Does this like a leader to you? For many people in 1920, the answer was “yes.” There’s little doubt that Warren G. Harding’s looks are one of the main reasons that he ended up in the highest office in the land. What he lacked in substance, he made up for in style.
In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell discusses what he calls the “Warren Harding Error,” in which people can make snap judgments about others and their abilities based solely on their appearance and the way they present themselves. Warren G. Harding, on the surface, looked like leader. Presidential, even. Beneath that surface, there wasn’t much that would suggest that he’d make a good president, but that kind of minor detail often doesn’t make a difference to people when they’re making major decisions like who should lead the country. Instead, they’ll go for the candidate they feel looks like they would be a good leader, even if the facts aren’t there to support that assumption.
According to many reports, when Harry Daugherty, the political maestro who orchestrated Warren G. Harding’s rise to the top, first encountered Harding, he immediately thought to himself that Harding was a man who could be elected President. This is with knowing really nothing about him, except that he was a pleasant, dignified-looking individual who happened to be getting his shoes shined at the same hotel as Daugherty was that day. If not for Harding’s appearance and Daugherty’s snap judgment, it’s unlikely that any of us would even know who Warren G. Harding was.
Take a look at the two candidates for President in 1920. James M. Cox looks like a decent enough guy, but he lacks Harding’s presence and suggestion of authority.
Of course, looks can be deceiving…which is part of the 1920 election resulted in arguably the worst President ever.