Basil Smikle is a political consultant who formerly worked in the Senate office of Hillary Clinton. He also ran as a bachelor for local office. While he didn’t call being single a deal breaker for an aspiring presidential candidate, he did concede that it would be tough. “I’m not sure voters would be able to handle a president that is actively dating. It would be a reality show of insane proportions, considering the amount of press, staff and resources needed to move a president from point A to point B.”
Muslim’s and Smikle’s comments recall the film The American President. Michael Douglas portrayed a single commander in chief who swept Annette Bening’s character off her feet. Although Douglas is depicted as a widower, his advisers still struggle over how to cope with the nontraditional image of a president on the dating scene, including tackling tricky issues such as a presidential girlfriend sleeping over at the White House and what kind of example that might set.
Though the film is nearly 20 years old, experts I spoke to believe that society hasn’t changed all that much when it comes to how Americans view the role of the president.
“I think it’s the not knowing. I think it’s not knowing what’s going on in their personal life,” Muslim said before adding, “And then some of it would be the spectacle of what they do know.”
Like if the president’s girlfriend starts sleeping over.
Sometimes They Can’t Relate
Michael Goldman, a political consultant who has advised candidates such as Gov. Deval Patrick and Sen. Ted Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, explained that it’s not really morality that is the issue of concern to voters when it comes to single candidates, but relatability. “It’s always more difficult [for single candidates] because we tend to think that presidents who have families are more like us and share the same concerns about educating our kids, and so we feel more comfortable.”
Kevin Parker, a Democratic state senator in New York who has never been married and has held office for 10 years, concurred with this sentiment. When I asked Parker if he believed that being single would be an impediment to him or any other candidate who might run for president someday, he answered unequivocally, “Yes.” When I asked why, he replied, “Because there are many corners in the nation and the state where people relate being married to a set of values and experiences that are relatable. Politics are about shared values.”
Parker noted that it’s more of an issue in some places than in others. For instance, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the state’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo are all single men, and one, Cuomo, is a rumored future presidential candidate. Bloomberg and Cuomo, however, are in high-profile, long-term relationships. But their romantic lives might still raise more of an eyebrow in a more conservative state like Mississippi.