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Opinion: Columnists

What Republicans need most of all for 2016: Competence

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Opinion,Columnists,Jed Babbin,Republican Party,2016 Elections,Campaigns,Magazine

We knew very little about Barack Obama when he ran for president because he'd accomplished nothing of importance before he did.

We knew he voted "present" when faced with controversy, had served as a law school professor, and had been a “community organizer” in Chicago, though, what such a person was, we couldn't say. We knew that he had no experience in the military, business, economics or foreign policy. We knew he was a liberal, but we really didn't know him at all.

More than five years into his presidency, we know him all too well. There’s a weariness setting in the country, something like Jimmy Carter’s malaise, but more important is the common realization that another presidency like his must not occur.

To prevent another Obama-type presidency, we need to insist that the next Republican candidate meet certain criteria — and not those the political consultant class foists off on us every four years. Their criteria, such as “electability,” are entirely subjective (and their candidates end up losing anyway). Presidential candidates can’t be judged like an Olympic ice-skating event.

There are at least 20 or 30 Republicans who want to run in 2016. At least six of them could be named without stopping to think, because they've either been around the track before or have done nothing but campaign since entering the national stage.

But it's hard to see how the field has improved over the last two presidential races. In 2007 and 2011, Republicans were celebrating the 'strength" of their bench just as they are today. But the primaries only served to determine who was the tallest dwarf and, in 2012, to damage the eventual nominee. If that happens again -- and it looks as if it will, given the current gaggle of "front-runners" and wannabes -- the Republicans can be sure of losing again.

The most essential factor a candidate needs to be worthy of support isn't race or gender. It's encompassed in the kind of competence and political skill that can only result from the right education, experience and training.

The Republican establishment isn't comfortable with anyone who isn't a graduate of Harvard or Yale. As Obama and his administration prove, the supposedly best-educated usually aren't. A person who grew up outside the establishment and its favorite colleges would be a good start. Why not someone who went to engineering school and learned how things work in the real world?

We have to find someone who has demonstrated competence in successful executive experience. Several governors and mayors have succeeded in growing economies. Along the way some of them learn a lot about law enforcement and even gain experience with foreign nations. Some have served in the military, which isn’t essential, but is a big advantage because they will have had invaluable lessons on how the military and civilian governments see each other and how they can work together.

Successful governors and mayors are not always leaders, but the candidate we’re looking for is. He – or she – has had to gather supporters among marginal opponents, has the ability to inspire subordinates to perform and has learned a lot about economics along the way.

That person knows that our economic woes have to be solved because if they are not, we cannot be secure against our enemies, because America's economy has been the engine of freedom in the world since World War II. And that person knows that if America is to remain a force for good in the world, we have to get past the mistakes that have been made over the past 14 years.

It’s a very good thing that these criteria eliminate most of the Republican field. If a rerun or a rookie is the 2016 nominee, he or she will lose and we’ll be in for another eight years that will be as bad or worse than the last five.

Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration and is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research.

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Jed Babbin

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The Washington Examiner