The cooler candidate wins the presidency. We pretend this isn't true, couching public preferences in colloquialisms about getting beers and sharing music playlists, but deep inside we understand the difference. Barack Obama is president, in some very real ways, because he is way cooler than John McCain and Mitt Romney. This fact gives us an opportunity. By evaluating each likely 2016 candidate's high-school-era coolness, we can almost certainly predict the election.

And it is a fact. There is robust historical precedent for this theory. Since Harry Truman ascended the presidency after the death of FDR, the cooler candidate has always won the presidency. Bush was cooler than Gore. George H. W. Bush was cooler than Dukakis. Reagan was cooler than Carter. Carter was cooler than Ford. Eisenhower was cooler than Stevenson. Kennedy was cooler than Nixon — actually, Nixon in 1968 and 1972 is the exception to this rule, and you know how that turned out.

As servants to the public, The Wire undertook the challenge of, first, determining what constitutes "cool" and, second, applying that differentiation to each of 11 possible presidential candidates. We decided to use a universally understandable and easily researched metric for this evaluation: how popular each candidate was in high school. Read more about our theory of "cool."

Our methodology

We looked at six aspects of an elected official's coolness in high school: his or her romantic life in high school (and college), looks, fashion sense, use of alcohol and drugs, musical taste, and involvement in sports and activities. Where possible, we used objective tools to evaluate the data; for the candidate's aesthetics, for example, we measured facial symmetry to get a sense of how beautiful the candidates were and are. (Those are the portraits covered with dots. It's called science.) And we called in experts. To judge each one's fashion sense and hairstyles, we asked Bridget Jones — a high school senior, homecoming queen, cheerleader, and the little sister of Wire fellow Allie Jones — to judge a series of pictures we sent her. (Yes, that's her real name.) In other words, we made this as scientific as possible.

(Not all attributes were weighted evenly. Because it is tricky to determine a high school student's romantic relationships several decades after the fact, we scored that data lower than the other values.)

The best way to explain this process is by example. Presenting the highest-scoring politician we looked at: President Barack Obama.

Direct link.

Love life: 6
One of the advantages with looking at President Obama is that there are few people who have more information about their lives available to the public than American presidents, especially Obama. He's written books, he's ben profiled scores of times, his old friends have given interviews galore. So we have Obama's prom photos and what he wrote in girls' yearbooks. And, in summary, high school Barack Obama doesn't seem to have had much difficulty in making female friends.

Looks: 7.13
According to science, Barack Obama gets a 7.13 out of ten on looks. The system adds: "Your mouth is too wide for your nose." So, there you go.

Fashion and hair: 8
Bridget Jones gave us a quick overview of each person. On Obama: "His style is laid-back and the hat in the first picture is great."

Booze and drugs: 9
President Obama is notorious for his dalliances with alcohol, marijuana, and "a little blow." In high school, he and his friends apparently stuck to herbal indulgences, forming a group they called the "Choom Gang," smoking weed in a classmate's van. This is very cool-kid drug use, cooler than cracking open beers, but not exactly on the path to heroin addiction.

Musical taste: 7
The president described his musical taste last year. "I've got old school – Stevie Wonder, James Brown. I've got Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan," he said. "I've got everything from Jay-Z, to Eminem, to the Fugees, to you name it. There's probably not a group that you play that I don't have on my iPod." This is a very politician-y answer, so we docked some points, though we can't make fun of anyone he named.

Sports and activities: 6
In addition to smoking pot, Obama was an avid basketball player. It's not as cool a high school sport as football, but it's in second.


So, see how this works? Great. Without further ado:

How the presidential wannabes will finish in 2016, based on their coolness

Direct link.

Love life: 5
The New Jersey governor had three girlfriends in about a year when he was a senior. First, he dated Melina Maritato, who later became a vet, but he broke up with her and took someone else to prom. Then, when he got to college, he met his eventual wife.

Looks: 6.48
"The ratio of your face width to nose width is nearly ideal."

Fashion and hair: 8
Bridget nailed this one in her assessment. "The middle part is not the best look, but he seems like he would be cool in high school." Emphasis added.

Booze and drugs: 2
In all of the various profiles of Chris Christie, we couldn't find any discussion of his drinking or smoking pot. But look at the guy. Look at that baseball team photo. If he didn't sneak beers out back of a Jersey 7-Eleven, then the world is not the way we've come to understand.

