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If elected, John Bolton would be the first mustachioed president since William Howard Taft
American voters can forgive just about anything — except facial hair
John Bolton rocks a silver Tom Selleck.
John Bolton rocks a silver Tom Selleck. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
I

t turns out that John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush, is serious about running for president.

National Review reports that he is hiring a team to explore a potential run in 2016, and is planning to test his message out during the 2014 midterm elections.

Bolton isn't exactly the GOP frontrunner. But if he did win the Republican nomination and then, somehow, the general election, he would end a drought in politics that has lasted for 100 years.

That, of course, would be the absence in the Oval Office of a president with facial hair. The last man to sport whiskers while president was William Howard Taft, who, as the American Mustache Institute notes, left office on March 4, 1913, to make way for the significantly less hairy Woodrow Wilson.

Since then, no politician has sported facial hair of any kind. So what changed?

The first factor was the spread of safety razors during the early 1900s, especially after Gillette scored a contract to supply soldiers during the First World War. Before that, shaving was a long, occasionally painful process, which would explain the abundance of beards.

The clean-shaven trend continued in Washington, argues Slate's Justin Peters, because beards began to be associated with grungier elements of society:

The beard’s absence from modern American politics can be partially blamed on the two scourges of the 20th century: Communists and hippies. For many years, wearing a full beard marked you as the sort of fellow who had Das Kapital stashed somewhere on his person. In the 1960s, the more-or-less concurrent rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba and student radicals at home reinforced the stereotype of beard-wearers as America-hating no-goodniks. The stigma persists to this day: No candidate wants to risk alienating elderly voters with a gratuitous resemblance to Wavy Gravy. [Slate]

Today, nobody would ever confuse Bolton, one of Washington's most hawkish neo-conservatives, with either a communist or a hippie — which could make him the mustachioed community's best hope of getting a candidate in the White House.

Unfortunately, he wouldn't have the support of K Street's foremost facial-hair lobby, Bearded Entrepreneurs for the Advancement of a Responsible Democracy (BEARD PAC), whose co-founder Jonathan Sessions once told TIME "that mustaches, soul patches, weekend beards —these are all things that do not meet the requirements of BEARD PAC."

He did, however, concede, "Goatees are considered if on the right candidate."

Bolton can at least take solace in the fact that he is in distinguished company.


(Illustration by Lauren Hansen | All images courtesy of Getty Images)

Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.

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