Thursday, October 1, 2015

What Makes a Presidential Candidate Qualified?

At the time of this posting, the three leading candidates in the polls for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina have never served in a government position. In a way, this isn’t too surprising considering the frustration over the inability of the federal government to get anything done. Supporters of these three likely believe that it may take a true outsider to shake things up to get the government working again.

But with no government experience, the obvious question is whether any of the three are qualified for what is perhaps the single most important and demanding job in the world

Even a prominent conservative voice, Bill Kristol in The Weekly Standard can’t help but be concerned about it all.
How big a problem is it that the two leading Republican candidates for president aren’t actually qualified to be president? 
…why should we believe that neither Trump nor Carson is qualified to be president? Did you watch the debate? 
Neither Trump nor Carson has much of a grasp of the issues. Neither has a demonstrated ability to govern. 
So how really important is it for a candidate to have “a grasp of the issues “? At first blush, this is an absurd question. Normally, the voters pick their candidate based on where they stand on the various issues.

But this is not a normal election campaign. In Trump and Carson, we clearly have candidacies that are far more personality rather than issues driven. Neither candidate pretends to have a deep understanding of the issues. And furthermore, most of their supporters don’t seem to care.

But especially Trump has had to occasionally answer media questions on how he can be qualified for the presidency with such a shallow command of the issues. His response usually comes in two parts. One is that he will become an expert on the various issues once he is elected (although he doesn’t say how he intends to do this.) And secondly, he proposes to surround himself with some "terrific people" to be his advisers. 

Now even the most knowledgeable president needs advisers. No one person can have the specialized knowledge in a variety of fields to be able to make some of the vital decisions the office demands. But without enough working knowledge of the issues, how does one intelligently choose the right advisers to surround himself (or herself) with?

George W. Bush as a neophyte on national and international politics chose Dick Cheney from his father's administration to advise him on the selection of his vice presidential running mate. Cheney dutifully gathered very detailed background information on each of the prospective candidates before finally surprising everybody by picking himself.

But Cheney wasn’t done ‘advising’ Bush. He then assumed a major role in selecting Bush's other advisers and cabinet – most notably the selection of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. Cheney and Rumsfeld were the prime drivers behind Bush's catastrophic decision to invade Iraq based on faulty intelligence on so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction. This was a decision that even candidate Jeb Bush was forced to admit was a mistake. Some advice!

Then there is the question on whether running a business makes one qualified to be president. Few presidents come from a business background. Most notable were Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush whose presidencies did not turn out well to say the least.

As has been pointed out by many others, the skills to run a business and a government are quite different. A business exists to make the maximum amount of profit for itself. A government does not exist to make a profit but instead provides services for its citizens. And while a CEO gets to issue orders to get results, a president must have political skills to compromise and work with others in their own and the opposition party. The words ‘Trump’ and ‘compromise' just don’t seem to belong in the same sentence! 

Which leads us to temperament. Trump's confrontational and often insulting behavior is well documented – no need to do that here. Carson is much more soft-spoken but equally inflammatory. For some examples, check out 9 of Ben Carson's Most Controversial Quotes to come to the conclusion that Carson is way too flaky to be taken seriously as presidential material. 

While Trump and Carson do not convey “a grasp of the issues”, Carly Fiorina seems to be much more comfortable talking about issues. Like Trump she presents her executive background in business to try and convince voters that she is qualified to be the President. Other than the previous argument that running a business and a government are not the same, by just about every account, Fiorina was a terrible CEO who showed bad judgment in running Hewlett-Packard. 
In the five years that Fiorina was at Hewlett-Packard, the company lost over half its value.
The only stock pop under Fiorina’s reign was the 7 percent jump the moment she was fired following a unanimous board vote. After the firing, HP shuttered or sold virtually all Fiorina had bought. 

In addition, she was infamous for being intolerant and outright hostile towards anyone who disagreed with her decisions. While this may work in the boardroom (at least for awhile), it certainly would not work in a government environment that requires political skills to work with others to get things done.

So clearly, none of these three are qualified to be our next president. But then who is?

Truth be known, few presidential candidates offer the complete package of experience. In general, the candidates for President tend to have a background as either a state governor or a US Senator. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Senators, due to the nature of their positions usually have a much better command of national and international issues than governors whose daily duties deal with statewide issues. But most Senators have no ‘executive experience’ actually running a government.

Hillary Clinton in addition to her experience as a US Senator and Secretary of State, had an active role in her husband Bill Clinton’s administration. Of those who are running, she is the most experienced and qualified. Vice President Joe Biden (if he runs) has equally strong qualifications. Also worth noting is Senator Bernie Sanders who while he has no gubernatorial experience, had a successful four terms as Mayor of Burlington, VT

With the frustration of many over how they see government as not working, government experience is now perversely seen as a disadvantage. But it’s still early! Although right now there is a fascination for candidates who are the ultimate ‘outsiders’, past experience has shown that when the races start to heat up, candidates who have novelty appeal and little substance tend to fade away. But then the demise of Donald Trump's campaign has been predicted for some time now by many expert observers despite maintaining his lead in the polls. Will he do the unthinkable and actually win the Republican nomination?? Nobody really knows for sure. All we can do is stay tuned! 

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