Others have overcome innate political limitations on the way to the White House, including George H.W. Bush and Richard Nixon.Did Bush have below-average campaigning skills for someone at that level? His electoral record is pretty mixed. He couldn't win statewide in Texas in two tries during an era in which Texas was competitive but still leaned Democratic. His 1980 presidential run wasn't a winner, but was hardly an embarrassment. He captured the 1988 nomination...but as a sitting vice-president; he certainly didn't win as easily as, say, Al Gore did in 2000. His 1988 general election run strikes me as about par for the course, as does, really, his 1992 race -- combined, I don't think he stands out as either particularly impressive or awful. For whatever it's worth, he did a fair amount of party-building in Texas, so that might count as a plus.
Going back to 1980: he finished a clear second in a field that included Howard Baker, vice-presidential nominee Bob Dole and John Connally -- and he gave Ronald Reagan at least a bit of a scare for a while. That's pretty good!
But Richard Nixon? All candidates have "limitations," but Nixon was a terrific campaigner. Beat an incumbent to win a House seat. Jumped rapidly to the Senate -- and jumping from a House seat to the Senate in California isn't easy. No, he didn't defeat JFK in 1960, but barely losing during an era in which Democrats had a solid edge for the WH isn't a particularly bad result. He won both Republican nominations he sought (1960 and 1968) easily. He didn't win by much in 1968 against Humphrey, but overall it's hard to say that he did worse than reasonably expectations would have predicted in his three presidential general elections.
What I think this gets to is that some in the press have a very narrow indeed version of what constitutes political skills -- although remember that Nixon, in particular, was thought to be great on television right up to the debates in 1960, and one can make a pretty good case that he actually was pretty good on TV throughout his career. So even when it comes to things such as "good at giving speeches on TV" our memories and judgments are not very good guides sometimes. And "good at giving speeches on TV" just isn't that crucial a skill for electioneering. It's something, but I doubt if it would turn out to be that big a deal if we had a good study of it. Forming coalitions and alliances, having good judgement about policy and party actors, hard work, knowing how to work a room, willingness to put up with the indignities of the campaign trail, and plenty of other things matter, too.
Anyway, I mostly wanted to make the point about Nixon being good on TV (which, I should say, I mostly
*I'm really overdue for re-reading Nixon Agonisties; I've looked through it on and off, but haven't fully re-read it in quite a few years now. On the other hand, I've had the Wills book on Julius Caesar at the top of my pile for a few months now and haven't gotten to it, so I'm not sure when any re-reading will actually happen. Anyone know how good the Julius Caesar book is?