Is Trump Qualified to be President?

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Now that it is fairly certain – if anything can be certain in this election cycle – that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off in the election, the debate is shifting to the fundamental question of whether or not Trump is even qualified to be president. Aside from complaining about his free-wheeling, bombastic style and simplistic approach to problems, those who have opposed the candidacy of Donald Trump argue that he simply lacks the credentials to be president of the United States. Of course, this raises the obvious question: Exactly what are the qualifications to be president?

There is a clear dichotomy existing in this year’s presidential election. On the one hand you have Hillary Clinton who some argue is the most qualified person to ever run for president. At the same time, there is scant evidence that Trump has the necessary experience, knowledge, temperament or talent needed to be successful as president. Many suggest that Trump may be the least qualified person to ever run for president.

Looking back, Hillary has been on a 40 year campaign to accumulate the credentials that will qualify her to be president. Working either with or in government, she has been a successful lawyer; was sort of a co-president in the White House for eight years observing the activities (well not all of them) of her husband Bill Clinton and then moved on to be a senator and served as Secretary of State under President Obama. During her career Clinton has gained the knowledge and experience as to how government works at the state, federal and international levels. As for Trump, he has spent the past 40 years grubbing for real estate deals, chasing women, running beauty contests and gambling casinos, fighting lawsuits, learning the particulars of divorce and bankruptcy law, promulgating conspiracy theories, doing credit card commercials and starring as a reality TV show host.

If we could take politics and emotion out of the equation (which we can’t) and decide our vote on the basis of which candidate has the most relevant experience and knowledge to take on the rigors and responsibilities of the presidency, the clear choice would be Hillary Clinton. There is only one problem with this approach to picking a president: History has proven that no matter how qualified or unqualified an individual may seem to be, there is no way to really know if a person is qualified to be president until they are president.   

Political scientists suggest that the scope, pressures, stress and responsibility of the presidency has become so consuming that no individual – regardless of their experience or knowledge – is qualified to be president when they become president. If so, this triggers a different way to asses a candidate: Does the individual have the capacity to grow into the presidency once elected?

So if not Experience then What?

The fallback position for those who look beyond experience to determine if a person is qualified to be president suggest that “character” should be the determining factor, but that approach has a clear weakness. If Trump and Clinton are judged based on the purity of their character, they both might lose. The truth is that some of our most popular and successful presidents had closets full of character flaws. The truth is that one cannot become president – let alone a successful one – relying on the purity of character. If an individual is not calculating, cunning and ruthless when necessary they are not, by definition, qualified to hold the highest office in the land.   

But back to the basic question: Is Trump qualified to be president?

Ronald Reagan is the closest parallel to Trump. As a presidential candidate Reagan was deemed “not ready for prime time.” Reagan’s experience was derided as no more than being a bad actor and a slick salesman. He was a life-long liberal Democrat who claimed to have converted to a conservative Republican. (He was also a well know womanizer.) His campaign theme was to make America once again a “shinning city on upon a hill.” (Sound familiar?) Opponents disparaged as “simplistic” his answers to difficult problems and mocked his single-minded focus on defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War; calling him “a trigger-happy cowboy.”

By most standards – especially among Republicans – Reagan is considered to have been a successful president. Looking back, it turns out that Reagan’s lack of experience was irrelevant and his perceived weaknesses turned out to be his strengths. Because he was not philosophically rigid in his political beliefs he was able to work with and strike deals with even his most ardent opponents. Reagan’s training as a radio personality, actor and pitchman for GE and, of all things, Borax Soap, created the “great communicator” who may have even surpassed Franklin Roosevelt, when it came to selling his message to people. Above all, Reagan’s dogged effort to defeat what he called the “evil empire” and end the Cold War not only appealed to but resonated with the people.

