Charisma is defined as “a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.”  In many areas of life, having charisma on your side is a major benefit.  The best salespeople usually are charismatic.  Business leaders more often than not have a charismatic air.  But of all areas in society, perhaps politics benefits the most from charisma.

Let me analyze a bit deeper and from a more psychological aspect.  If you are a politician and your stance on issues matches up with anyone else’s to the letter we feel a comfort that you believe as we do; the keyword being “comfort.”  Everyone wants to be comfortable and feel safe, and when a politician shares our views we feel secure; we walk in that politician’s shoes.

Now let’s assume that same politician is a mild-manner, non-confrontational kind of milk-toast’ish fellow.  Regardless of his lack of charisma we still feel comfortable and we can crawl into his skin because in a sense he is us.  This is someone we can relate to, though he doesn’t really charge us up.  He could be our neighbor, or boss or even a friend, because there’s a sameness between us and him.

Let’s switch things around a bit, and confer upon this same politician a strong charismatic character.  This is now someone we’d all like to be.  He is exciting to listen to and we look forward to hearing from him.  We might even go out of our way to attend an appearance; we listen more intently when he speaks whether we truly hear or not.  Regardless of his leadership abilities, he’s someone we want to follow.  As the definition explained, charisma engenders devotion.  And sometimes that devotion is blind, or at least severely near-sighted.

Shifting to the presidential race, where charisma has a very strong history, we see that politicians become President whether they are charismatic or not, but almost never does a non-charismatic candidate beat a charismatic one and to demonstrate this we’ll explore presidential elections going back the last 50 years.

In 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon held a huge power-base.  He had full access to Eisenhower’s respectable political machine and walked into the race with fully-operational and well-staffed state organizations.  Money was plentiful because he had Eisenhower at his back, was a preemptive favorite and a very long political history.  Nixon had strong principals and zero charisma.  Kennedy had none of Nixon’s political operations because the Democrats had been in political purgatory for more than a decade.  He was a Catholic at a time when there was nationwide concern that his faith and the Pope might influence his behavior; a major negative within the Democratic Party.  He had a relatively short political career; his family had some hefty baggage because of his father’s past and he was very young by past presidential candidate standards.  He only had two things going for him: he was a World War II hero – not something that beneficial in his party, and he oozed charisma.   John and Jackie had an air of royalty,  Kennedy, who was given no hope before the debates eked out a tight win over Nixon.  The royal view followed Kennedy into the White House which along with his administration became known as Camelot.

In 1964, Vice President Johnson had succeeded Kennedy after his assassination.  Just under 2 years from the death of the President, Johnson, a big and powerful man but with no charisma, faced an equally charisma-challenged opponent in Barry Goldwater.  Goldwater was held in great esteem within the Republican Party, and had a solid following, but without charisma he was facing an uphill battle against the Democrat political machine and sympathy from the Kennedy assassination.  When zero charisma is matched up against zero charisma other issues come in to play and Goldwater could not surmount the strength of a sitting President who once served as a Prince in Camelot.

When Johnson chose not to run in 1968, the Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey.  Humphrey was extremely well respected from years in the legislative branch, but as nice a guy as Humphrey was, charisma wasn’t something on his side.  Enter Richard Nixon.  Nixon, still a uncharismatic personality was now facing an equally unattractive opponent.  With the Democrats mired in an unpopular war and with serious moral questions circulating throughout society with the drug cultural and the “Summer of Love,” Nixon had the intangibles necessary to defeat Humphrey.

After Richard Nixon’s departure following Watergate, Gerald Ford, his Vice President, a man of respect within the halls of Congress, but with less charisma than a water buffalo, faced an equally uncharismatic peanut farmer from Georgia.  Ex-Governor Carter was virtually unknown to the voting public, but was looked upon favorably by the media and shot to an early lead.  Ford was best known for his inadvertent slips and stumbles and suffered from his association with Nixon.  In the end while Ford dramatically narrowed Carter’s lead it not enough to remain in office.

At the end of Carter’s first term he was saddled with a horrible economy, soaring fuel prices and an embarrassing 444 day hostage ordeal.  Add to his poor performance in the Oval Office, a politician given little respect by the press but with an extremely charismatic personality, Ronald Reagan, sent Carter packing decisively.

Reagan’s first term wasn’t without issues, however, as is the case with most charismatic leaders, people want to overlook shortcomings in favor of a man they  “like.”  Reagan had the devotion factor down cold and whether he knew it or not, even his political foes enjoyed his company.  Matched up against a seasoned political veteran, Walter “Fritz” Mondale, a totally uncharismatic leader teamed with the first female Vice Presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro, charisma won the day as Reagan sailed into a second term in one of the most lopsided political victories in history.

