One would have thought that after years of mocking the Democrats for creating a cult of personality, selecting a celebrity candidate for president and imagining that someone with practically no national security experience could be commander in chief, Republicans would not seriously be creating a cult of personality, considering nominating celebrity candidates and refusing to demand some level of national security sophistication from its candidates. Well, the GOP presidential field has more than a few such characters.
Perhaps a guide to detecting unprepared, unsuitable candidates is in order. Here goes:
1. If you plead on a major issue that it is a “hypothetical” — as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did on the issue of Syrian refugees — you are not ready for prime time. The entire campaign is a hypothetical (“If I become president. . . “). As Molly Ball insightfully observed: “Walker’s gaffes, opponents argue, haven’t just been the errant flubs of a frustrated candidate—they’ve been revealing of a politician who’s never bothered to learn about issues past his own doorstep. On subjects like immigration and foreign policy, it seems clear Walker is less a lifelong student of world affairs and more a kid who’s just realized he’ll flunk out if he doesn’t start cramming.”
2. If you say you will have “advisers for that” in reference to major policy decisions or a basic understanding of the world, you are not ready for prime time. When issues get to the president’s desk for resolution, aides are usually divided. All the issues a president sees are hard — or they’d be resolved by the assistant secretary of whatever. We choose a president because we have confidence in his or her judgment, values and perspective.
3. If you delight in creating chaos, you are not ready for prime time. Not content to have shut down the government once, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is licking his lips at the prospect of driving the party over a cliff on Planned Parenthood funding. What he really wants is to make a big fuss, raise money, attack Republicans and claim he was betrayed when he does not get his way. This is the conduct of a backbencher and self-promoter, not a serious person with executive leadership skills.
4. If you make a martyr out of a government employee who refuses to do her job in compliance with the law (common law, statute or constitutional decision), you are not ready for prime time. A candidate who does so should, at the very least, give us a list of laws he or she won’t enforce because of personal beliefs.
5. If you declare you are in favor of a constitutional amendment to address some issue, you are not ready for prime time. It is either a cop-out (because, for example, you don’t know how to balance the budget) or a pander to groups (such as anti-gay-marriage forces) to whom you are trying to give the impression of fidelity to an impossible cause. The amendment process makes it really, really hard to change the Constitution and, in any event, is not well designed to address policy issues. No amendment is going to produce good lawmakers or conscientious voters.
6. If you attack the questioner or the question, you are not ready for prime time. Really, if you can’t handle basic foreign policy questions from a single radio host, how are you supposed to deal with the White House press corps for four years? No one likes a crybaby. Answer the darn question(s).
7. If you promise to “abolish the IRS,” build a wall along the entire Mexican (or Canadian) border, get rid of the National Security Agency (instead only gather information on known terrorists) or start a trade war with China, you are not ready for prime time. These are unattainable and/or dangerous proposals that play on voters’ ignorance.