Republicans have focused a lot on executive experience during the presidential campaign. It was often mentioned in the primary, as GOP Governors explained their support for Mitt Romney while Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul were still in the race. At the time, it served as a convenient answer to tea parties about why they were supporting the ideologically squishy front-runner over more consistent conservatives. But it continues after Romney had become the Republican party’s nominee.
On Sunday’s This Week, Huckabee said that Obama’s shortcoming was that he had never been a Governor, a Mayor, or even a Sheriff, prior to being President. There is a list on wikipedia of Presidents by prior executive experience. While Obama is notable as only the third President to have no traditional Executive experience before his election to the office, this focus on that aspect of his resume is flawed for several reasons.
First, at some point in the future, the Republicans are going to nominate a legislator for President. The list of potential 2016 candidates includes Senators Kelly Ayotte, John Thune and Marco Rubio, while the Democrats could easily pick current or former executives like Mark Warner, Martin O’Malley, John Hickenlooper, Deval Patrick, Rahm Emanuel, or Andrew Cuomo. So statements made in the current cycle could be used against the party next time.
Conservative primary voters might also take the rationale seriously, and vote against the superior candidate the next time around, backing a subpar Governor over an impressive Senator, because leaders they had trusted said that executive experience was all important. As Rick Perry demonstrated, candidates with impressive leadership credentials could be woefully unfamiliar with events outside of his sphere of influence.
It’s likely that most voters would interpret the focus on executive experience as a matter of convenience, rather than anything consequential. In this case, the distraction just serves to make voters more cynical overall. The praise of individuals without any knowledge of Washington might also turn off voters, as it could be a spun as a symptom of the problems of the Republican party. That could tie Mitt Romney to some of the least popular figures in the party.
The major problem with the executive experience argument is that Mitt Romney isn’t running against Senator Obama Circa 2008. He’s running against an Incumbent President, who has the requisite Executive experience. By the time his second term would begin, he would have been president of the entire country as long as Romney was Governor of about one-fiftieth of the population.
Focusing on the difficulties of the Presidency can backfire by reminding the voters that Romney will have more of a learning curve than Obama. It can also be used to excuse some of Obama’s mistakes, as an argument that Republicans are implicitly acknowledging that his second term would be better than his first.