There are the outsiders and the insiders. There are the lifetime politicians and the people wanting to hit the political perspective for the first time. There are the experienced and the skilled. This election cycle is proving that a candidate’s experience doesn’t necessarily have much to say about his or her skills.
Political skill matters. To some extent, it can be said that political experience matters as well, but only as far is it aids in political skill. Otherwise, it’s just a piece of a resumé. Let’s break down a few of the candidates who are breaking the paradigms and proving that being experienced doesn’t mean that they have proper political skills and being inexperienced doesn’t mean that they don’t have the skills.
Campaign Skill and Experience: Trump vs Bush
This time last year, if you were to ask political pundits who they thought would run the better campaign for President between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, it would be as close to unanimous as possible that Bush would be the better campaigner. He had the contacts, the pedigree, the name, and most importantly the experience in running a campaign to make him the obvious choice.
As has been clearly proven this election cycle, experience has done nothing to help Bush. In fact, one can argue that his campaign team has botched his early frontrunner status as badly as anyone with the possible exception of Scott Walker. Trump, on the other hand, has made more “mistakes” than any candidate in recent memory. He’s said more “campaign killing” things than anyone in US Presidential campaign history. He’s run a terrible campaign… except for the fact that he’s winning.
1st Term Senators: An Insider, and Outsider, and a Man in the Middle
Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul are all first-term Senators running very different campaigns. They have the same basic experience, but they’re being positioned completely differently from the others. We’ll look at Paul first. He isn’t an insider. He isn’t an outsider. Nobody really knows what he is other than being a very good Senator. Unfortunately, that has proven to be a bad thing, apparently, since he’s on the verge of being relegated to the kiddie table at the next debate and has a campaign that is going nowhere.
Despite being in his first term, Rubio is being positioned as the Republicans Establishment’s choice. This title is normally given to someone with vast political experience like Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, but Rubio has picked up the mantle because none of the other Republican Establishment favorites were able to get it done. Bush, John Kasich, Lindsey Graham, and Chris Christie might be much more experienced and more of the stereotypical establishment favorite, but Rubio is their guy going forward. Why? Because he’s doing something that the others haven’t done. He’s demonstrated that he’s extremely adept at political expediency. He will say and do whatever it takes regardless of his Tea Party pedigree and that’s something the Republican Establishment cherishes.
Then, there’s Ted Cruz. He’s been in politics for the better part of his adult life, but he’s a rebel. He doesn’t bow down to the Republican Establishment. He doesn’t bow down to his cronies in the Senate (to the point that he really doesn’t have many cronies left there anymore). He’s an insider… except he’s not. He might be a bigger outsider than Donald Trump in that he is unwilling to play the Washington cartel’s games. On paper, he’s similar to Paul and Rubio. In reality, he’s much more like Trump or Ben Carson. The only real difference is that he has experience to match his political skill.
In an election that is turning all of the rules upside down, there’s Carson. Like Trump, he’s said things that should have ruined his campaign, but it’s still chugging along nicely. He’s slipping in the polls, which means that his lack of experience might finally be starting to translate into a perceived inability to govern properly, but he’s still well ahead of most of his seasoned adversaries.
This is going to play well for Trump, the most politically minded of the unpoliticians, and Cruz, the most anti-establishment of the experienced politicians. When Carson drops out, it’s not going to help Rubio or any of his Republican Establishment buddies like it will help the other two renegades.
What it All Means
It takes a certain level of skill to navigate the primary process, the general election, and eventually the Presidency, but don’t assume that a lack of experience means a lack of skill. If this election is going to prove anything, it’s that the candidates who have had the most training for President aren’t necessarily the best choice to take on the role.