Just can’t pass this up in the wake of dozens of news stories trying to make sense of the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, though this is way off topic for this blog. You see, there is a more trivial explanation….
Here’s the thing: Trump’s victory fits a simple pattern present in all but one open Presidential election since Vietnam (and arguably since the 1920s). Americans consistently pick the less established, arguably less qualified candidate when there is not an incumbent running. This was really obvious this time out, with Trump having never having served in public office, but this was true too in 2008 when the junior senator from Illinois beat out a far more senior senator from Arizona. And in 2000 when the sitting Vice President and former senator was beaten by a relatively poorly known governor from Texas. You have to go back to 1988, when Vice President Bush beat back a challenge from Massachusetts Governor Micheal Dukakis to find a more experienced candidate winning the Presidency. Arguably the Presidency was open in 1976 when unelected President Gerald Ford was beaten by unheralded Governor Jimmy Carter.
If we go back further, this trend is a bit murkier as Presidential candidates generally had to have had considerable government service to gain their party’s nomination (i.e., the era of the “smoke-filled rooms” at conventions producing the candidates). The 1968 election between Nixon and Humphrey kind of fits this pattern, though in many ways it was between near equals. Former Vice President Nixon was out of politics for a few years while Humphrey was the sitting Vice President after a long stint as senator. But the previous two open elections fit this pattern. In 1960, Kennedy, a relatively young senator, beat out Vice President Nixon. And in 1952 Eisenhower, a well-known general but not a man who had held elective office, beat Senator Adlai Stevenson. (And before that, the last open election was 1928, when Herbert Hoover was elected as the last of a very long line of GOP Presidents stretching back to the Civil War with only three interruptions).
Overall you get the sense that the American public is increasingly unimpressed with experience in government. Whether this reflects an overall disgust with government or wishful projection of what voters want on less well-defined candidates is unclear. The first suggests disenchantment, the second hopefulness. It is a little unsettling in some ways: in many walks of life, you might tend to prefer the more experienced or better trained candidate for being your doctor or lawyer or roofer or even repairman. Running a government that has the world’s strongest military, to say nothing of a nuclear arsenal that can end civilization? Pick the guy who knows less about the job….
[Here’s hoping one other trend isn’t continued. Each of the past three Republican Presidents has initiated foreign military actions (Reagan in Grenada, George H. W. Bush in Iraq, George W. Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq).]
Will this reverse at some point or continue? We’ll see if the Democrats can find an even less qualified candidate than Trump in 2020 (or 2024 if we want to wait for an open Presidency)–presumably somebody with no government or business experience. Hmm…could we see George Clooney or Angelina Jolie as the Democratic nominee in 2020 or 2024? (Even well-known actor Ronald Reagan served as California’s governor before becoming President). Or maybe it really will be Lisa Simpson…