I am not suggesting that Trump is the reincarnation of Reagan, but even his most ardent detractors can’t deny the parallels. Trump was a philosophical Democrat, long before he was a registered Republican. In his business deals he has worked effectively with both Republicans and Democrats. Trump’s campaign theme of “Make America Great Again” is a direct echo of Reagan’s message. When it comes to communicating, marketing, branding and pure huckster salesmanship, no politician alive can match Trump. It is not clear yet, but Trump’s “evil empire” may be his call for “America first” in all areas such as trade, military entanglements, immigration and international relationships. All of these talents were on full display as Trump decimated a large field of “qualified” candidates to improbably win the Republican nomination.  

This does not mean that Trump is qualified to be president, let alone a successful one, but it does suggest that in this modern media-centric world, the ability to work with rivals, communicate, market and brand your ideas effectively is even more important than it was in Reagan’s time. These talents and experiences may be the new normal when it comes to qualifications to be president. And it’s fair to point out that these are not talents gained from 40 years in government.

Is Trump qualified to be president? Not if he is judged by the traditional standards of presidential qualifications; in that case the nod goes to Clinton. But what if the traditional way to measure one’s qualifications for the presidency have become as outdated as the process of nominating a candidate? What this all comes down to is that we will not know if Trump is qualified to be president unless he is elected president. The real question is: Are voters willing to take the risk to determine if Trump really is qualified to be president?

Trump Can’t Win, Right?

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Let’s face it, by any scientific measure or logical reasoning, Clinton should easily thrash Trump in the general election; and she probably will. The evidence presented by current polls, political pundits, television talking-heads and those experienced in national elections, persuasively make the case that Trump is on track to suffer the worse electoral drubbing of a Republican nominee, since Barry Goldwater did at the hands of Lyndon Johnson in 1964.  (Johnson won 61% of the popular vote and 486 electoral votes to Goldwater’s 52.) The only demographic poll that Trump seems to be leading in is among poorly educated, ignorant, red-neck white men. And even if you add in those who supported Ted Cruz, who has been described as a talking snake masquerading as a human being, it would not be enough to push Trump over the top.  

For the experts, the first indication of an impending catastrophic political earthquake that will destroy the Trump Train (and the Republican Party along with it) is that all the animals (aka – the political elite of the Republican Party) are running for the hills. Right before our eyes, the Republican Party is coming apart at the seams. The entire Bush family, House Speaker Paul Ryan, a number of sitting governors, numerous senators and members of Congress have announced their ominous opposition to the nominee that millions of Republican voters have selected. Not to mention the coup de grace of disapproval showered on Trump by none other than the esteemed, effete Mitt Romney.

The theory put forth by the political experts is that by the end of the campaign, the voters will come to see that Trump is one of the least qualified – by experience, temperament and talent – to ever run for president and “come to their senses” by rejecting Trump.   

(In the past couple of days this organized Republican establishment resistance to Trump seems to be collapsing; not because they want Trump, but because they fear he might actually win.)

Theories Can be Flawed

There is only one problem with this theory. When Trump exhibited the audacity to announce his candidacy for president last June, the political pundits giggled, scoffed and suggested that his effort was no more than an ego trip, intended only as a commercial for the Trump brand. (And initially it probably was.) Trump was the 17th Republican candidate to enter the fray and his poll ranking was at barely one percent. Neither the media nor the gaggle of other candidates took Trump seriously. And why should they? There was nothing in Trump’s background to indicate that he was the least bit qualified to be taken seriously as a candidate for president.

We all know the rest of the story. Totally contrary to the conventional wisdom of the experts, Trump bulldozed his way through the primaries, knocking off other candidates (who were really too timid to attack him) one by one until he was the last man standing. Along the way Trump garnered more votes than any Republican candidate in history and ignited revitalized interest in the Republican Party by attracting disaffected Democrats and independent voters.

