Monday, May 4, 2015
GOP Primary 2016: The Outsiders
Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson have exactly zero public service experience, and both joined the 2016 GOP presidential primary today. I know some people like the idea of an outsider who has never held public office jumping in and shaking things up (like a Ross Perot or a Ralph Nader). I have to admit--I've never been that keen on the idea that an outsider is necessarily better. I think that being grounded in taking policy positions and defending them through the process of previous elections and making votes as a legislator or policy in state government is a kind of necessary preparation for the job, and that even excellent achievements outside of public office are, in many ways, irrelevant experience. A boardroom is not democratic in the way public office is. A surgery is altogether removed.
Both candidates will have to persuade the electorate that their non-public office experiences set them apart and that their "outsider" qualities uniquely outfit them with the ability to produce change. For what it's worth, having run for US Senate previously (albeit unsuccessfully) and having been something of a not-terribly successful spokesperson for two previous GOP presidential candidates, Fiorina is more of an "insider's outsider". As an author and public speaker who has become a favorite of the Tea Party, especially because of his opposition to Obamacare, Ben Carson is more of an "outsider", but already has a fair following within the party faithful.
I still think translating their abilities to presidential credibility is going to be rough, though.
I've expressed my objection regarding Carly Fiorina previously. I think her maintaining that she despises "identity politics" but in the same breath is a better candidate against Hillary Clinton because she also has two X chromosomes is just jarring. Her comparison of her accomplishments to Clinton on the basis of her own contested success as a business executive and subsequent failed Senate run makes me think that, if the presidential bid is really an audition for VP--wouldn't any competent politician who, for whatever reason, wanted to "gender-balance" the ticket, prefer to select a running mate who had public office experience--like NM Gov. Susana Martinez, NH Sen. Kelly Ayotte, or MI Rep. Candace Miller, who not only had a positive experience of proven electability, but also a solid record of policy behind them? (It's a similar lament to the one I had about Sen. McCain selecting Gov. Palin for his running mate when Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Susan Collins were available and more experienced.) But if she is planning on seriously making a credible statement for a Presidential run, I'm not even sure she has the depth to debate against the folks already in the field--
Except for Dr. Carson. I think she could debate him on the issues. This isn't to show disrespect, because I know he is a phenomenal success as a surgeon and has simply done brilliant things, but I just don't see it translating to coherent policy positions, and I am especially dubious about his ability to relate to foreign policy. In the complicated world in which we live, simple hawkishness doesn't cut it for me, I want a candidate who has a good grasp of what is going on beyond our borders.
Let's put it this way--I am not wishing either of them much luck, nor do I think they will get it.