There is now a recurrent pitch from most of the candidates
in the Republican contest, i.e., “Elect me because I’ve done
this.” This is an eminently sensible and reasonable strategy,
but it has, paradoxically, relatively little to do with the true
reason voters will choose their nominees in 2016.
Resumes are important, even critical, a a starting point in
voter choice, but the real criterion is a subjective one, to wit,
who do I (the voter) think is best able to take command in the
In 2008, without the benefit of a resume, the successful
Democratic candidate for the nomination was someone who
convinced voters he would take command. Even though I
personally disagree with most of his decisions as president,
I have to admit that he did take command in the office, and
he has imposed his world view on it. He defeated someone
with a good resume, but who could not convince her own party
that she could best take charge. I realize that Barack Obama
gained votes in his own party because he would be the first
black nominee, but Hillary Clinton would have then been the
first woman presidential nominee. If anything, she had the
advantage. I think it is clear that whichever of the two became
the 2008 Democratic nominee was, he or she would win the
presidency in November.
In 2016, the Republicans are in a similar position. Barring
some unforeseen circumstance (including a disastrous
nominee choice), the conservative party will likely win in
November, 2016. But there are differences between 2008 and
2016. One of those differences is the critical starting point of
a credible resume. Someone of Mr. Obama’s unprecedented
inexperience is someone conservative voters are not likely
to opt for in this cycle. Donald Trump has successful
business experience; Ben Carson has successful professional
(medical) experience; and Carly Fiorina has had successful
managerial experience. But only Mrs. Fiorina’s type of
experience is truly relevant to the office of president.
On the other hand, most of the other GOP candidates have
excellent resumes. Only a few of them are doing well.
I think that’s because, in spite of good resumes, most of the
GOP candidates have not conveyed to voters, either in their
campaigns or in the debates so far, that they are capable of
taking charge. In particular, I suspect that is at the base of
former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s problem. He’s smart,
he’s a decent man, he has experience, but can he convince
voters he could take command? Donald Trump took
command of the early part of the process, but the debates
are revealing, one after the the other, that he lacks the right
experience for the job. As the alternative “outsider” candidate,
who also has an appealing persona, Ben Carson has now
overtaken Mr. Trump in many polls, but so far has not
communicated a sense he could or would take charge in the
That leaves three candidates, as I see it, who are now more
likely to prevail at the Republican convention in Cleveland
next summer (or before). The current rising star is Florida
Senator Marco Rubio. The youngest, and an Hispanic, he
has shown poise in the debates. His self-confidence implies
command. Temporarily removed from the main debate,
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has shown the most
intuitive political talent, quick judgment on his feet, and an
ability to come back from adversity. Few could by now doubt
his ability to take charge. Although campaigning to the
narrowest base within the party, Texas Senator Ted Cruz
has demonstrated an aggressive intelligence and ideological
willfulness that could bring him many supporters who now
support Donald Trump. An Hispanic-American himself, and
like Mr. Christie, a former prosecutor, Mr. Cruz has shown
himself to be someone who could take charge.
A fourth possibility is Carly Fiorina. Her political resume is
only a losing senate race in California; but in the debates
she has shown how well-informed and forceful she is, and
her managerial experience, as I have argued previously, is
germane to the office of president of the United States.
Of course, when the actual primary and caucus voting takes
place, one or more of the other GOP candidates might emerge.
I have so far demurred from trying to second-guess the
voters; I have no reason to change that now by prematurely
predicting one who is going to in.
But I do offer to the reader my sense that 2016 is not just about
resumes and past performance. The office of president is a unique
position in the nation and the world. The person who holds that
office is someone that each of us, ally or opponent, friend or foe,
must deal with, look at, and listen to every day during the
presidential term of four or eight years.
In that light, the term “commander-in-chief” takes on greater
significance as we draw closer and closer to next November.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.