Ruben Navarrette: Politics is about reaching people. Instead, two Republican governors act like creeps.
From the commentary: Neither of these amateurs is ready for prime time. Make no mistake, if they do enter the 2024 race, Trump will eat them both for breakfast — and still have enough appetite left over to devour a Big Mac.
SAN DIEGO — A few years ago, during a visit to a university in the Midwest, I met with a group of international students. A young woman from Britain was baffled that so many Americans, in picking a president, look for someone with whom "they'd like to have a beer." She thought the decision should be based on a candidate's intelligence, experience or capability.
I understand where she was coming from, but I also get the part about the beer.
Think of it this way, I told her. When Americans choose a president, they are inviting someone to be a constant presence in their home — through television, radio, Alexa, etc. — for the next four years. They're going to give a thumbs down to anyone who is boring, caustic, cruel, unrelatable or otherwise insufferable. Those are folks we scurry away from at parties.
There are a couple of Republican governors out there — Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas — who, you can bet, don't get invited to many parties. So they've got plenty of time to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2024, and both of them appear to be planning to do exactly that.
Good luck. DeSantis and Abbott come across as unapproachable stiffs without an ounce of warmth or charm between them; as mean-spirited bullies with a John Wayne complex who are always spoiling for a fight — as long as they can punch down at weaker opponents. They seem to have zero empathy or social skills and are more likely to be caught scowling than smiling. Their "emotional intelligence" scores are probably negative numbers.
It doesn't help that they seem to be competing in their own private contest — to be the creep in chief. It's a cynical and sadistic game of one-upmanship.
DeSantis shipped desperate Venezuelan refugees to liberal Martha's Vineyard for laughs, declared war on Disney after it criticized a state law that limits discussion of sexual orientation in schools, and targeted university programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion. Now he's pushing immigration crackdown measures that are cruel and repressive; they include a threat to charge people with felonies for offering shelter, jobs or transportation to the undocumented.
Abbott deployed state troopers to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border, signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country and prohibited Texas public schools from teaching critical race theory (which isn't usually taught outside of universities anyway). Now he appears ready to pardon a man named Daniel Perry, who was convicted of murder for shooting a Black Lives Matter protester named Garrett Foster in 2020.
This bravado could prove costly in the long run. Neither DeSantis nor Abbott can be elected president without appealing to independents and moderates. Being a creep won't help.
Politics is more art than science. Elections aren't decided on résumés, position papers or promises that will probably wind up getting broken anyway. Often, these contests are won or lost depending on how a candidate makes voters feel.
President Ronald Reagan — who was frequently described as a "happy warrior" — was depicted as not very smart by his critics in the liberal media. But Reagan was affable and a phenomenal communicator. And, in 1984, he figured out a way to get reelected by winning 49 states.
However, Reagan could not transfer that charm to his vice president - and successor - George H.W. Bush, who served only one term. Bush was defeated in 1992 by Bill Clinton, whose emotional intelligence was off the charts. But Clinton couldn't pass those skills to his vice president. Al Gore lost to George W. Bush, who was great at connecting with people. Nor could Clinton transfer his personal skills to his wife, Hillary, who has been described as the only Democrat who could have lost to Donald Trump. And, in 2016, she did.
For their part, DeSantis and Abbott have done all right politically. In 2022, DeSantis soared to reelection with 59.4% of the vote — beating Democrat Charlie Crist by nearly 20 points. That same year, Abbott won reelection by securing 54.8% of the vote — outdistancing Democrat Beto O'Rourke by almost 12 points.
Still, for each governor, the game has been limited to Triple-A ball in his home state. Neither seems eager to venture beyond his comfort zone or give an interview to anyone not affiliated with right-wing media.
Neither of these amateurs is ready for prime time. Make no mistake, if they do enter the 2024 race, Trump will eat them both for breakfast — and still have enough appetite left over to devour a Big Mac.
This commentary is Ruben Navarrette's opinion. He can be reached at email@example.com.
© 2022, The Washington Post Writers Group
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