September 10, 2011

Rating the GOP candidates - Experience (Part 1 of 2)

In order to assess the contenders for the GOP 2012 presidential nomination a number of factors need to be consider that go well beyond, "I like the guy". Quite often that gut feel approach is right, but not always. It does no harm to look at the distinct factors and how each candidate stacks up compared to the others before making a decision. We might like the economic policies of one candidate slightly better than those of the others but find another candidate with a much higher factor in how electable they are. That construct will help inform each of our decisions.

We all get this now, right?

The decisions will vary from person to person, but at least they will be made with a little more clarity. The following few days I will be sifting through the research and information available to find some of the relevant details for each candidate to provide a side by side comparison. I will provide a personal assessment as well but I will keep it separate from the factual delivery of the pertinent details.

Guiding Principles

The first dimension I've chosen to address is experience. It was a big issue with respect to President Obama the 2008 campaign, so it's as good a place to start as any. But it's not as simple as assigning a number of years of experience to a candidate and rank ordering the contenders by number of years of experience. There are a lot of factors that combine to establish experience. What is experience? Is it years governing something? Is it years in politics? What about the value of years in the private sector? To simplify matters I've broken down the experience assessment into four sub categories; depth of experience, breadth of experience, experiential negatives and miscellaneous factors.

In order to remove any perceived bias, I will go through each candidate in alphabetical order (by last name) and in the next post related to another factor I will do so in reverse order and alternate back and forth thereafter.

One last note, in addition to the declared candidates I will include Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani as the two remaining possible candidates until such time as they declare they are or are not running. I am excluding Chris Christie as he has been vocal enough about his non-entry and in the interest of space and time, I will take him at his word.

Depth of experience consists of total political experience, executive experience, foreign policy experience, committee experience and business experience.


Michele Bachmann

Depth of Experience - Her political experience consists of roughly 5 years at a state level, and 5 years at a national level.  Combined it accounts for over 11 years of political experience.

She has no executive experience in her resume, she has not governed a city, or a state.  She won her first seat in the Minnesota Senate in 2000 and won it again in 2002 after redistricting.  In 2004, her co-sponsored state constitutional amendment was defeated. She briefly served in 2004/2005 as Minnesota Republican Senate Assistant Minority Leader.  Since November 2006 she has been a Minnesota Congressional Representative.

Breadth of Experience -  Bachmann's political experience has been entirely legislative. She has no political executive experience as a governor or mayor.  From a non-governmental experience perspective, Bachmann and her husband own a counseling practice.  In her legislative role in Congress, Bachmann joined a Congressional delegation visiting Ireland, Germany, Pakistan, Kuwait, and Iraq in 2007.  She has served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, for the Committee on Financial Services on the Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Experiential Negatives - In her role She was removed from the role after 7 months due to disagreements over her stance on taxes, she was removed from the role after 7 months due to disagreements over her stance on taxes. 

Miscellaneous Factors - In January 2011 Bachmann delivered the Tea Party response to the presidential State of the Union.  She was criticized for her physical appearance.

Personal Assessment - Compared to some of the other candidates Bachmann's resume appears to be a little thin, particularly with respect to executive type experience and non-governmental experience.  However, she does have a significant amount of experience in the legislative area and some committee memberships of note.  While I would not classify her specific experience as a positive, it should not be viewed as a negative either.  The overall assessment on her experience would be a neutral rating. Let's establish Bachmann as the benchmark C grade.

Herman Cain

Depth of Experience - Herman Cain has a considerable depth of experience in the private sector.  Within the Pillsbury company, Cain rose to the position of VP within a few years.  From there he was assigned to Burger King (a subsidiary) and turned one of the worst performing regions into a top performer within three years.  He also turned around Godfather's Pizza for Pillsbury, returning it to profitability in short order.  He was also part of a group of investors to buy out Godfather's Pizza where he remained as CEO.  He also served as a board member for a number of large corporations.

Breadth of Experience - In addition to his private sector experience, Cain also served as a CEO of a lobbying firm - the National Restaurant Association.  He served a number of years on the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, including a year and a half as Chairman. He also serves as an associate minister in his church.

Experiential Negatives - While Cain's considerable private sector experience is precisely what the country sorely needs at this point, his political experience is limited to a failed run for president in 2000, for the Senate in 2004 and a role as an advisor to the ill-fated Dole/Kemp presidential campaign in 1996. He has no legislative experience or direct government role.

