POLITICS: PennAve

Wanted: President with management experience

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Politics,White House,Congress,Brian Hughes,Barack Obama,Marco Rubio,Governor,Hillary Clinton,2016 Elections,Ted Cruz,Campaigns,PennAve,Jeb Bush,Magazine

President Obama's lack of executive experience didn't keep him out of the Oval Office.

But given the continuing barrage of criticism about Obama's competence, candidates without management credentials now have a more difficult road to the White House.

Republicans warned that Obama, a freshman senator, law professor and community organizer, would be overwhelmed by the demands of a massive federal bureaucracy.

Those concerns seem well-founded in the wake of the botched Obamacare rollout, the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups, the uproar over National Security Agency surveillance techniques and the latest controversy over deadly lapses in medical care at Veterans Affairs hospitals.

With Obama unable to effectively implement numerous federal programs or close the divide between Republicans and Democrats, voters may put more of a premium on candidates who have proven their executive mettle, political insiders and analysts said.

“Governors always have an advantage when they run for president -- it may be greater now because of the public's belief that things aren't getting done,” said Frank Donatelli, political director for President Ronald Reagan, who was governor of California before reaching the White House.

“Members of Congress can talk about what they’re going to do,” he added. “Governors can talk about what they’ve done.”

The public is reassessing whether it prefers a former governor or lawmaker in the White House.

A recent Pew survey found that 51 percent of Republican respondents said serving as governor was better preparation for the presidency than being a member of Congress, which came in at 40 percent. Those numbers were nearly reversed in a similar poll done in 2007.

In comparison, among Democrats and Independents, the percentage of Americans who say a governorship is better preparation for the presidency has roughly doubled since 2007, Pew said. Still, Democratic voters give the edge to lawmakers.

When he ran for president, Obama handled questions about his governing skills by arguing that it took a fundamentally new approach to change how Washington operates. He benefited from the fact that nearly all of his 2008 primary opponents, as well as Republican rival Sen. John McCain, also lacked executive experience.

Now, 2016 aspirants with short executive resumes will need to explain why they would not encounter the same difficulties as Obama.

The governor-versus-lawmaker dynamic is already playing out in Florida, with upstart Sen. Marco Rubio and former Sunshine State Gov. Jeb Bush among the likeliest Republican presidential contenders.

“I think Republicans, establishment Republicans in particular, are increasingly wary of nominating somebody with little executive experience,” said one Washington-based GOP operative.

“As much as we love Marco, Rand [Paul] and Ted [Cruz], there's a real fear that they might not be ready yet,” the Republican strategist added. “We don't want a conservative version of Obama.”

Possible Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton would likely claim executive experience from her time as secretary of state, but her management experience isn't as obvious as that of Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or even Democratic governors such as Maryland's Martin O'Malley and New York's Andrew Cuomo. She also faces questions about her handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

For his part, Christie framed his George Washington Bridge scandal as preparation for a potential White House bid, saying it was a learning experience. Many critics, however, think the debacle killed his chances in 2016.

Some analysts said that gubernatorial experience is in no way a barometer for presidential job performance.

“They have a political advantage, but they don't necessarily deserve it,” said Stephen Hess, a former adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford, never a governor, and Jimmy Carter, who held the top post in Georgia.

“Washington is not simply Springfield or Tallahassee writ large,” he added. “People think they know very special things because they’re governors, but in fact the history is that they make serious mistakes because they think they know more than they do.”

Hess pointed to former President Bill Clinton pursuing the types of health care reforms at the national level that he championed in Little Rock, with disastrous results.

And Presidents Carter and George W. Bush, both former governors, get poor marks from presidential scholars.

However, at least one former governor said executive experience at the state level uniquely prepares a candidate for the highest office in the U.S.

"President Obama has certainly not enhanced the management reputation of members of Congress," quipped former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. "People are sick of happy talk, flowery rhetoric where what gets said has very little to do with what gets done."

"The closest thing to the presidency in American government is a governorship," he said.

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