Longtime readers know that I reject the typical left-right political spectrum in favor of a trichotomy of political philosophies called “cosmopolitanism”, “nationalism”, and “materialism”.

At present in the United States, we have a choice between a cosmopolitan, Obama, and a materialist, Romney.  The curious part is that Romney must try to persuade the nationalists that he is one of them, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.  He has not done a very good job of it so far, although he is bound to get some of the nationalist vote simply for not being a cosmopolitan.

You may ask: “why isn’t there a nationalist candidate?”  Well, there was. Rick Santorum was his name, but he failed to get the Republican nomination.  So now, in another renewal of the delicate alliance that is the Republican party, Romney has to try to get the people who didn’t want him and wanted Santorum to vote for him.

Romney has been fairly socially liberal himself in the past, and he now has to try to assure nationalists that this won’t happen again, whether by blaming circumstance, claiming his hand was forced, or saying he’s changed his mind and/or heart on social issues like gay marriage, abortion, contraception and gun control.  Some politicians might be able to get away with this sort of thing.  Not Romney, though, because he is not charismatic and hence people do not innately trust him.

Candidates like Reagan, and to a lesser extent, George W. Bush had the ability to use their charm to cover for the contradictions in nationalist and materialist philosophies,  and thus hold the voting coalition together through their personal popularity.  Paul Graham wrote in his influential essay on charisma in Presidential elections:

The charisma theory may also explain why Democrats tend to lose presidential elections. The core of the Democrats’ ideology seems to be a belief in government. Perhaps this tends to attract people who are earnest, but dull…

A different flavor of the same idea: The post-1970s Republicans need to have the more charismatic candidate to win, because otherwise the differences in the Republican coalition become apparent and the party fractures.  (The Graham essay is what first interested me in this topic, and I consider it required reading for those curious about this subject.)

This is why likeability is everything for Romney, and history suggests that it is something which cannot be learned; so if he does not have it now, he never will.  For that reason, there is very little reason to think Romney will win in November.

Mitt Romney may rest easy knowing that he is assured of the Republican nomination. That much is clear.

Watching Romney fight for the nomination has been like watching a football team with a mediocre offense and terrible defense scratch and claw its way to a Conference championship, knowing all the time that they’ll have to go on to play a team with a great defense and a record-setting offense. Watching someone fight to win the chance to get beat on a larger stage is a curious feeling.

I’m still nervous, no question. I am worried that the Democrats might make some sort of costly mistake. That’s the trouble with being the favorite; the pressure is on you not to screw up. Suppose Obama goes and makes accurate statements about guns and religion again. Suppose Biden tries to make “gird your loins” the campaign slogan. When you ought to win, it’s quite nerve-racking.

I seem confident, don’t I? Too confident, you think? Maybe even arrogant? My liberal friends tell me I am these. I don’t think this can be right, though, because I am a pessimist. I’ve said so before. So, how can I have such confidence in my side’s ability to win this election?

As always, I believe the election will be decided by charisma. Read any of my articles tagged with this word and you will see what I mean. This article from the satirical paper The Onion illustrates the problem in a nutshell. Whereas the phenomenon described in that article more-or-less did occur around Obama in 2008, the idea of it occurring around Romney in 2012 is simply laughable.

Having the ability to make people like you instinctively is a powerful asset in politics. Romney does not have it. Whatever he has accomplished he has done with either political know-how or vast amounts of money. The charismatic approach is not open to him. Obama, on the other hand, is very charismatic. Thus, this is a truly dreadful matchup for Mr. Romney.

He might be able to win against an opponent like Al Gore or John Kerry. In such a contest, money and the Republican political machine would be deciding factors. But not against Obama. For someone as charismatic as he is, all television coverage is like free advertising. Just seeing the man talk subtly makes people more sympathetic to him. This largely negates Romney’s financial advantages, since financial advantages are used to purchase advertising with the goal of persuading voters.

The Republican propagandists will certainly give it the old college try, but there is little they can say about Obama that they weren’t saying in 2008. It failed then, and it is unlikely to work now. It is true that Romney does not have the problem of separating himself from an unpopular sitting President like McCain did, but he suffers from what may be an even worse problem: the suspicion of clandestine liberalism which hangs over him.

It is commonly known that Romney must distance himself from things he himself did in the past, to try to erase this suspicion. So far, it hasn’t been working, and the problem has now been famously compounded by his adviser’s “Etch-a-Sketch” comment. In truth, the most revealing thing about this comment is that it seemingly offers us a window into his campaign’s plans. When asked if his client had been forced too far to the “right”, his adviser implied they planned to correct this move in the Fall. But if Romney will revert to his “centrist”, Massachusetts Republican ways in the Fall, it may become apparent to the voting public that Obama himself is not a “far-leftist” at all, but rather “centrist” himself. At which point, it will be difficult for the voters to see much difference between Obama and Romney, except that Obama remains the more charismatic.

There is always the chance of some surprising revelation, or some disastrous gaffe by Obama or some other Democrat. But as things stand now, I think it is highly probable Obama will win re-election easily.