The media and his opponents focused on the worst of Trump; his crude, boorish, bombastic attacks on fellow candidates and even members of the media. The media gave Trump millions of dollars in free air time that allowed him to put forth what the establishment experts all derided as naive childishly simplistic solutions to highly complex problems. The free media coverage provided Trump was driven by exactly the same motivation that causes news networks to break away from regular programming to dramatically follow a police chase from a helicopter. The media knows that more people will watch coverage of a potential car crash or police shootout than will stay glued to a discussion of educational policies. For the media, Trump seemed like an accident waiting to happen and they wanted to be there to cover it when he crashed and burned. What the media and other candidates did not understand was that Trump was taking them for a ride. Regardless of whether it was a masterfully planned strategy on his part or (more likely) that he had stumbled on an exposed nerve of sentiment that resonated with voters, Trump continued to rise in the polls.

The Republicans recognized, and the media harped on the “conservative base” of the Party being frustrated and angry with the “establishment,” but they all missed the fact that this anger and frustration was felt all across the voter spectrum. As evidenced by the Sanders surge against Clinton in the Democratic primaries, it was not just the core Republican conservatives who were frustrated by failed political leadership and dysfunctional government; liberals, moderates, young, old, black, white and Latino were all exasperated with politicians and government in one way or another. This is the real “base” that Trump tapped into and this drove him to the nomination that everyone said would never happen.

Trump’s Path to Victory      

Trump, unlike any other politician – Republican or Democratic – is willing to turn things upside down and search for a new and different approach to old problems. He has gone where others fear to tread. Trump may not be able to find the right answers, but his approach can be beguiling to millions of voters – in both parties – who are fed-up and frustrated with traditional politicians who keep chasing their tails with the same old arguments and tired solutions that do nothing but put the problem off to the next election. Trump’s strength is that he is not identified as “one of them.”

There is another phenomena that may be at work here. People who do not drive a pick-up truck with a gun rack in the back or don’t have a shotgun under their bed, may not want to admit publicly that they are secret Trump supporters. In most circles it is still not proper etiquette to acknowledge support for Trump. It is estimated by some that there are millions of frustrated voters who will only support Trump in the place that matters most, in the secrecy of the voting booth. 

Trump’s Secret Weapon

In truth – and what the experts discount – is that the best thing Trump has going for him in the election is Hillary Clinton. In reality, Hillary Clinton is probably the only Democratic candidate that Trump could beat. As strange as it may seem, the election may be more for Trump to lose, than it is for Clinton to win. Clinton is the epitome of the establishment. She represents all that is frustrating for voters. Unlike Trump, people know what they will get with Hillary, but what they will get from her may not be what they want. Just consider how well a 74 year old Socialist has done against Clinton in her own Party. This election may boil down to the frustration vote going for Trump and the fatigue vote going against Clinton.

Still, the odds are strong that Trump will lose the election, and he probably should, but if he wins, the blame will not fall on those who vote for him, but on the establishment politicians of both the Republican and Democratic Parties who have failed and frustrated voters to the point that voting for Trump is seen as the best option.

The Republican Party Establishment Has Only Themselves to Blame for the Rise of Trump

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Barring an event as equally unfathomable, Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for President of the United States in 2016. Is that strange or what? And yet, with a little bit of Monday morning quarterbacking, we should not be surprised at all by the rise of Trump. (Especially when you consider that Trump’s chief establishment rival, Ted Cruz has a personality as warm as a cadaver buried in a snow-bank.)

The strategy and tactics of the Republican Party have been preparing the way for the coming of Trump for decades. And now that Judgment Day is here, it is to be determined if Trump is the salvation or the devastation of the Grand Old Party. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican presidential nominee and Trump may be the last one. Trump has gone from joke to juggernaut, but he did not instigate the weakening of the Republican establishment that allowed this to happen. He is rather the beneficiary of a dubious Republican strategy employed since the time of Ronald Reagan.

Much like global warming, the evolving changes brought on by the actions (or lack thereof) of the Republican Party over the past few decades has triggered a momentum of destructive change that may now have become irreversible.

