Ghavri: Experience Is Everything

by Anmol Ghavri | 2/10/16 6:40pm

The current Republican presidential race features two first-term senators running for the most powerful office in the world. Are they really prepared for the position of commander in chief? Both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are highly intelligent people, but they have not had to make a single consequential decision from an executive position. Moreover, their time in office has been short and without significant accomplishments. The same 2008 GOP concerns over then Barack Obama’s lack of executive experience and lack of time spent in Washington cultivating relationships apply to both Rubio and Cruz. Both candidates’ non-existent executive experience and short history of holding office means they would have a difficult time bringing people together and would most certainly struggle in the White House.

Besides Obama, the United States has had only one other first-term senator serve as president: Warren G. Harding. President Harding is considered to be one of the worst presidents in scholar surveys. If elected, Cruz would just be finishing four years in the Senate upon his presidential inauguration in 2017. He was appointed to the non-legislative and non-executive position of Texas solicitor general in 2003, and upon leaving the solicitor general position in 2008 he worked at a private law firm in Houston.

Rubio, despite also being a first term senator, has slightly more legislative experience. He served in the Florida legislature as a member of the Florida House of Representatives from the 111th district from 2000 to 2008. Still, he has not had to lead from an executive office in his career. Indeed, the lack of executive history and experience of Cruz and Rubio has concerned voters and other Republican presidential candidates.

During the Feb. 6 Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, New Jersey Governor and presidential candidate Chris Christie was asked to discuss his statement, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” in regard to electing a first-term senator as president. In response, he differentiated between the role of a senator and a governor, the latter of which is an executive office­ — like the presidency­ — that involves making consequential decisions regularly. While a congressman affects change relatively slowly and mostly within the strict confines of a codified system, the president’s power’s and responsibilities are a lot more vast and broadly defined. The president needs to be prepared to take on many roles and think outside the box to quickly solve problems in a way that congressmen simply don’t.

When listing his accomplishments during the debate, Rubio made only vague, broad claims. Christie would go on during the debate to tell Rubio, “You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable. You just simply haven’t.”

Congressmen often fall into the trap of listing legislation that they were involved in writing or passing as an accomplishment. Indeed, Christie called Rubio out on that as well, exclaiming “the fact when you talk about the Hezbollah Sanctions Act that you list as one of your accomplishments you just did, you weren’t even there to vote for it. That’s not leadership, that’s truancy.” Cruz, like Rubio, has also done nothing of consequence in public office – unless you count continuously attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act or shutting down the government as consequential.

Christie further differentiated between the qualifications for president of a senator and a governor succinctly by saying, “It does matter when the challenges don’t come on a list of a piece of paper of what to vote yes or no every day, but when the problems come in from the people that you serve.” There is an incredible truth in Christie’s reasoning that exposed an overlooked major weakness in the Rubio and Cruz campaigns. As president, each of these men would constantly face issues for which they must make quick, unilateral decisions that will have broad and lasting policy implications. Although it is certainly a difficult job, serving in the Senate doesn’t require the same sort of quick, decisive action on an every day basis. Less than one term legislative experience simply isn’t enough when you’re running for an executive position.

But it seems like Republican voters are not too concerned with political or legislative accomplishments considering Donald Trump is leading in the polls. However, depth and length of experience generally seem to matter for voters in both parties. Trump is a business executive, John Kasich is an experienced governor, Bernie Sanders was a mayor and the longest-serving independent in U.S. congressional history and Hillary Clinton was a senator, Secretary of State and First Lady. For all of these candidates, their extensive experience has been an important part of their campaign. While intelligence is certainly necessary, it isn’t enough to qualify someone for what is arguably the most powerful position in the world.

Experience matters, and as of now, it looks like Cruz and Rubio will face an uphill climb in order for either to become the Republican presidential nominee.