Who Is Qualified to Be President? We should expand the constitutional requirements to include experience.
With crowded benches of Democratic and Republican candidates actively contemplating a run for the White House in 2016, should Americans consider expanding the current constitutionally mandated presidential eligibility requirements to include relevant levels of work experience?
Since all professional occupations require some form of licensing before one is allowed to have clients or patients, shouldn’t the holder of the most powerful job in the world also meet some established criteria?
Here are the only requirements to be president of the United States listed in Article Two, Section 1, of the United States Constitution: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”
This lax set of requirements means that almost anyone who was born in the United States and is 35 or over can run for president — and some do it just to boost their name recognition for personal or political gain. Certainly the phrase “former presidential candidate” is a résumé enhancer, often leading to celebrity status, increased speaking fees, and lucrative employment opportunities in the media.
To reduce the number of candidates who run in order to strengthen their “brand,” what if a reasonable demonstration of experience were added to the Constitution? Here some possibilities:
1. Served as vice president of the United States.
2. Completed one six-year term in the U.S. Senate before declaring.
3. Served at least six years (three full terms) in the U.S. House of Representatives before declaring.
4. Served at least four years in a cabinet post requiring Senate confirmation before declaring.
5. Completed a four-year term as governor of a state before declaring.
6. Retired from the military after achieving the rank of four-star general or admiral.
And as a codicil, 7. A candidate who, at the time of declaring, is no longer serving in one of the above posts must have spent no more than eight years out of office.
Is this standard too stringent for someone seeking to be elected president of the United States? I think not.
First, let’s take a historical perspective and examine whether America’s twelve postwar presidents would qualify under this standard. Then we will apply the standard to the current crop of potential 2016 candidates.
President Truman passed, qualifying under 1 and 2.
President Eisenhower qualified under 6.
President Kennedy qualified under 2.
President Johnson qualified under 1 and 2.
President Nixon qualified under 1 and (though barely) 7.
President Ford qualified under 1 and 3.
President Carter qualified under 5.
President Reagan qualified under 5 and 7.
President G. H. W. Bush qualified under 1.
President Clinton qualified under 5.
President G. W. Bush also qualified under 5.
President Obama failed to qualify under 2. The rule states that one full Senate term must be completed before declaring, whereas Obama announced his presidential ambitions just two years after he was sworn into the U.S. Senate.
Since Obama is the only postwar president who failed to meet this standard (and many would argue that our nation has paid the price), let’s examine the current pack of presidential hopefuls and determine if they qualify.
We will start by looking at the Democratic bench.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) 16% was sworn into office on January 3, 2013. She fails to qualify under 2 and has held no other relevant post.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton qualifies under 2, 4, and 7.
Vice President Joe Biden qualifies under 1 and 2.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders qualifies under 2 and 3.
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley qualifies under 5.
Former Virginia Senator James Webb qualifies under 2 and 7.
Now, here are the scores for prospective Republican presidential candidates:
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal all qualify under 5.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush qualifies under 5 but has just missed on 7 (he left office on January 2, 2007).
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee also qualifies under 5 but misses on 7 (he left office on January 8, 2007).
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) 88% fails to qualify under 2. (He was sworn in on January 3, 2011, and will not have served a full six-year term until after the 2016 election).
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) 92% is also a casualty of 2 for the same reason.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) 100% is another victim of 2; in fact, he wasn’t elected until two years after Paul and Rubio. And some have cited as an authentic constitutional hurdle the fact that Cruz was born in Canada, although his mother was an American citizen.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry easily meets 5 and 7; his departure from office is still two weeks away.
Wisconsin Congressman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) 57% is qualified under 3.
Dr. Ben Carson fails because has not served in any of the above posts.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum qualifies under 2 but has a problem on 7. (He was defeated in 2006 while running for his third Senate term and last held office on January 3, 2007.)
Finally, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney qualifies under 5 but also runs up against 7. (He was a one-term Massachusetts governor but left office on January 4, 2007.)
Is it unreasonable for candidates who are considering a run for president of the United States to have served in at least one of these posts?
Before you answer that question, consider the worthiness of the standard — especially how it would help eliminate résumé-enhancing candidates. And keep in mind the current White House occupant, our only postwar president who failed to meet the standard. His is a historic and somewhat tragic story still unfolding with consequences.