Miscellaneous Factors - As a political positive, Cain was instrumental in the defeat of Hillarycare under President Clinton in 1993.

Personal Assessment - Given the considerable private sector experience being well suited to helping turn the economy around by a direct understanding of what the private sector needs.  In addition it certainly counts as executive experience, albeit in a different venue than government.  His time at the Fed is also a significant plus towards understanding the impacts of financial considerations regarding the economy.  The lack of direct government experience is a concern, but not a major concern.  Herman Cain has a history of success in his various executive roles, but they are entirely related to financial exercises.  He lacks experience in foreign affairs and other government specific type management.  Overall I'd grade him a B.

Newt Gingrich

Depth of Experience - Newt Gingrich served in Congress for 20 years, from 1979 to 1999.  He served as Minority Whip from 1989 to 1994 and Majority Leader from 1995 until 1999.  As a co-author of the Contract With America, Gingrich is regarded as the primary force behind returning Republicans to a majority in Congress for the first time in 40 years.  Gingrich is considered by many to be the driving force behind the balanced budgets of the Clinton years, as those budges originated in Congress.

Breadth of Experience - Beyond his career in government, Gingrich has remained very involved in politics from the perspective of think tank work, books and political commentator.

Experiential Negatives - In 1997 the government was partially shut down in a battle over a budget deal.  While it was a very significant factor in passing a balanced budget for a number years afterwards, it was largely seen as a big negative and it was largely tied to the intransigence of the GOP and specifically Gingrich.  During his term as speaker 84 charges of ethics violations were leveled against Gingrich. While 83 of them were dropped, it was still a black mark on the only speaker of the House to have been disciplined by for an ethics violation.

Miscellaneous Factors - Gingrich's wrong-headed endorsement of moderate Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava in the NY23 special election in 2009, rather than Doug Hoffman, was proved wrong when Scozzafava dropped out of the race and endorsed the Democrat in the race.  Gingrich also likened the Paul Ryan debt plan as right wing extremist before reversing himself a few days later after the backlash.  At least he discovered his error more quickly than he did in the Scozzafava case.

Personal Assessment - If there were such a thing as too much experience, Newt might be the conservative version of Senator Byrd.  While he's been out of the halls of power for over a decade, he's cozied up with Pelosi on Hillary Clinton and various times.  He's got that Washington insider tag for a reason.  For someone with so much insider experience he certainly is prone to some seriously questionable judgement that come across as inexperienced.  While Gingrich should rate an A-, he only manages a C because of the negatives.

Rudy Giuliani

Depth of Experience - Rudy Giuliani served two terms as mayor of New York City from 1994 through 2001. He is largely credited with cleaning up crime, providing more efficient and effective public services.  His experience aside from the legal portion of his career (i.e. his time as mayor) is executive experience.  In a city the size of New York that equates to the role of governor in a number of states, so his mayoral executive experience is not to be minimized, it is significant.

Breadth of Experience - From 1977 to 1981 Giuliani served in a private law firm. In 1981, he was named Associate Attorney General in the Reagan administration.  Coincidentally (or not) it was the same time he had completed his transition from Democrat to Republican (with a stop at Independent in between). He served in various governmental legal capacities through 1989 when he first ran for mayor and lost in a tight race.

Experiential Negatives - Two high profile appointees of Giuliani were charged with various serious offences. Russell Harding and Bernard Kerik both received prison sentences for their crimes.  While neither were directly involving Giuliani in any wrongdoing, they arguably reflect on his judgement.

Miscellaneous Factors - The attacks of September 11th 2001 thrust Guiliani into the spotlight as his term as mayor was nearing it's end.  His intelligent, measured and focused response thrust him into the national spotlight and earned him a lot of national respect for his response to the crisis.

Personal Assessment - Giuliani has a decent amount of executive experience and certainly had to deal with some exceptionally difficult circumstances.  His circumstances have forced him to focus more than a normal mayor on international issues and has broadened his experiences beyond what the legal and mayoral resume indicates.  His abandoned 2000 senate campaign and his ill fated 2008 campaign do not bode well for campaign experience and that is an important factor.  The negatives for Rudy are relatively unimportant but they are still there and would be hammered by the press.  His role in the response to the 9-11attacks, being cool under pressure are important from an experiential perspective as well.  What's a reasonable grade for Giuliani?  I'd offer a B-.

The remainder of the candidates will follow in part II.

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