The One Thing All Winning Presidential Candidates Have in Common –– Dems, Take Note

11/13/2016 11:52 pm ET

Liberals: "Bigot!" "Racist!" "Islamophobe!"

Conservatives: "Condescending!" "Arrogant!" "Insulting!"

These are not arguments. Don't let them dissuade you. We should be speaking truthfully about both the fatal toxicity of Islamism and its apologists, and the breathtaking ignorance of Trumpism and its defenders.

Most of you are not politicians, and you're not looking for votes. So be honest, and don't be afraid of being called labels, or being accused of arrogance. Don’t be shamed into silence. Honesty trumps (for lack of a better word) all of that in the long run.

The left will tell you they lost because the country is full of racists and bigots. The right will tell you they won because the left ignored white working class voters who lost their manufacturing jobs. They're both partly right, and largely wrong.

The reality, I think, is more analogous to the aging rich executive dating a young, attractive supermodel thirty years younger and claiming it has nothing to do with her looks, but her IQ and how well they connect as a couple.

In almost every US election — ever — the candidate with more charisma has won.

Liberals were being accused of being "elitist" and "condescending" both times Obama won, and he was promoting essentially the same policies that Hillary Clinton was this time. But Obama won in electoral landslides both times. Obama still has a higher approval rating than Reagan did in his last year of office.

Obama had infinitely more charisma than both John McCain in 2008, and Mitt Romney in 2012. The one time Obama actually slipped behind McCain in the polls in 2008 was when Sarah Palin (another very charismatic candidate) was selected as McCain's running mate.

Look through history. You'll see it time and time again — especially since presidential debates first started being televised — that this is the one common denominator. In fact, the first ever televised debate, between a charming, smooth-talking John F. Kennedy and a sweaty, uncomfortable Richard Nixon, is widely credited for ringing the death knell on Nixon's 1960 campaign.

At the end of Bill Clinton's presidency, the United States had seen eight full years of peace and prosperity. It would've made sense for Al Gore, his vice president, to be elected to continue that success. But it didn't happen. While George W. Bush wasn't as charismatic as Clinton or Reagan, his mischievous charm towered over Gore's robotic drone in 2000, and Kerry's cerebral, professorlike monotone in 2004.

Go back and look anywhere. Neither Jimmy Carter nor Walter Mondale were a match for Ronald Reagan, the actor and orator who hypnotized Republicans and Democrats alike with his inveterate charm and wit, winning 49 of 50 states in 1984. Bill Clinton was known for being able to connect with his voters one-to-one as if they were friends, a skill that helped him beat out the otherwise graceful George H. W. Bush in 1992, who could not defeat him as he did the bland, clinical Michael Dukakis four years earlier. And Bob Dole, the war hero, was no competition for the charismatic Bill, widely reputed as a draft dodger.

You could dismiss this article as spurious or superficial, but then you'd have to explain to me how else a man who switched his positions on everything from month to month if not minute to minute, who lied incessantly about much more than just his emails, and who was more secretive and evasive about his tax returns than Hillary Clinton was about pretty much anything else, pulled off such a stunning victory — not just in the Republican primary (which some of us actually did see coming), but also in the general election (which most of us didn’t).

The fact is — and this is the one thing people on both sides knew — Donald Trump, for all his crassness and vulgarity, is a very, very charismatic man.

He has drawn millions to his bustling rallies, broken ratings records for every debate he has participated in, and played the media industry with almost unprecedented prowess.

No one in his own party could match him in the primary season. And there is now a good argument to make that the one candidate in the other party who came closest, Bernie Sanders — also a very charismatic man — may have fared better than Clinton. Clinton did win the popular vote, but not by enough of a margin to stop Trump taking the electoral college. Would Sanders have done better in the Rust Belt as he did against Clinton in the primaries? Going by the way things turned out, probably yes.

When charisma comes into play, ideology doesn’t matter. Policy details don't matter. Experience doesn’t matter. A born-again (so he says) Republican who railed against the Iraq War, went to war with Republican icons like the Bush family and John McCain, battled a Republican institution like Fox News, took positions on trade that no Republican would otherwise risk, won over a vast majority of evangelicals despite being socially liberal for most of his life and not even knowing how to say “2 Corinthians,” and praised Planned Parenthood smack in the middle of a Republican primary debate, is now president. And a Jewish atheist socialist who no one ever thought would be taken seriously as a candidate came within a heartbeat of the Democratic nomination.

For 2020, the Democrats need a populist candidate who is seen as authentic and can fight aggressively and lead not just a party, but a movement, as both Trump and Bernie did this past year. That candidate, at the moment, is Elizabeth Warren.

Elizabeth Warren can hold her own against Trump. She is immensely charismatic. She has no baggage dating back decades. She has experience working with Republicans. She campaigned for Hillary and is adored by Bernie supporters, inspiring excitement in both factions of the party and bringing them together. She is idealistic like Bernie, yet also pragmatic like Hillary. And she is on record as being able to land a decent punch or two, with thick enough skin to shake off whatever comes her way.

Whether you agree with her ideas or not is immaterial. How many mainstream Republicans agreed with Trump's ideas, or mainstream Democrats with Bernie's? It didn't matter. Most people agree that if Obama had run for a third term, he would've won, despite an agenda almost identical to Clinton’s. People prefer the better storyteller to the person with the better policies. This is why religion is so successful. How else would talking snakes and virgin births be more convincing to grown, educated adults (including the current vice president-elect) than observable phenomena like evolution?

When things don't make sense, and when millions of people are left scratching their heads, wondering, "How did this happen?" it helps to zoom out, go back to the basics, and look at the common denominator. And there is one characteristic common to the most massively influential people in human history, from Muhammad and Martin Luther King, Jr., to Winston Churchill and even Hitler: Charisma.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
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