For those of you who have been under a rock for the last week or two, Donald Trump has set the 2016 presidential field on fire. In his very first speech announcing his candidacy, Trump managed to stir up a wave of controversy that has only propelled him to the top of the Republican field.
But while Democrats quickly denounced his statements and many Republicans sought to distance themselves, Trump continues to poll well. It is doubtful Trump will be able to sustain this early lead and even more unlikely that he will win the nomination, but there is an appeal to his type.
Americans love to flirt with the idea of a nonpartisan candidate, a political outsider with a proven career outside of government who will miraculously come to power and “clean up” Washington. Political experience is seen as a problem rather than an asset. They say what they mean, not what their party dictates, no matter how seemingly crazy or unpopular it is.
A business man, independently wealthy with seemingly nothing to gain is often seen as that savior. Trump is the latest incarnation of this common theme, just as Michael Bloomberg was courted in the last election, and Ross Perot was in the 1990s.Although America has flirted with the idea, they have never taken the relationship to the next level, nor should they.
While the idea of a political novice at first blush seems appealing, Americans need to remember that the modern presidency is the most political office in the world that does not lend itself to on-the-job experience. Presidents need to know how the current system works even if they want to change it. Our government requires coalition building and working relationships to move forward both within our government and with leaders around the world.
All of the presidents who changed the system were political insiders. Whether it was the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, or even Ronald Reagan, all of them had years of political experience under their belts and knew what was needed to move the levers of power. They knew the relationships and how to do battle politically when needed.
A candidate lacking such relationships and such political skills will likely struggle to gain support for any major initiative. Furthermore, such candidate will likely alienate both sides, making governing even more difficult. We have already seen this on Trump’s campaign as the left denounces his racially-charged comments, and many on the right distance themselves from him.
It is easy to see that Trump has few friends, other than the public, when it comes to the campaign trail. Imagine how those differences would intensify with him in office.
So there are two scenarios that could occur if such a candidate won. Either they would develop the political skills necessary for the most political job in the world and thereby become the very thing so hated by the public, a politician. Or, lacking the skills, or refusing to develop them, they will have few friends in politics, will not move any major legislation, and will be viewed as incompetent political hacks.