Musical taste: 5
Did you know that Chris Christie likes Bruce Springsteen? No? Well, Chris Christie likes Bruce Springsteen. A lot. Once Springsteen gave Christie a hug and Christie cried. Bruce Springsteen is fine. We gave Christie a five.

Sports and activities: 9
Chris Christie has a serious popular-kid-in-high-school pedigree. He was the president of his class and, as you see above, was on the baseball team. And, he was a natural leader, such as it was. From Philly.com:

[A]fter a group of high school seniors painted their graduation year on the school roof, he promised the principal that it wouldn't happen again. Then he led the mission back up on the roof the following weekend to repaint "80."

Yeah, he used to sneak beers.


Direct link.

Love life: 3
One of the things that must be unpleasant about being elected to office is that lots of people want to tell stories about you, and not all are flattering. Shortly after Marco Rubio was elected to the Senate in 2010, an apparent former girlfriend of his blogged about his attempts to woo her.

I noticed that this one acne-ridden boy with braces and knobby knees always smiling and saying "hello" to me while passing me on the stairs ... [M]y attitude of indifference towards him would soon change because this boy was not like any other boy, he was by far the most persistent boy I had ever met

Persistence pays! But it is the opposite of cool.

Looks: 7.16
"Your ears are too long for your nose."

Fashion and hair: 4
Bridget: "His style just seems really boring and I feel like the combed over hair thing is weird, too."

Booze and drugs: 4
As one does before running for president, Rubio published an autobiography last year detailing his life growing up in Florida. Including his high school trips to a local golf course: "its gazebos offered the perfect hiding spot for underage beer drinking."

As of press time, we were unable to confirm the validity of this video purporting to show Rubio smoking marijuana.

Musical taste: 8
In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, Rubio laid out his favorite genre and songs.

People forget how dominant Public Enemy became in the mid 80s. No one talks about how transformative they were. And then that led to the 90s and the sort of East Coast v. West Coast stuff, which is kinda when I came of age. ... [Asked his favorite songs] "Straight Outta Compton" by N.W.A. "Killuminati" by Tupac. Eminem's "Lose Yourself."

Sports and activities: 8
There's not a lot out there about Rubio's extracurriculars, but he did earn a football scholarship in college. In the high school hierarchy, football excellence is top-tier.


Direct link.

Love life: 0
Senator Rand Paul's love life prior to his 1990 marriage is a bit of a mystery. There is one known attempt by Paul to pick up a young woman, but it's better suited for the "booze and drugs" section below.

Looks: 8.48
The highest score in our crop of candidates, but: "Your face is too wide/too short."

Fashion and hair: 5
Bridget: "The haircut and the red suit are pretty rough, but at least he makes bold choices (like whatever his crazy costume is) (below) ."

Booze and drugs: 7

During his 2010 run for the Senate, by far the most interesting story to emerge about Paul was that he was a member of a secret society called "NoZe" which apparently specialized in dumb pranks and smoking weed. (The "crazy costume," left, is from his NoZe days.) At one point, Paul and his friends fake-kidnapped a female friend (she notes it was only playful), taking her first to get high and then to a creek bed where they demanded she worship "Aqua Buddha."

Musical taste: 2
In that same campaign, Paul was asked by the Canadian band Rush to not play their songs at his events. That anyone would want to play Rush at all is a condemnation of that person's taste in the first order.

Sports and activities: 9
Paul was something of an athlete in his pre-Aqua Buddha days, playing defense on the football team and swimming.


Direct link.

Love life: 0 4
Clinton met her future husband only when she got to college Yale Law. Any earlier exploits are lost to history. (Update: Nick Rizzo pointed us to this Parade article from 1999 in which a secret undergrad relationship with a Georgetown student is discussed. We've updated her score appropriately.)

Looks: 8.4
"Your face has good horizontal symmetry."

Fashion and hair: 8
Bridget: "Her little bob is cute and she looks elegant and sophisticated. The striped pants/sandals combo (below) is kind of a train wreck, but somehow she is rocking it."

Booze and drugs: 3

There's a lot of circumstantial evidence suggesting that Clinton may have tried marijuana. Her husband "didn't inhale" it; the afore-mentioned striped pants/sandals combo. It seems hard to believe that as a college student in the 1970s she never tried marijuana once.

But that was then. Since, she's repeatedly argued against the decriminalization of marijuana, which is not cool.

