The last few Presidents, in terms of their resumes when they were elected to office, have been among the least qualified to hold the office. Bill Clinton is the only small-state Governor to ever become President. While George W Bush was Governor of Texas, the Lieutenant Governor held more power at the time. Before that, he was best known as the owner of the Texas Rangers, a figurehead post he got while his dad was President. And Obama spent two-thirds of a term in the Senate, during which time he went on a book tour, became a top campaigner and ran for President.
Now let’s see if the pattern holds for potential presidents. Rankings are in comparison to the list I’ve compiled of the most experienced and least experienced Presidents.
Mitt Romney/ Paul Ryan
Like Jimmy Carter, Mitt Romney is a former one-term Governor of a state with a fraction the population and electoral votes of Texas, Florida or Pennsylvania. But his record as a businessman and philanthropist is more impressive than any President in some time. I’d rank him at #25, just between Martin Van Buren and Rutherford B Hayes. At least it’s higher than any President since George HW Bush.
If Mitt Romney pulls a William Henry Harrison, that would leave Paul Ryan as the 46th President. I’d rate his record as Congressman above Garfield’s. He has served in Congress for a long time, gaining the chairmanship of an important committee, while becoming the intellectual leader of the party on financial matters. I’d rank him at #19, just under Taft.
If Romney loses Tuesday’s election, Paul Ryan will be a frontrunner in 2016. And I don’t see his relative ranking changing all that much, as he is unlikely to be appointed or elected to a higher post in time to gain significant new experiences before the next election. However, he’ll have some competition for the presidential nomination.
Potential Republican Nominees- 2016
Jeb Bush served two terms as Governor of an unambiguously big state. But he hasn’t done much since. And his record prior to the governorship wasn’t all that impressive. I’d rank him at #22, just above Gerald Ford.
Marco Rubio would conclude his first term as Senator of Florida. He was also Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, although that was a part-time position. I would rank him at #32, just above Harry Truman.
Chris Christie served as US Attorney, which provided some experience in international issues. And the Governor of New Jersey is one of the most powerful executives in the country. If he runs in 2016, it will presumably be after he gets reelected in 2013. In that case, I would rank him at #13.
John Thune will likely be Jon Kyl’s successor as Senate Republican Whip. In that case, with two terms in the Senate and three terms in the House, he’ll rank at around #20, if Republicans take back the Senate in Tuesday’s election (currently, they’re not projected to do this) and at around #25, if Republicans remain in the minority in the Senate.
Rand Paul would be an unconventional first-term Senator, considering his role in his father’s 2008 campaign. I’d rank him at #35. Fellow first-term Senator Kelly Ayotte would rank at #31, due to her additional experience as New Hampshire Attorney General. If Rob Portman could convince Republican primary voters of the advantages of an Ohioan on the ticket, he would rank higher at #21, due to his twelve years in the US House, and two years in the Bush administration.
Fellow Ohioan, Governor John Kasich would rank at #12, due to his legislative experience, as he spent six years as Chairman of the Budget committee. Bobby Jindal would rank slighlty lower at a respectable #19, thanks to his limited experience in the Bush White House and three years in Congress, in addition to what we can assume will be two full terms as Governor of Louisiana. Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia would be at #22, as he will be unable to run for reelection. Governor Susanna Martinez of New Mexico would be at #39, just under Bill Clinton, who had a longer term as a small state Governor but a shorter tenure as a prosecutor.
Due to his military career and position as CIA Director, David Petraeus would rank at #20. If Scott Brown, another potential candidate beloved by moderate Republicans, can get reelected, he would rank at #34, just under predecessor JFK. John Huntsman would rank at #17, due to his combination of executive experience and foreign policy service. His fellow 2016 also ran Rick Santorum would rank at #39. 2008 also-ran and hyperreligious social conservative Mike Huckabee would rank at #42, as it will have been a long time since he was a small state Governor.
Potential Democratic Nominees- 2016
One interesting point is that a few of the other potential 2016 Democratic contenders have truly impressive resumes. But this isn’t true of everyone. Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts would rank at #23. Senator Kirstin Gilibrand of New York would rank at #34. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota would rank at #35. Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana, whose tenure comes to an end in a few months, would rank at #39. And assuming she can defeat Scott Brown, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would rank at #40. If Howard Dean tries for a Gingrich style comeback, I’d rank him at #30, as he was also a successful DNC Chairman after he was a small-state Governor.
Two Latino mayors have been mentioned as potential candidates for national office. Assuming he runs for reelection, Julian Castro could have 6-7 years as chief executive of a city with a population slightly higher than that of Maine, with another 8 years in the San Antonio City Council. He would rank at #40. Antonio Villaraigosa will have served eight years as Mayor of Los Angeles, which has a population larger than that of Connecticut or Iowa. He has also been head of a state legislative body, as the former Speaker of the Calfornia Assembly. I’d rank him at #27.
Martin O’Malley would be a two-term Governor of Maryland. And he had another eight years of prior executive experience as Mayor of Baltimore, presiding over a population roughly equivalent to Vermont. Plenty of Democrats were ready to vote for a Vermont Governor in 2004. I’d rank him at #17.
John Hickenlooper has a similar record, serving as Mayor of Denver, before he became Governor of Colorado. Though he’ll have spent slightly less time in the Governor’s mansion, assuming he even runs for reelection. I’ll rank him at #19.
Mark Warner will have served as both Governor and Senator from a fairly populated state. So he’ll have good experience in Washington and executive office, whether or not he leaves the Senate to seek another term as Governor. I’ll rank him at #12.
Rahm Emanuel is a long-shot, but his resume is rather impressive. He served in the Clinton administration, was one of the top Democrats in the House of Representatives, became Obama’s Chief of Staff for two years, and then went on to become Mayor of Chicago, the country’s third most populated city. I’d rank him at #10..
Joe Biden will be in his early 70s, but he has expressed interest in running for President. He’ll have 36 years in the Senate under his record, including a total of twelve years as Chairman of both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees. And then there’s his service as Vice-President. I’d rank him at #9.
Andrew Cuomo served as HUD Secretary in the Clinton administration, in addition to a stint as Attorney General of New York, before he was elected Governor of a large state, where he has gotten a few significant accomplishments. He’s tied with Biden, and would be at #9 as well, the most qualified President in more than a century.
It’s difficult to rate the experience Hillary Clinton gained as First Lady of both Arkansas and the United States. I’d consider it the equivalent of being a senior adviser to a Governor/ two-term President. Then she was elected to the Senate. Then she became Secretary of State. It’s a hell of a resume. I’d rank her at #6. It’s possible that the 2016 Democratic nomination is a battle between well-qualified giants. Though if history is any indication, it could just determine which of the candidates will lose to the Republican.
The Most Qualified Men to Ever Become President
small edit: Martin O’Malley served as the major of Baltimore for 8 years, not the “major of Maryland”
That year old typo has now been fixed.