Election 2012: The square can win

Romney exudes 1950s man. Ronald Reagan did too. Even Reagan’s pompadour recalled the “good old days.” Romney’s perpetually coiffed hair may as well. In 1996, a Knight-Ridder poll found that Americans — including a plurality of men, women, liberals and conservatives — saw the 1950s as the best decade to live and raise children in. Romney’s disposition could evoke this rose-colored memory. He’s more Ward Cleaver than Don Draper.

Reporters favor an anecdote about this stiff man. Romney often recites, or sings, lines of “America the Beautiful” at rallies. These occasions may be awkward. They can also serve as cultural traps. In presidential politics, it’s better to be criticized for effusive patriotism than to be aligned with the critics. H.W. Bush took on a fondness for flags, and their factories, during the 1988 campaign. He doggedly pummeled Michael Dukakis for his veto of a bill mandating the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Some reporters scoffed. But it helped keep Dukakis on his heels…

The challenger has to meet a competence threshold. Not compassion. The candidate perceived as more caring often loses. Reagan and both Bushes were perceived as less empathetic than their opponents. Republicans won five of those six elections.