FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Still the Governors
Here we are, five days before the hawkeye caucii and I still have no idea who I plan to vote for when Tennessee’s turn rolls around on Super Tuesday. I cannot remember ever being undecided this late since I became legally eligible to vote. I have probably run the gamut with most of the rest of the GOP electorate in terms of at least considering voting for everyone in the field (with the exception of Paul, Bachmann and Santorum), but I have come back around full circle to where I started this primary season: no more legislators as Presidential nominees. And yes, this means that if push came to shove, I would probably support Romney over Gingrich. Our brand suffered a lot of damage in the years from 2004-2008, and if the people of the United States actually give us another chance and we elect a Republican who screws things up, we might not elect another Republican for another 20 years. Therefore, I consider it to be especially important this year of all years that we nominate someone who can actually do the job of being President well, as opposed to merely someone who can beat Barack Obama.
The job of being President is sui generis, so it is impossible to predict with 100% certainty who will perform well at it. Just because someone has been a successful governor does not necessarily mean they will be a successful President. However, I can say with some degree of certainty that without some experience that at least approximates the job of being President, a person is almost certainly guaranteed to fail. And the job of being a Congressman/Senator is so far removed in terms of responsibilities and scope from that of being Governor – and certainly from being President – that their experience essentially counts for nothing.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why people are so willing to forget the principle that experience matters when it comes to the most important job in the entire country. Yes, talent and natural leadership abilities count. However, if you had taken even a guy like Rex Tillerson straight out of college at age 22 and made him President and CEO of ExxonMobil, he would have been fired and/or the company would have tanked in less than two years. Everyone needs to grow gradually into responsibility (at least to some degree). It is absolute madness to take someone who has never managed anything larger than a congressional staff, put them in charge of the 100,000+ executive branch employees, and expect anything less than disaster. The current occupant of the White House has done nothing if not reinforce this point.
The difference between what a legislator does and what a Governor does is one of kind, not degree. A legislator is essentially a dickerer, negotiator, and panderer. Insofar as the legislator is the boss of his own small staff, it is completely ancilliary to his other, main duties. A Governor, on the other hand, is primarily the boss of an executive branch of government, just like the President. There is no other job description on earth which comes even close to matching what a President does – including negotiating with an often recalcitrant legislature from the outside.
I was willing to give some of the other candidates a chance to persuade me that I was overvaluing gubernatorial experience. Before the Cain flameout, I was willing to consider that Cain’s experience in the private sector might provide a reasonable approximation of gubernatorial experience. However, Cain’s inability to deal competently with political demands and manage a political staff was his ultimate undoing – as I firmly believe that the parade of women would never have continued had his response to it been even marginally competent.
I also was willing to give Newt a look. Two things ultimately bother me about Newt’s candidacy. First, the Fannie and Freddie Mac stuff. I get that no one is perfect and everyone needs a paycheck. However, the raison d’être of Newt’s candidacy is that he is the smart guy in the room – the one that figures things out. I think everyone would agree that the solution to the financial meltdown is the most pressing thing the President needs to figure out during the next four years. It bothers me that the alleged smart guy in the room was out there immediately before the meltdown touting the financial virtues of the meltdown’s biggest catalyst. It is especially troublesome to me that Newt has been unable to coherently or consistently articulate what exactly his role with Freddie and Fannie was. I reached out on a number of occasions to Newt’s campaign and offered to interview Newt as an honestly undecided voter, but while the campaign answered my emails, the candidate himself was never produced to answer these questions.
Second, the recent floundering of Newt’s campaign has reinforced the importance of meaningful executive experience, and established firmly that being Speaker of the House is not a meaningful substitute. Newt still has never had to win more than one narrow, gerrymandered district. He’s still never taken the responsibility for actually implementing a single policy. And he still is wholly without meaningful executive experience. I was talking with someone a couple weeks ago who was convinced that I was wrong and that being Speaker of the House is an acceptable substitute for gubernatorial experience. They asked, “Come on, are you saying the Governor of Idaho has more meaningful experience to the Presidency than the Speaker of the House?”
First of all, this is the Governor of Idaho. In my ideal world, we would have nominated him for President with the slogan “Butch Otter 2012: Don’t Be Such a Sissy.” We would have carried at least 40 states. Second, to respond to the question, absolutely and unequivocally yes. I admit to not knowing exactly how many people the Speaker of the House has on his staff, but I would lay good money that it’s less than 100. Know how many people work for the State of Idaho? More than 12,000. The jobs are just not comparable.
This goes double (or perhaps triple) for the nonserious campaigns of Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul. An additional word about Santorum – I cannot seriously believe that the people of Iowa appear to be seriously considering a guy who was last seen in politics losing a swing state by 20 points to Junior Casey, one of the least charismatic people to ever run for Senate. Not only is Rick Santorum wholly unqualified to be President, he’s wholly unable to convince almost anyone to vote for him. Bad idea jeans never go out of style, Iowa.
To me, the three governors stick out above the rest of the field. Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman both stand out clearly above Mitt Romney in my book. Both were more conservative than Romney. Unlike Romney, both were able to face the voters of their home states, run on their records, and win re-election handily. Neither will be handicapped during the course of the general election by having passed a healthcare bill that looks exactly like Obamacare.
None of the three is perfect, or has run a perfect campaign. Perry’s campaign failed to appreciate the damage done by a few mediocre debate performances. Huntsman seems to lack either good political instincts or the willingness to listen to them. Romney’s flaws have been discussed here and elsewhere ad nauseam. But I am confident any of the three would be a vastly better President than Barack Obama, and any of the three would be a better choice than the rest of the GOP field.
I anticipate that by the time Super Tuesday rolls around, the field will have winnowed to two candidates. If Rick Perry or Jon Huntsman is one of those candidates, then I will pull the lever for them. If not, I’ll probably pull the lever for Romney. He wouldn’t be my first choice, but he’d be far from my last.