Is (S)He Presidential? The Changing Scripts of Presidential Leadership in France and the United States, 1995-2020

Bo Yun Park, Harvard University

Unconventional presidents, such as Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump, have reshaped people's understandings of electability. The support for political figures who would have been considered unelectable in the past continues to defy the scholarship on political experience, party dynamics, and presidential character. This paper provides a cultural reassessment of what it means to be “presidential” in France and the United States by investigating what makes a presidential candidate “presidential” from the vantage point of political strategists. Drawing on110 in-depth interviews of political operatives who have worked at the highest levels of presidential campaigns throughout the digital age, this research analyzes the renewed scripts of presidential leadership that have been produced across national contexts. I find that scripts of presidential leadership in France and the United States initially differed but are increasingly converging as a result of similar structural reconfigurations: While operatives in France had followed a hierarchical model of leadership and their American counterparts channeled a more egalitarian type of authority, the spread of social media and data analytics is pushing strategists in both countries to readjust their scripts of presidential leadership. This research contributes to a better understanding of the transnational changes in the political repertoires used in presidential campaigns at a time of accentuated political polarization, resurging populism, and changing demographics.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 21. Parties, leadership