. But historically, Americans don’t seem to trust a man whose hair always looks that perfect, whose shirts always look that starched and whose wife claims they never fight. When voters can’t see flaws it leaves them to imagine or invent them, and the rumors are always going to be worse than any reality could be.
Keli Goff is a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com and the author of The GQ Candidate.
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