The summer replacement series Who’ll Be the President? recently aired a pilot episode, live from New York’s Madison Square Garden at great expense. Ratings were good but not spectacular, and a second pilot this week, live from Houston, isn’t likely to do much better. Nonetheless the series has a guaranteed run until Nov. 3, when the big rating numbers come in. Don’t expect surprising story lines or cast changes, although there’ll be some big name cameos; the secret of the show’s success may lie in the sets-the Rose Garden, touring buses, flag factories, probably no tanks-and in the wardrobe. Especially the wardrobe. In this video-intensive talk show, otherwise called a political campaign, style is content, and what you see is as good a clue to what you’ll get as anything you’re likely to hear. What follows, then, is a deconstruction of candidate style.
GEORGE BUSH Ol’ Poppy discovered what worked for him in the late ’40s and has stuck with it, true to the high-WASP belief that if God had meant men to be fashionable, He wouldn’t have created Brooks Brothers. But somehow, the Prez suddenly seems ill at ease in his good-ol’-Goy suits. With hands stuffed deep in his pockets, he looks like a harried commuter just off the 6:12 back to Greenwich. Ironically for a man who loves boating and golf, the President doesn’t seem particularly at home in casual clothes, either; his trousers look catalog-bought and his collection of baseball caps seems inspired by Manuel Noriega. The dirty secret of the administration is that the President looks at his comfortable best in a tuxedo.
BILL CLINTON During the convention, his suits were stolid and his small- patterned ties looked like banners for the humility brigade. Bullish poll numbers have since emboldened the candidate and his wardrobe: Recently Clinton wore a lightweight suit that looked as if it cost well into three figures and a tie worthy of Bob Costas. But for those who fear he’ll lose the vote of Joe Doubleknit, Clinton has some secret weapons: He looks worse in running gear than Lyndon Johnson if he hadn’t had the sense never to wear running gear, and his short socks allow uncool glimpses of blindingly white calves.
DAN QUAYLE A prime example of the blond heed-ing the bland. For campaign sight bites, he has adopted Midwestern businessman casual-white shirt and tie, no jacket, rolled-up shirtsleeves-to show he can get down with the guys. Though the Vice President is the best golfer ever to hold high office, his rich boy taint makes him hide his natural affinity for sports clothes.
AL GORE Take a close look at the weekend Gore, the bus tour Gore, the Gore who puts on knit shirts, khaki pants, and running shoes and looks to the mannerism born. Could this man be a closet Banana Republican? Just the right weight, just the right build—perilously close to being too right to be bearable—he’d be the style setter of the campaign if only he weren’t so wooden. If Quayle is Babbitt Redux, Gore is Man and Supermannequin. Is the latest trend Neo Eco-Calvinism?