Associated Press: President Barack Obama signs the budget bill in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The Republican and Democratic campaigns for presidential nominees could not look more different. On the Republican side, the campaign started out with seventeen candidates necessitating two tier debates. Attrition has reduced that number to twelve whose political positions and experiences are varied. Surprisingly to some, Donald Trump still leads his competitors. The Democrats fielded only six candidates of which only three remain. This attrition is natural and good because there is no better indicator of fitness or on the job experience for the job of President of the United States.
We often hear that a particular candidate is too inexperienced or unqualified to be President but that critique only goes so far. When you stop to think about it, how many other jobs are actually like being President?
Business experience is frequently held up as useful but when you take a closer look, it doesn’t hold up. If we talk about the sheer managed value, the US government oversees an annual budget of $3.5T. The largest corporation in the world, the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China has assets of $3.3T. Even if we are being generous, the US government is hundreds of times bigger than any company but it’s not just a question of size.
New CEOs are expected to exert organizational leadership which may include downsizing or new strategy initiatives leading to hiring and firing. While the White House does this at the most senior levels of government, changes to the bureaucracy are hard and frequently require Congressional action. A President cannot just eliminate department, they have to persuade Congress to do so.
This brings us to candidates with legislative experience. These people have successfully run for office and been involved in crafting legislation with their peers. As elected officials, they also have experience dealing with the public. Successful legislative experience builds strong communications and bargaining skills but does not help with managing government operations.
Candidates with executive government experience such as state governors add government management skills to the portfolio while retaining communication, bargaining, and electoral experience. Like business executives however, governors’ state-level experiences are dwarfed by the requirements and scale of federal government management. US Vice Presidential experience may be the only thing that comes close.
So when it comes down to it, no one is sufficiently experienced or qualified for the White House. The truth is that it takes a team. Remember the size of the federal government and the large bureaucracy that keeps it moving? There are only about 1700 employees in the White House. Consider that every four or eight years, our government’s senior management is replaced. While some of them may be familiar with their responsibilities, the execution of those responsibilities forces them to rely on people and a lot of very fast learning. Imagine the largest company you can think of changing all of its senior management and their staff every four or eight years. The learning curve is enormous.
With that in mind, the most crucial skill that candidates demonstrate is their ability to build and work with teams. Presidential campaigns challenge candidates to build successful, dynamic, specialized teams under constrained conditions. That’s why US Presidential campaigns are so important. While the individual candidate is important, it’s their ability to build a team and trust it to electoral victory that is the best indicator of success.