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August 10, 2015

Outsiders Advantage

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Last week’s column explored the Trump candidacy, trying to examine the motivation of voters to a candidate unlike any campaign in recent memory.

Today, it’s the whole topic of insiders versus outsiders.

Conventional wisdom, that warm comfortable blanket of political predictability, is being tossed aside like a bedbug-infested woolen bedspread. Voters in the GOP primary are making it clear that the argument about the experience gained through decades of public service is more 1950s than 2016.

The candidate roster reads like a Republican Party public service roll call. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki and Jim Gilmore, all successful governors having served multiple terms as chief executive. Decision-makers, budget balancers and consensus-builders all. Some, like Christie, Kasich, Gilmore and Pataki, actually governed as Republicans in purple or even blue electorate states.

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum and Marco Rubio come from the D.C. mold, more specifically, the U.S. Senate mold. No, not the green stuff that grows on wet forest floors, but the plaster cast mixing international relations, high finance, tax and education policy as debated on the floor of the U.S. Senate. The argument is that to get things done as president, you have to know how to get stuff done in the Congress.

Logic failure: Nothing good ever gets done in the Congress, so how is that indoctrination an indicator of future success? It isn’t.

So, who are we left with? We’re left with the outsiders.

Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Mr. Trump, well-covered in last week’s column, is a hip-shootin’, direct-speaking, real estate billionaire with a TV empire and attendant celebrity. Dr. Carson is a humble, soft-spoken, retired pediatric neurosurgeon with an international reputation for employing his “gifted hands” to perform medical miracles. Ms. Fiorina is a former Fortune 500 chief executive officer, the individual credited with Hewlett Packard’s reconstruction from a tech giant has-been to a power player in the industry.

Not one of these outsiders has a story that involves decades of horse-trading votes and K Street lobbyist influence-peddling. Instead, they built their reputations the old-fashioned way, dealing with everyday corporate decisions and challenges to ultimately achieve success in their respective fields.

It seems like it’s just always been the case to select a candidate for president who:

1. Has past political experience that can be translated, in the voter’s mind, to the issues that get tossed onto the HMS Resolute desk in the Oval Office.

2. Looks, walks and talks like a president. Grave, serious and thoughtful (Okay, setting Dubya aside there).

3. Can walk the halls of Congress, back-slapping and schmoozing with former colleagues and making nice with the typical D.C. special interests.

As a part of their turnover discussions, President Dwight Eisenhower shared this nugget of wisdom with President-elect John F. Kennedy: "There are no easy matters that will ever come to you as president. If they are easy, they will be settled at a lower level."

Makes sense, right? There are million federal bureaucrats and appointees who will gladly line up to take credit for solving some low-level challenge. The really hard and nasty stuff, the stuff with no obvious solution all gets kicked upstairs.

As we’ve seen for the last 6.5 years, it helps to actually have someone qualified to deal with those tough decisions sitting behind that desk. The flailing, flopping, polling and blaming that accompanies the truly unprepared just makes a mess of things.

In Mr. Trump’s case, he’s built skyscrapers, casinos and golf courses all over the world. Regulations, ordinances, contractual and labor issues have been dropped on his Trump Tower Manhattan desk. With the exception of his frequent business reorganizations to find more favorable financial terms (debtors be damned), no one could say that he has not had a lot success under pressure.

Ms. Fiorina is another example of cool, calm and focused business executive decision-making. She took over a tech company in financial free fall. Through sheer will and determination, she rebuilt and polished a damaged brand. She also stepped on a lot of toes, including a good-old-boy corporate structure that in the end sought revenge for her decisions and success. What they cannot take away was her accomplishments, which were many.

Dr. Carson is the ultimate self-made man. A child of the failed liberal social exercise of densely populated public housing, Ben Carson substituted gang activity for a good book, forced by his mother to fill the hours she was away at two jobs with reading and writing reports on the books he’d read. It wasn’t until he was much older that he discovered that she was unable to read not only the books, but his book reports, too.

So these are the outsiders. Three incredibly successful people who view the world through very different filters. Three people who don’t talk about legislation, filibusters, continuing resolutions or public opinion polling. Three people who are more comfortable reading a balance sheet than a bill.

The fine line we as voters need to walk is that we don’t want a repeat of a lack of qualification as a reason to select a chief executive. We’ve learned the hard way that a community organizer/law professor/state legislator/2-year U.S senator might not have been the best choice to lead our country.

It seem fairly obvious that all three of the GOP outsiders have the necessary skills and capabilities to succeed. The more compelling question is whether they have the skills and capabilities to be President of the United States of America.

While it’s very early in the cycle, based on Mr. Trump’s impressive showing so far, the advantage might go to the outsiders.


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