America’s Enemy

Since the time of Reagan, Republicans have campaigned on the premise that the mortal enemy of America is its own government. Ronald Reagan argued, “The government is not the solution, it is the problem.” The mantra of the Republican Party has been that government, any government, is bad – even evil – and any hint at the expansion of government is a sinister conspiracy against the very concept of freedom that is to be resisted as if it were a plague released on the people. (It should be noted that during the Reagan era the government doubled in size and the national debt tripled.)  

This Republican single-minded, dogmatic focus on the evils of government ignores the history of Americans attitude toward their government. For the first 200 years of the Republic, Americans were deeply suspicious of government, but they accepted its necessity. The issue debated was not how to destroy government, but how to make it more responsive to the needs of the people. The focus and tone of the debate began to shift to a pure anti-government stance when the Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964. The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was taken as a validation of the effectiveness of an anti-government election strategy; but it can and has gone too far.  Donald Trump is the result of the modern Republican Party leaders overplaying their anti-government stance with over-heated rhetoric and under delivered promises.

Building the Base

The leaders of the Republican Party believed that a relentless use of an anti-government stratagem would open a clear path to winning and power; and they were right. Over the past 35 years the anti-government philosophies of the Republican Party has attracted a large, loyal and cohesive “base” of followers and believers. This “base” of the Party accepted the Republican mindset of animosity toward government in much the same way that devout Catholics accept the infallibility of the Pope.  

Appealing to the natural skepticism that Americans have toward government has proved to be an effective strategy for the Republican Party. After all, the majority of state governors are Republican; Republicans have their largest majority in Congress since 1928 and they have control of the Senate. The problem is that a majority of those voters who identify themselves as Republicans have become frustrated by the Republican establishment’s failure to deliver on their promises of a smaller, less intrusive federal government. With the Republicans in charge, nothing has changed; indeed, the government has become more intrusive, has increased in size and the national debt has burgeoned.

Revolt of the Base

The failure of elected Republicans to deliver on promises of smaller, less intrusive government has fertilized frustration among the Party base; triggering such movements as the “Tea Party” and other groups expressing their exasperation with the Republican establishment. This revolt of the base has led to an unraveling of the Republican Party from within. Even beyond its base of supporters, the Republican Party establishment has generally alienated the mass of voters who lean Republican, while specifically offending minority groups. As a result, the Republican Party has generally come to be viewed as both negative and duplicitous. The Party is seen as wanting to “take back and go back,” rather than move forward. The Republican Party is now viewed as more obstructionist than constructionist and this is compounded by often seeming to be two-faced.

The Republican establishment denounces “crony capitalism,” but at the same time caters to (and is funded by) the wealthy and narrow business interests. For the past eight years, Republicans in Congress have created an environment of political dysfunction by opposing rather than proposing and then attempt to win elections by railing against this paralysis of government. Arguing that government is evil, the Republicans emasculate the capacity of the government to perform and then disparage the government as inept, bungling and corrupt. The Republican establishment calls for a broad-based Party, while seeking to limit voting rights and denigrating virtually every minority in the country. And at the same time, failing to recognize that the very “base” of the Party that they depend upon for their power is becoming a dissatisfied minority.

The Coming of Trump

Along comes Trump. Trump’s appeal is to those of the Republican base who have become disillusioned and frustrated by the establishment’s failure to live-up to their own stated anti-government principles. Millions of Republican voters have sent a clear message to the Party establishment that, “we are mad as hell and won’t take this anymore.” It is not that these Republicans have lost faith in their beliefs, but that they have lost faith in the beliefs of the Republican establishment and the candidates the Party puts forward.

Revealing is the Republican establishment’s reaction to the presumed nomination of Trump as the Party’s standard-bearer in the presidential election. The general repudiation of Trump clearly shows that the Republican establishment is more interested in the power of the Party, than in the power of the people in the Party. In the end, the exposure of the establishment’s hypocrisy of putting power over principle could do more long term damage to the Republican Party than Trump ever could.