A good friend of mine just wrote me, mentioned that she was a Herman Cain supporter, and asked my opinion on the Republican presidential nomination race so far. In short order, I made this little schema for picking a president.
People are rightly obsessed with finding a presidential candidate who can “get things done” in Washington. I know I am. I believe that the ability to get things done is more important than the positions one holds on policy issues or having amazing character. If you can’t implement and make stuff happen, who cares if we agree? So, instead of picking the best person or the one most right on the issues, we should pick the best player at the game called “politics.”
First, we need someone who knows the system in Washington. This runs against the grain for many who want a Washington outsider, thinking that outsiders are not “corrupted” by DC cooties. In truth, you want someone who knows the system very well and can work the system very well. Part of why Obama struggled as much as he did the first term, and perhaps why Clinton might have done better, is because Obama was not an experienced Washington insider, wasn’t really all that experienced at national politics generally, and had never been an executive (having executive experience, like that of a governor, helps too, though it is best combined with DC background). So, I would rank Republican presidential candidates as follows with 10 being the best:
Newt Gingrich, 9, vast DC experience, former speaker of the House, has been around forever, he knows government and can work the system.
Jon Huntsman, 8, has no DC experience as a politican, but he has plenty of DC experience as a civil servant, a former governor, and seemed to be a successful one.
Mitt Romney, 7, no DC experience, but he was a governor, and is generally government savvy (I think).
Rick Perry, 6, governor, does not seem savvy like Romney.
Michelle Bachman, 3, has DC experience, but only in the House and no executive experience.
Hermain Cain, 1 or 2, no political experience. It doesn’t matter if you agree with his 999 plan, or really anything he says. He would likely be unable to implement it.
Secondly, most people long for their President to be a “real” guy and not some sleazy politician. But the fact of the matter is that only sleaziness, or what some might call sleaziness, gets things done in politics. We need a presidential candidate who is politician enough to not alienate themselves from their constituents and to hold different groups together. This means, quite simply, being good at being a politician, at keeping a majority of people mostly happy with you. This is why Herman Cain would be an awful president (I think), just like Michelle Bachman, or Rick Perry would be. They say too many dumb things, which will erode public support (and in all three of their cases already has). This would be a big blow to them especially, because if you are not good at working the system in Washington, you can make up for it by maintaining popularity. But these politicans are not politician enough to maintain this sort of support over the long term. Being a politican is hard, maintaining popular support is harder still, and that is why support has been swinging so wildly from Bachman to Perry to Cain and now to Gingrich. Of course, I say dumb things all the time, as we all do, and we can give people the benefit of the doubt, but even a fervent Herman Cain supporter who loves how “real” he is has to admit that it is unlikely that he can remain self-controlled, prudent, on-message, a clever communicator, committed and also non-committal enough…politician enough to maintain popular support. So, here is a cursory ranking based on political skills:
Mitt Romney, 9, super disciplined, has hardly had much of a gaffe, stays on message; he’s a smart robot, has experience being a politician.
Jon Huntsman, 7, has experience being a politician, and in fact just as much as Romney, though not as a frontrunner presidential contender for two election cycles, so he is still a little bit of an unknown.
Gingrich, 6, political experience but is also a gaffe machine.
Rick Perry, 5.
Michelle Bachman and Herman Cain, 2 or 3, woefully undisciplined. Could unlikely maintain support over the long haul.
Third, successful presidents cannot be beholden to uncompromising constituents. This means that the more idealogical your base, the less likely you are to be able to get things done. That is simplistic, of course, but holds true generally. In order to get things done, the President, like any politician, has to be positioned in such a way that he can compromise with his opposition, and even his own party, without fear of losing his own supporters. In a republic, leaders cannot get anything done unless they can compromise with others. So the following ranking is merely based on how moderate the candidate’s base is likely to be:
Jon Huntsman, 9; he would be a 10, but he has been having to pretend to be more conservative than he really is to have even a smidgen of a chance in New Hampshire.
Mitt Romney, 7; I’m not sure where to put him really. I can’t really predict how conservative he would be in the White House.
Newt Gingrich, 6.
Rick Perry, 5.
Herman Cain, 4.
Michelle Bachman, 3.
Once you have established who would be most unable to get things done, then you can cross them off your list (Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachman are likely gone). As for me, if I do not dismiss those individuals most unlikely to get things done, then I would have to seriously reflect on whether or not I care about my issues in the first place. Too often, people are narcissistic and vote for the person most like them instead of the person most able to do good. So, in order to be moral, let’s lose the likely losers.
I would probably then look at the top three, assuming they are all roughly comparable, which in this case they are (Huntsman, Romney, and possibly Newt, though he might have too much baggage), and pick the one who best represents your values, opinions, etc.
So who do I like these days? My opinion has stayed the same. If I was a Republican, which I am somedays but usually not, I would be a Jon Huntsman fan.