Admit it, The GOP Needs a Smart Nominee

Written by Stephen Richer on Monday October 24, 2011

Mitt Romney is the most intellectual of the leading Republican presidential candidates (Romney, Cain, Perry). That can’t be questioned. His masterful debate performances – capped by the October 18th debate's one-on-one destruction of Perry – have evinced quick-wittedness, a deep grasp of policy issues, and an ability to capably communicate.

His background substantiates his intellectualism: Stanford, Harvard, Boston Consulting Group, Bain Capital, Bain Consulting, etc. To the extent that Romney had a fault in the 2008 campaign it was that he appeared so smart and so capable that people questioned his emotional sensitivity (Remember Mike Huckabee’s quote: “Mitt Romney looks like the guy that fires you.”)

At my debate watching party, hardly any of the DC young Republicans present disputed Romney’s intellectual gravitas. A few wondered, however, whether it matters if our nominee is a heavyweight intellectual.

It does matter. It matters quite a bit. Consider the following:

Presidential success:

The most direct way in which intellectualism matters is its link to successful governance. Even considering the exception of the current president, there is substantial evidence that presidential IQ and presidential success are strongly tied. See Professor Dean Keith Simonton of UC Davis work on this subject as a good example.

Elections 1 – College educated voters:

Intelligence matters before presidents even get to the oval office. Many voters in 2008 cited the Republican Party’s seeming anti-intellectualism (best embodied in Sarah Palin) as a reason for voting Democrat. The numbers bore this out: the 2008 election marked the first time that the Democratic candidate performed better than the Republican candidate among college educated voters (50 percent to 48 percent). When it comes to advanced degree holders, the numbers are worse, and they’re moving in the wrong direction. In 1988, Republicans won this category 50-48. In 2004, Democrats won 55-44. In 2008, Democrats won again, 58-40.

Elections 2 – Young voters:

Young voters are becoming increasingly synonymous with college educated. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 27.8 percent of college aged Americans went to college in 1985. That number shot up to 39 percent by 2005. And just like America’s overall college graduates, young people are trending Democrat.

In 1988, 52 percent of 18-29 year olds voted Republican. In 2004, 54 percent went Democrat. In 2008, 66 percent voted for President Obama. These voters often cite the Republican Party’s incompatibility with the values they learn in college (belief in the scientific method, power of learning, belief in global warming) as reasons for voting Democrat.

Elections 3 – Profile of a president:

Writing for the Wall Street Journal in 2008, Lawrence B. Lindsey argued that character traits are more important than policy papers. And indeed, this is how many American voters make their selection. Included in these character traits is, of course, intelligence. Polls differ on where it ranks relative to other characteristics, but it almost always ranks in the top five.

Elections 4 – Journalists:

As much as Republicans may try to deny it, the mainstream media matters. It’s still widely read and viewed, and it still has an impact on how candidates and issues are perceived. To win over journalists, it helps for a candidate to be liberal, but it also helps to be the candidate that journalists consider something of a peer – a person who can level with them on weighty topics of public policy, but then switch gears to discuss literature or philosophy.

Consider David Brooks – a professed conservative – who recently admitted at a Toqueville Forum speech at Georgetown University that he got “a tingling sensation in his leg” when he discovered that President Obama could discuss the philosophies of Ronald Niebuhr Reinhold Niebuhr at length.

The albatross of anti-intellectualism has haunted the Republican Party for far too long. It has directly affected our electoral success, and it has caused many Americans to wonder whether we can handle the complexity of the current economic crisis. To shed this image – to return to the party of American Enterprise Institute and the Wall Street Journal – we fortunately have an easy, and excellent, solution: Name Mitt Romney as the 2012 nominee.