In 2008 and 2012, Republicans pounded Barack Obama with charges that he was too inexperienced to be president of the United States of America. But GOP voters today don’t seem to value political experience very much, given their support for Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Those three do as well in the polls as the 14 other Republicans with political experience.
John McCain’s strongest argument eight years ago appeared to be his resume versus Barack Obama. Other Republicans that year tripped over themselves to claim Obama had only served two years or so in office, pooh-poohing his U.S. Senate experience, also ignoring Obama’s decade in the Illinois legislature. McCain then torpedoed this very argument by picking Sarah Palin, who had an even shorter resume than Obama’s. McCain went from running even with Obama to losing with Palin on the ticket.
Mitt Romney made the curious decision to go after Barack Obama on the experience issue again in 2012, given that Obama was president as long as Romney had ever held any office. Romney didn’t make the same mistake with a running mate having a paper-thin resume (Paul Ryan had been in the U.S. Congress since 1996). But running against an incumbent on experience not only looked silly, but also called attention to Romney’s own limited political experience.
Perhaps the failure of the experience argument over the last two elections is why Republicans seem so eager to pick a candidate who has never held a political job for even a day. Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are either leading or among the leaders of GOP in so many states, almost out-polling the other 14 candidates who have political experience.
In a recent nationwide CNN poll, Trump leads with 24 percent, ahead of Jeb Bush with 13 percent. Ben Carson comes in with 9 percent, a percentage point ahead of Scott Walker and Marco Rubio.
Carly Fiorina is tied with Ted Cruz and John Kasich for seventh with 5 percent, 1 point behind Rand Paul. That’s better than Mike Huckabee (4 percent) Chris Christie (3 percent) Rick Perry (2 percent), Rick Santorum (1 percent). The others, like Bobby Jindal and Lindsey Graham, don’t even register 1 percent.
Who knows what Jim Gilmore, George Pataki and the others are polling.
It’s a similar story with a Fox News poll, except Dr. Carson is in second, ahead of Jeb Bush. Carly Fiorina is alone in fifth with 5 percent and Trump has a 13-point lead.
In early primary states, it’s an even bigger advantage for the inexperienced Republicans. For example, in Michigan, Trump, Carson and Fiorina combine to get 47 percent of the primary.
The other 14 candidates barely muster that number in that Fox 2/Mitchell poll. If you’re keeping score, inexperienced Republican candidates average nearly 16 percent, while experienced Republican candidates average less than 4 percent of the vote.
Republicans used to be known for making experience mandatory for a candidate. Reagan, Bush, Dole, McCain, Ford, Nixon, Goldwater — all had solid resumes. But that’s not the case today.
Even those with political experience, like Cruz, Paul and Rubio, haven’t even served a full term in office. Instead, it is the Democratic Party field of candidates who have the experience. For traditional Republicans who consider a long resume to be a virtue, there’s a lot of reason to be concerned so far in the 2016 election campaign season.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at [email protected]