The Outsider Fallacy


If the polls are to be believed, the GOP primary electorate really, really wants someone who is an “outsider” to be our nominee for President. Not just an outsider to Washington, mind you, but an outsider to politics altogether. The latest FoxNews poll has Trump in first with 25%, followed by Carson in second with 12% of the vote. Carly Fiorina checks in 7th with another 5%. That’s 42% of the electorate showing a first place preference for a candidate who has never held any elective office, of any kind.

The impulse that has created this boomlet for the political neophytes in the field is completely understandable. It is also foolhardy and wrong.

The reason people are looking to outsiders is because of the number of candidates they have seen who have come up through the system, who have promised big things and talked a big talk, only to get to Washington DC (or wherever their state capitol is) and be corrupted by the allure of power and politics. The reasoning goes, we should show these people what’s what by electing someone who is free from the taint of politics altogether.

Again, I am all for teaching the co-opted a lesson, but nominating someone for President who has no experience at all is asking for the same thing to happen to you again. Let me explain.

Basically everyone who’s in office right now at one point was a political outsider. No one was born into elected office. At some point, all the people who have frustrated you (the voters) and pissed you off ran for office in their first campaign trying to tell you how they were different. They hadn’t been to Washington. They had success in business that would translate well to political office. They were wealthy and didn’t need help from special interests. And so on and so on. And, one by one, we elected those people and sent them to Washington or the Governor’s Mansion or wherever in the hopes that maybe they would be different.

[mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ], [mc_name name=’Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001056′ ], [mc_name name=’Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’H000338′ ] – at one point, these guys were all oustiders. [mc_name name=’Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B000589′ ] himself was at one time not too long ago a guy with a compelling story of having risen through poverty as one of 12 kids to become President of the company he had worked for for 13 years. He ran successfully as an outsider and won.

The problem is, almost none of them actually were, after they got to office. Easily 95% of these political neophytes, once they got to office, were lured by the trappings of power and corrupted. And then they became the people you hated and the reason to send new political neophytes to power.

Here is the salient fact that many people are missing in this particular logical chain. It’s easy to say and do all the right things and to be non-corrupted when you are a political neophyte. Literally everyone who has ever run for office their first time has done it. What’s hard (apparently, at least based on the evidence) is to remain true to your principles after you win your election and actually get to power.

So what we ought to be looking for isn’t really someone who’s never been tested by the allure of power. History tells us that almost all people fail that test. What we ought to instead be looking for is people who have already been tested, to determine which ones have passed the test with the most success.

The best way to tell whether someone will remain true to their principles is not to listen to their campaign speeches during their first run for office. History shows us those are almost entirely lies (or, more charitably, they are well-meant platitudes that wilt under the harsh glare of reality). Rather, the best way to tell is to look at the actual records they compile after running for office and winning.

It is not for nothing that many people who are broadly supportive of Trump/Carson have groused aloud that they should have run for, say, NYC mayor or Virginia Governor/Senate before throwing their hat into the Presidential ring. Too often have we heard people who sounded almost exactly like them who came before, only to be singing a different tune a couple years into their first term.

There are, as it turns out, a couple candidates in this field who have stood the test of power remarkably well. They are deserving of our support more so than those who have never been tested at all.

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