It’s early in the primary process, but Republican primary voters at this point seem determined to nominate an outsider for President, in the sense of someone who has literally never held elected office. I think this impulse is a mistake, as I explained about a month ago, because it ignores the obvious fact that the most important test is how one survives becoming an insider:
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.
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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.
But, whatever. People are not in the mood to heed this advice, and I am not in the mood to keep fighting the point. Let’s accept, at least for the purposes of this article, that nominating a complete outsider is a good idea and is the thing we all want to do. Fine.
Right now, roughly 55% of the GOP electorate is splitting its vote between Trump and Carson, as the most highly visible outsiders in the field. What last night’s debate showed is that both of them are the wrong choice, among the outsiders in the group.
About Trump, no more need be said than what has already been said. The problem thus far is that the “not Trump” faction of the outsider faction seems to be coalescing around Ben Carson. And I think Carson got badly exposed in last night’s debate.
Look, I like Carson, and I like him more every time I have seen him. But there is absolutely no reason that a candidate who is several months into a Presidential campaign ought to have absolutely no idea whether the Federal minimum wage ought to be raised, or even have a general idea about his tax policy ideas. If you listened to Carson actually answer questions, the number of times he answered with the functional equivalent of “I don’t know” or “I’m still studying the issue” was quite frankly a little bit alarming.
I mean, to be fair, Trump answers questions the same way all the time, but he at least creates the impression of knowing what he’s talking about, whereas Carson’s humility exposes these weak spots in his policy knowledge like a blaring klaxon. Carson was the only guy on the whole stage who all the other candidates obviously respected and refused to interrupt, but he looked absolutely not ready to be President last night.
Carly Fiorina, on the other hand, was completely in command of every issue that was discussed on stage, in a way that should have embarrassed more seasoned candidates like Walker and Jeb Bush. Whether you agreed with everything she said or not, there is no doubt that Carly Fiorina has carefully considered every issue that might confront a modern President and has a firm plan to deal with it.
Moreover, she is able to make issues resonate in an emotional way (where it counts) to a degree that only [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] of the other candidates can even possibly match. This makes her, most likely, the most formidable general election candidate among the current crop of “outsiders,” whatever these early polls might say.
I still think it’s a mistake to nominate an outsider, or to have faith that they won’t be corrupted once they get to office, when the evidence suggests that this happens so often. But among the outsiders, Carly Fiorina alone last night demonstrated that she might be ready to perform the duties of her office on day one. And that alone ought to catapult her to the front of the pack.