Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry: They certainly look presidential. (PHOTOS)

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
June 17 2011 4:22 PM

They Look Like Presidents

Three of the current field of GOP contenders certainly look the part.

For a political party that talks so much about "American exceptionalism," Republicans don't feel that their crop of presidential candidates is. In a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 45 percent of Republicans said they are unhappy with the field. This is not unusual for political parties out of power. It was true in 1991, 1995, 2003 and 2007.

Republicans have reason to celebrate, though. In at least one way, the field of candidates is exceptional. The current GOP field has more B-movie presidential lookalikes than at any time in modern history. Mitt Romney, John Huntsman, and Rick Perry have movie-star looks—and not just any movie star, but those guys who play the president in the movies that run in endless loops on cable. The B-movie president is a very specific type: He is not the hero. He is the actor in front of whom the hero dives to stop the bullet. He is essentially a stock character, and he must look like the stock photo of a president. In short, he is the guy who comes from central casting when the director sends word he needs someone to play the part of the president.

Mitt Romney/Cotter Smith.

Mitt Romney and Cotter Smith
In this campaign, Romney's movie-star looks have been the subject of late-night humor; four years ago one liberal website collected a half- dozen instances of commentators saying Romney "looks presidential." But what does that mean? In Romney's case, maybe it means he looks like Cotter Smith, who was threatened by the teleporting mutant Nightcrawler as  president in the second X-Men movie, X2.

Jon Hunstman/Ronny Cox.

Jon Huntsman and Ronny Cox
Huntsman, like Romney, is a Mormon and former governor who faces questions from some Republicans over his associations with President Obama (Romney's health care law in Massachusetts was a model for Obamacare; Hunstman was the administration's ambassador to China). Huntsman also shares with Romney a resemblance to a B-movie president: Ronny Cox, whose secretary is found dead in the White House while he tries to juggle a hostage crisis in North Korea in Murder at 1600.

Rick Perry/Bruce Greenwood.

Rick Perry and Bruce Greenwood
Perry, who is not running but is said to be considering it, has long been known for his good looks, especially his resilient hair. The late Molly Ivins called him "Governor Goodhair"—she also referred to him simply as "The Coiffure"—and a more sympathetic columnist can't help pointing out that he is "tall, lean, and good-looking." He also bears a likeness to Bruce Greenwood, who played the president in the overly-complex National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

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John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

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