The case has been made by at least two possible 2016 presidential contenders – S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker – that serving as governor should be a prerequisite for anyone seeking the White House.
The fact that Haley and Walker are fans of other governors shouldn’t come as a shock, but their assumption that serving as such is vital isn’t necessarily credible. Haley recently indicated that as a chief executive of a state, governors “make great CEOs,” adding they operate an entire state, and consequently, have a better grip on how to run an entire country.
However, being elected a governor doesn’t exactly equate to being a great president.
This debate certainly intensified during the 2012 election when then-Republican nominee Mitt Romney said executive experience is the quality that likely matters most for a presidential contender.
The former Massachusetts governor said this often during the race, particularly pointing out that Barack Obama’s political knowledge was largely gleaned in the U.S. Senate and not as a head of a company or state. Although the missteps of Obama and his administration are evident, success in the White House isn’t tied to particular bullet points on a résumé. Ultimately, it’s about leadership. That attribute has certainly been lacking lately in the Obama White House, but it’s also been missing in the presidential administrations of ex-governors. In recent memory, President Jimmy Carter, a former Democratic governor of Georgia, was voted out of office after just one term, and had the worst average approval rating of any president since Dwight Eisenhower. President George W. Bush, a former Republican governor of Texas, ended his tenure as one of the most reviled presidents in decades, although his legacy is still being shaped by the current political landscape.
It seems that historically great presidents are simply and inevitably the best at making tough calls. That doesn’t mean they have to be a former governor.
A candidate’s background can certainly provide powerful insight. However, the challenges that a sitting president faces are overcome with effective and resolute decision making, not just by holding another political office.