The reading lists matter. Books can communicate candidates’ intellectual predilections and policy preferences, but they also humanize them. When voters hear that a potential leader of the free world enjoys a book they’ve read, it forges a connection.
When politicians discuss books, they usually speak of insight and inspiration. In Michele Bachmann's case, however, repulsion had an influence:
In a 2010 speech in Michigan, she decried “Burr” as a “snotty little novel” that “mocked our Founding Fathers.” Vidal’s constant mockery offended her — “as a reasonable, decent, fair-minded person who happened to be a Democrat” — so much so that she put down the book and said to herself: “You know what? I think I must be a Republican. I don’t think I’m a Democrat.” Such a transformation is a long-standing trope among Republicans, many of whom have gone from left to right. Ronald Reagan often referred to his days as an FDR Democrat: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party,” he said. “The party left me.” Subtly, Bachmann is seizing that mantle.
As for Mitt Romney:
Romney has cited the Bible as his favorite book, but also has confessed his affection for science fiction and fantasy. In 2008, he admitted that he was a fan of "Battlefield Earth," written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard; more recently, he revealed his penchant for Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series, as well as Terry Goodkind's "The Law of Nines" (even though he called it "The Rule of Nines"). The admissions of a genuine sci-fi guy, or is he seeking to counter his stuffed-shirt reputation?
At the end of Paul’s “The Revolution: A Manifesto,” he recommends dozens of books, many of which emphasize his differences with more traditional GOP thinking. For instance, many of the works dealing with international affairs are not in the mainstream of Republican thought. They include Robert Pape’s “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” Chalmers Johnson’s “Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire,” and Michael Scheuer’s “Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror.”
The former House speaker is the GOP contender most linked to the world of books. In the 1990s, he recommended books for his House colleagues, mostly business strategy reads such as Alvin Toffler's "The Third Wave" or Peter Drucker's "The Effective Executive." Upon leaving the House in 1998, he became a prolific author, producing 17 books on everything from energy policy to the role of faith in American history.
Writing in the New York Times magazine, Andrew Ferguson recently characterized Gingrich's books as "evidence of mental exertions unimaginable in any other contemporary politician." He also identified certain strains in the Gingrich oeuvre, including warnings of a looming Armageddon and faith in the ability of technology to see us through most challenges.
Overall, Perry's reading and writing reveal a very political mind at work, conscious of core constituencies and provocative in an era when office-seekers often opt for caution.