Musical taste: 5
In a 2011 visit to the Philippines, Clinton revealed her rather milquetoast musical tastes.

‘I'm a child of the '60s, which is before any of you were born,’ she said.

‘So everything I grew up with — the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Who and the Doors. I mean, all of that, plus I like classical music because I find it relaxing when I'm thinking about stressful things.’

Moderately cool. And at least some evidence reinforcing our assumption about her marijuana use. (Imagine listening to The Doors without being high.)

Sports and activities: 4
Hillary Clinton was on student council and worked for the school paper. Neither of those things are cool, but at least the student council conveys somes modicum of popularity.

(At this point, you'll notice that, even as the fourth-coolest presidential candidate, Hillary's not really all that "cool." Cool people don't usually want to be president at all.)


Direct link.

Love life: 6
Rep. Paul Ryan was the prom king of Joseph Craig High School, and pictures from his formals show that he had at least two different dates. In college, he dated Daneeta Pope, an attractive cheerleader with whom he's remained friends. (She didn't vote for him for vice president last year, however.)

Looks: 6.88
"Your face has poor horizontal symmetry."

Fashion and hair: 7
Bridget: "He has good hair, looks put together and seems to have the preppy thing down."

Booze and drugs: 0
Paul Ryan appears to have stepped out of a large cardboard box labeled "Boy Next Door." There's no indicator that he ever did drugs (he opposes legalized marijuana) and while he may have pinched a swig of vodka from his parents' liquor cabinet, it has never come up in interviews.

Musical taste: 3
"He's an avowed rocker," the Los Angeles Times wrote about Ryan last year, apparently not meaning that as an insult. At the Republican convention, he contrasted his "cool" music with Mitt Romney's.

There are the songs on his iPod which I've heard on the campaign bus -- and on many hotel elevators. He actually urged me to play some of these songs at campaign rallies. I said, 'I hope it's not a deal-breaker Mitt, but my playlist starts with AC/DC and ends with Zeppelin.'"

This is like your dad making fun of your grandfather for hitching his pants up so high instead of wearing jorts.

Sports and activities: 9
Paul Ryan was on the ski team. He played soccer. He ran track. He was class president. It's a pedigree that no other candidate matched. So why the score of nine? Because he was also named "Biggest Brown-noser" by his class. Which is not cool.


Direct link.

Love life: 0
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush married his wife shortly after graduating from the University of Texas, having met her when he was 17. Any prior romances aren't well-known; when he attended Phillips Andover, for high school, it wasn't co-ed which may have posed an impediment.

Looks: 6.99
"The ratio of your face width to nose width is nearly ideal."

Fashion and hair: 5
Bridget: "Love the family picture, but his haircut is the worst."

Booze and drugs: 8
At first, we were ready to give Bush a zero: Nothing came up. And then we found this, via Capitol Hill Outsider, which falls squarely in the realm of "rumor" via a former classmate of Bush's.

Jeb Bush and one other fellow student back then ran an illegal drug and liquor distributorship on the Andover campus. When the heat started coming down, Bush ratted out the partner to the school authorities and saved his own skin. Jeb got away with it, was never caught, never punished, graduated unscathed and went on to the University of Texas at Austin.

If true, that's cool — up until the part where he sells out his friends. And there's some evidence that at least the weed-smoking part of it is true. A New York profile indicates that he "went through a short period of rebellion" at Andover, "smoking pot and wearing his hair long."

Musical taste: 0

There is a rapper named Jeb Bush, but it doesn't appear to be the same person.

Sports and activities: 5
In an April profile conducted by the Miami Herald, Bush says: "I was a cynical little turd in a cynical school." Not suggestive of a lot of after-school activities.

But Jeb gets a five mostly because of another part of that New York profile: Bush was also briefly a member of "the Andover Socialist Club." For a kid whose dad would go on to lead the CIA, that's a pretty cool move.


Direct link.

Love life: 0
Ladies, if you dated Ohio Sen. Rob Portman prior to his 1986 marriage, let us know.

Looks: 6.64
"Your face is too wide/too short."

Fashion and hair: 6
Bridget: "I just can't get past the long hair. I don't really like the tie or belt with this either."

Booze and drugs: 5
Portman, like everyone else in the 1970s except Hillary Clinton (apparently) smoked weed. In a 2012 interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Portman admitted that indiscretion.

