Heads Up in 2012

PUBLISHED: August 22, 2011

The GOP nomination fight will ultimately hinge on the one factor that always tips presidential elections. That's why we can say that Rick Perry will beat Mitt Romney by a hair.

For over half a century, voters have unfailingly elected the candidate with the best hair—the guy with the lock on locks.

John Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon by a razor-thin margin in 1960. Nixon's already-receding, slicked-back 'do was no match for the young, wavy head of hair from Massachusetts.

After JFK's death, Democrats were stuck with Lyndon Johnson's lousy haircut and most certainly would have surrendered the White House had Republicans come up with any hairdo better than Barry Goldwater's. LBJ sealed victory by wearing a large cowboy hat whenever possible.

The nation soon plunged into a period of fallow follicles. Nixon re-emerged, beating perhaps the only two Democrats with weaker hair: Hubert Humphrey, whose receding hairline was made worse by a round face and prominent, barren forehead; and George McGovern, whose heart was in the right place but whose head was burdened with a horrid combover.

Vowing not to repeat the McGovern debacle, Democrats nominated the nation's most commanding haircut in Jimmy Carter. Republicans were powerless with the head of Gerald Ford, who by 1976 had lost most of the hair that helped him get to Washington in the first place.

Four years later, desperate Republicans turned to Hollywood for a candidate with a star-powered coiffure. Ronald Reagan trimmed Carter's chances and later won re-election by buzzing right through Walter Mondale's skimpy gray lid.

In 1988, many pundits were convinced that Michael Dukakis had the hair to beat George H.W. Bush. But voters thought the Dukakis 'do was too rigid, too perfect, too large for his smallish head. Rumors even swirled that he had a toupee. In the closing stages of the campaign Mr. Dukakis covered up with an army helmet but lost.

Bill Clinton ushered in a new wave of hair. Strangely appealing, especially to women voters, Mr. Clinton's flowing salt and pepper beat Mr. Bush, then overpowered Bob "this is my natural color" Dole.

By paving the way for executive gray, Clinton may have handed the 2000 election to George W. Bush, who managed to attract the "young gray" vote, though Al Gore was a hair's breadth away. John Kerry had overwhelming hair, but it wasn't enough to topple an incumbent head of state.

In 2008, America elected its first African-American haircut, as Barack Obama was pitted against the aging, outdated lid of John McCain.

The 2008 campaign also saw the emergence of strong female candidates including Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. It remains to be seen if Americans are too sexist to entrust their highest office to someone capable of having bad hair days, or to be caught in curlers when the red phone rings at 3 a.m.

An indication of how desperately the GOP wants the White House, came when it briefly considered Donald Trump, an empty haircut if ever there was one.

What worries Democrats as 2012 approaches is that Mr. Obama has been graying fast in office, while Republicans have turned to the party's most dominant hairdos in Messrs. Perry and Romney. If it comes down to health care versus hair care, Republicans could win.

How will it all comb out? It's too early to tell, but while you waste time with Gallup and Pew, I'll be watching the barber poll.

(c) Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

Index of Previous Columns