After the close of the Reagan years, his Vice President George H.W. Bush became the likely successor, however Bush while being likeable and competent, wasn’t blessed with the charisma that dripped from Reagan.  Bush benefitted by being matched up against a man who couldn’t spell charisma, ex-Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis.  Dukakis, like Bush was a likeable enough fellow, but saddled with a negative history regarding his release of a habitual offender and an unfortunate photo-op driving a tank, resulted in a brutal beating at the polls.

Bush’s first term was one of incredible highs followed by dramatic lows.  Reaching a popularity rating of 90% following the first gulf war, Bush watched his ratings plummet as the economy tanked.  Even through the tough economic times, Bush was still regarded as a strong leader and maintained a workable popularity rating, however he encountered a freight train of charisma in Bill Clinton.  Bill Clinton wasn’t even mentioned as a contender during the early days of the 1992 election.  The ex-Governor of a fairly non-descript state, Arkansas, Clinton had a name recognition factor of only 2% and might have just as well been the dog catcher in Little Rock.  As the 1992 primary season developed, the little-known Clinton rose dramatically for one reason, and one reason only, he had buckets of charisma. Clinton took the bad economy (remember the phrase, “it’s the economy stupid,”) and his charisma straight into the White House.

When Clinton went into the 1996 election campaign, his detractors had built a mighty army of issues to assault him with.  While the initial period of his presidency had gone according to plan, numerous scandals emerged approaching his re-election bid and he had suffered in the polls.  Two years prior Clinton had suffered a major mid-term election defeat as Republican’s were swept into power in Congress.  Adding to Clinton’s woes was an opponent universally respected and a war hero, Bob Dole.  The one thing Dole lacked that Clinton had an abundance of was charisma.  Despite the changing tide and the scandals, Clinton beat Dole by 9 points to remain in the White House.

Without an incumbent, the 2000 election became another battle of the uncharismatic.  The son of President Bush, George W. Bush, ex-Governor of Texas, faced Clinton’s Vice President Al Gore.  With 8 years of domination of the White House, and two strong presidential campaigns in their back pockets, the Democrats should’ve been celebrating an easy victory against Bush Junior.  But when zero goes against zero, in the charisma category, anything can happen; in this instance, the closest and most widely disputed presidential race in American History.  In the end, though close, Bush squeaked out a victory.

Bush’s re-election bid turned out to be less dramatic than his first experience, as the Democrats found an opponent not only as charisma-challenged as Bush, but also one with off-the-chart elitist written all over him.  John Kerry became famous for flip-flopping on virtually every issue, anti-American/anti-war speeches and sailboarding off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.  Bush was blessed by the Democrat’s poor choice and had an easy path to a second term.

As Bush Junior passed from the scene, for the first time in 42 years we were faced with an election campaign with neither an incumbent nor a VP competing for the Oval Office.  Fresh off handing back the Congress to the Democrats, the Republicans had but one hope of maintaining grasp of the White House, and that was to select someone that could stir their demoralized base.  Unfortunately, the field in 2008 offered up by the Republicans had little, if any charisma to offer up.  There was a nice guy: Mike Huckabee, a Barbie Doll candidate: Mitt Romney and an angry old war hero, John McCain at the top of the heap.  In the end they chose long-term Washington ex-Viet Nam prisoner-of-war John McCain to head their ticket.  McCain, for all the respect one might give him, wouldn’t recognize charisma if he tripped over it.  On the other side of the house, Clinton’s wife and Senator Hillary Clinton, was the odds-on favorite to head the Democrats bid for the White House.  Unfortunately for Hillary, all the charisma in the Clinton household belonged to her wandering husband Bill.  Eventually she was cast aside by a man who had none of the strengths of any of the other candidates save one major asset: charisma.

Barack Obama had no business even running for President.  Barely 18 months in office as a U.S. Senator, and even less time actually showing up on the senate floor, Mr. Obama had a demonstrably questionable past in politics.  Obama became known to the public view from his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention.  It was the first time that America had seen this “nobody” in American politics, but what he displayed was truck-loads of charisma.  Charisma is often translated by the pundits as “a rising star.”  Obama became labeled a rising star in the Democrat Party so many times in the media that he entered the race as a power to be reckoned with.  As the campaign progressed, Clinton’s political machine, experience and family connections were no match for Obama’s seductiveness.  Obama became the “feel good” vote for many, but more importantly the blind devotion he evoked made all the concerns about his past blow away as just so much cigarette smoke.  People flocked to Obama’s rallies and comparisons were made to past charismatic Democrats such as Clinton and Kennedy.  In November the allure of Obama versus the heroics of McCain proved to be decisive.