Portman late in high school wore his hair long and experimented with marijuana. He told The Plain Dealer in 2005 that he never bought or sold it and didn't smoke it often.

"This was an era when almost everybody did it," he said then. "It's something I regret."

That is an uncool response.

Musical taste: 4
When he was younger, the Associated Press reports, Portman "favored the Beatles and Grateful Dead." But like pot, the Dead appears to be something he regrets, now apparently listening to country. His current favorite is Rodney Atkins.

Sports and activities: 2
On the weekends in high school, Portman taught Sunday school. Noble, but not cool. In college, he was apparently a member of "the Ledyard Canoe Club," which is also not cool.


Direct link.

Love life: 2
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren left college to marry her high school boyfriend. Bonus points for romantic impetuousness, but that's not the same as cool.

Looks: 8.24
"Your face has poor horizontal symmetry."

Fashion and hair: 8
Bridget: "I like her hair and her look is pretty effortless."

Booze and drugs: 0
There's no evidence Warren has ever tried marijuana; having grown up a good kid in Oklahoma suggests that there weren't many alcohol benders in her past, either.

Musical taste: 3
During her recent campaign, James Taylor held a fundraising concert for Warren, and he played her favorite song, "You've Got a Friend."

Elizabeth Warren has a favorite James Taylor song.

Sports and activities: 3
Warren was a star on the Northwest Classen High School debate team, and won a debate scholarship to George Washington University. If you're a parent, everything Elizabeth Warren did is what you want your kid to do. And therefore, it is not cool.


Direct link.

Love life: 0
There's no reporting about Ted Cruz's girlfriends before he met his wife on the campaign trail in 2000. Even a long story in the Boston Globe about his college years only finds the word "date" as part of the longer word "candidate."

Looks: 8.01
"Your ears are too long for your nose."

Fashion and hair: 7
Bridget: "I like his glasses and his hair is pretty normal, but his clothes are nothing special."

Booze and drugs: 3
There is one story of Cruz drinking in college in that Globe article.

After the successful first performance [of a play], Cruz spent the cast party imbibing so much Everclear — a powerful grain alcohol — that he couldn’t make it through the next night’s performance. His fellow actors had to coax him into going onstage, but by Act III his condition worsened. ...

Asked if he’d had a sip of Everclear since, he replied, “I doubt it.”

Musical taste: 0
For as much as Ted Cruz has been in the news over the last few months, it's easy to forget that he's very new on the national stage. No one, it seems, has done a fluffy enough profile to include his musical tastes. His favorite movie, we can report via Yahoo, is The Princess Bride — suggesting that his favorite music is probably similarly uncool and intentionally sincere.

Sports and activities: 2
In college, when he was sober, Cruz was into acting. In high school, he was far dorkier: "During high school, Cruz participated in a Houston-based group called the Free Market Education Foundation." We gave him three coolness points for the acting and then negative one for the FMEF.


Direct link.

Love life: 0
Here is a tip for people who want to run for president. It doesn't matter if you're very handsome, like Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, or have been compared at-times-favorably to the ambitious mayor from HBO's The Wire — also like O'Malley. If you want to run for president, people need to know something about you. So write a book or get some profiles written. It will make everyone's job easier. Anyway, the point is: We have no idea who he dated.

Looks: 7.71
We had to use a current picture of O'Malley since there are no high school pictures. Attention, Martin: "Your innerocular distance is too big for your eyes."

Fashion and hair: 0
And Bridget, sadly, therefore had nothing to work with.

Booze and drugs: 2
These are two pity points given because O'Malley signed a law legalizing medical marijuana.

Musical taste: 0
We're just going to skip the sports and activities category, because 1) there's no information about O'Malley's high school sports and activities and 2) there's an important lesson to be drawn from his musical taste.

O'Malley is often talked about as a potential 2016 candidate. In a poll earlier this month, he drew two percent support, hardly confidence inspiring. But he's a good looking guy, and he gives this vibe of being cool, mostly because he wears sleeveless shirts and plays in a band.

There is nothing — nothing — less cool than an adult man who plays in a band, even (or maybe especially) if it's Celtic rock, as is O'Malley's. Coolness wins elections, governor, and you have a long way to go before you're in the running. Step one is tossing the guitar into a closet and putting pictures of your senior prom online. the American people can take it from there.

All images from the Associated Press or the public domain.