We have an early crop of Presidential hopefuls springing up, but none all that exciting. Since Vice President Cheney has already said he won’t run, there will be no clear leaders for either the Democrat or Republican presidential candidates this year as we normally would with an incumbent President or Vice President running for the office.
What makes a good President? Well, the Constitution explains that the President is the chief executive of the country, so the President had better have good executive skills. There is no way any one person could juggle all the responsibilities of a modern American President, so a successful President ought to be able to delegate responsibilities to competent staff. But regardless of how few or many people there are to help with duties, the President is the chief executive who has to make the really tough decisions.
So what is the best way to prepare to be an American President? For the rest of this article I’ll look at the last 19 Presidents — the ones who have served from 1900 to the present — and take my calculations from their numbers. Of these 19 men, six were Vice Presidents first (G. Bush, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Truman, Coolidge). So is being a Vice President the best way to train for the job of President? I guess that would depend on the President. Some Presidents have included their V.P.s in the day-to-day workings of the Presidency, and others seem to have tolerated the office of V.P. as a necessary evil. John Nance Garner, twice Vice President under FDR, is reported to have said that the job of Vice President was “not worth a bucket of warm piss,” although the newspapers substituted the word “spit” to protect the tender eyes of their readers.
Of the six former Vice Presidents, four gained the office of President via death or resignation (Ford, Johnson, Truman, Coolidge), while two were elected President after having completed two terms as Vice President first (G. Bush, Nixon). Going solely by these numbers, you’re twice as likely to become President because of death or resignation than you are by showing how much you have learned in the Vice President slot.
What about being a Senator before running for President? Judging by the number of Senators who have announced their candidacy or who are expected to do so, you’d think the Senate would be the best place from which to launch a Presidential run, but recent history doesn’t back that theory. Only five of the last 19 Presidents had served in the Senate first (Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Truman, Harding), but of these five, only two left their Senatorial positions to become President (Kennedy, Harding). The other three served as Vice Presidents first. Ignoring the long odds, a Senator is a legislator and not an executive, so serving as a Senator doesn’t necessarily train one to be a good Chief Executive. This fact alone could explain the relatively few modern Presidents who were formerly Senators, and it also explains why I’ve not been excited about any Senator who runs for President.
Since the office of President is an executive position, it makes sense that people elect proven executives to that office. This could explain why so many state governors have been elected President (G. W. Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Carter, F.D.R., Coolidge, Wilson, T. Roosevelt, McKinley). That makes nine the last time I counted them — nearly 50% of our Presidents since 1900. And whether the state is large or small, the office of Governor is an executive position. With all else being equal, I would prefer a candidate with proven executive experience over a legislator any day (but when do we ever have two candidates that are close to equal in belief and position?).
And now to prove how badly I cannot predict elections from 18 months out, I will now give my predictions for 2008. This prediction assumes (and it’s a big assumption) that there are no major upsets such as a shooting war breaking out with Iran or anyone else, another major terrorist attack on the U.S., or new revelations about the candidates popping up between now and Election Day 2008. Looking at the current crop of Democrat candidates for President, I have to give the nomination to Senator Clinton. Of the current crop of hopefuls, she has the greatest capability to raise money for her campaign, and she has the best name recognition. On the other hand, I think her biggest obstacle to being elected is her name recognition.
Of the current Republican candidates, I think it will be either Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney or former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Both candidates have more executive experience than the Republican Senators who aspire to be President.
I can’t predict who would win if it came down to a race between Senator Clinton and Mitt Romney. She would have to overcome the large group of people who actively dislike, if not outright despise her. He would have to overcome the “I can’t vote for a Mormon!” hang-up some people have, although the argument sounds so 1960s to me. But I have to believe there are fewer people with a Mormon hang-up than there are with a Hillary hang-up.
I know I’d be much happier with another Republican in office, so maybe that’s coloring my prediction.