Present day.  The lone treatment for charismatic fever is dissention.  Obama has certainly done his part to create disunity amongst the electorate; however this alone won’t completely erase charisma.  The one primary effect on the central nervous system of the voters caused by charisma is blind devotion.  While many will have been cured by reality, a substantial portion of the voting public will continue to drink the Kool-Aid of charisma.

Will charisma alone be sufficient to launch another 4 years of Obama? That all depends on the Republicans.  If the Republicans fail to offer up a charismatically gifted foil for President Obama the answer is probably yes.  Obama is walking a very fine line.  His recent success in removing the stain of Osama Bin Laden is likely to gain him some political points, however it’s impossible to say just how much that do for him in 18 months.  The economy doesn’t look to be on the President’s side, however that too could change.  His agenda that might be popular with the left will probably turn away a fair amount of independents that are crucial to a successful re-election.

Realistically it’s the Republican’s election to lose.  If they fail to nominate a charismatic figure Obama is a shoe-in.  Obama will mesmerize the public and many will head into the voting booths under the spell of Obama adoration, casting aside all reason and yet again pull the “feel good” lever.  The Republican’s are at a crossroads, and while experience, values and character are critical components, against the Casanova Obama they don’t have a chance if they don’t nominate a Don Juan of their own.  We are, in many respects, sheep, and history demonstrates that.  The only way to level the playing field against a charismatic candidate is with one of your own.

Is there such a person in the Republican field?  Perhaps.  Mitt Romney, hmmm, certainly the Hollywood prototypical President, he doesn’t seem to cast a lot of magical spells.  Newt?  Brilliant man, but charismatic?  Pillsbury Doughboy like perhaps.  Ron Paul…perhaps if your concept of charisma is based on Bilbo Baggins.  Herman Cain?  Yes, he certainly carries a good deal of charisma in his pocket, however he has yet to show whether he’s able to conger up such feelings amongst the public. Tim Pawlenty: Zip, zilch, nada.  If Mitch Daniels gets in the race (which is more likely with Barbour’s departure,) he’s going to have to sign a pact with the Devil, cause God didn’t bestow a molecule of charisma on the man.  So far it’s not looking good for the Republicans. Rick Santorum; charisma isn’t in his toolbox.  Trump – he’s got plenty of charisma, but will he run and is there enough charisma to carry him past his carnival barker personality and questionable conservative creds?  You’d have to bet against it.  Then we cross into the realm of question marks: Governor Huckabee has probably bolstered his charismatic ranking through his television career, but smart money says he won’t get in.  Sarah Palin?  Charisma yes…electable no…running, don’t see it.  Then we begin to bottom feed with former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson: charisma…nope.  Jon Huntsman?  Perhaps a few morsels, but he’s not going to entice even a modest following.  Michele Bachmann may be a Tea Party favorite, but she doesn’t scream charisma at the volume of a Barack Obama.

So what are the Republicans to do?  Good question.  A late entry, perhaps.  Paul Ryan is blessed with a good deal of charisma, but as a member of the House he’s not likely to take the most difficult path to the White House.  Some have mentioned Cantor.  Eric Cantor suffers from the same major stumbling block as Ryan as a leader in the House and he’s more likely to pursue a future in the Speaker’s seat than in the White House.  The most charismatic Republican in the Senate, Marco Rubio has made it clear he won’t run in 2012.  2016 appears to be his moment.  Rand Paul isn’t at the level of a Rubio, but he has some charismatic undertones which could be honed over the next few years, but not by 2012.

It would appear the Republicans are in a quandary.  The wizards of charisma on the right are, for the most part, in the media.  None shows any desire to give up their 7++ figure salaries to join or rejoin the political battle.  The best chances for the Republicans are still in the incubation phase for future elections and I’m certain that gives Mr. Obama a sense of security that is probably warranted.  It’s early yet and perhaps a magical gift of charisma will be bestowed upon someone who, up to this point, hasn’t shown it, but unfortunately that would be a damn near a miraculous transformation.  There is a possibility that someone not even on the radar will be called to service.  In lieu of either of these distinctly unlikely events, Mr. Obama is headed towards re-election and that makes me very sad.

You don’t need to be a leader to be followed.  Obama has shown and continues to show virtually no leadership qualities, and much like lemmings his followers will march in lockstep right over the cliff.  They don’t care about what’s wrong with his policies, if they even understand them.  It’s really not important when you’re under a spell.  So until and unless those on the right can find that emotional quality amongst their ranks, their better off going all-in to take back the Senate and hold on to the House, so they can at least control the agenda until the Rubios and Ryans come of age.