Experience Not Necessary

As we watch the 2016 presidential cycle take another step forward at CPAC today, there’s something pretty interesting about the likely GOP field, other than its unwieldy size: not only do three candidates (Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and John Bolton) have no elected-official record; three others (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio) are in their first terms as Senators. As Paul Waldman points out at The Week, the fact that no one is much mentioning that fact may be an ambivalent “gift” Barack Obama has given his GOP enemies:

If you’re wondering why Rubio might think he has a shot, look no further than the current occupant of the White House. When Barack Obama started seriously considering running for president in 2008, the conventional wisdom held that the notion was ridiculous. Someone who had been in Washington less than four years, with only a couple of bills to his name? How could he be so presumptuous?

But Obama — whose career has been marked by long periods of caution punctuated by audacious risk-taking — recognized his own talents, and the fact that the moment was perfect for a candidate like him. And for all that Republicans may think he was unprepared and inexperienced, they’ve assimilated the idea that there’s nothing wrong with a candidate like Obama seeking the nation’s highest office. This year there are three Republican senators in their first terms who will be running — Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz — and though they each have admirers and detractors in the Republican Party, nobody’s saying they haven’t put in enough time in subcommittee hearings.

This is pretty remarkable when you think about it. But the Obama precedent definitely helps these three senators, two of whom (Paul and Cruz) had never run for anything before leaping into the Senate in 2010 and 2012, respectively. Paul is obviously the inheritor of his father’s legacy and network of donors and volunteers. Cruz is the classic young-man-in-a-hurry who’s been told he’s a genius every day of his life. And Rubio, on paper at least, has that melt-in-your-mouth biography, ethnic identity, and geographical location, plus the self-confidence that comes from knowing the second place on a national ticket is pretty much his for the asking the rest of his life.

As Obama nears the end of his presidency, his many detractors rarely mention his lack of experience upon taking office any more, unless it is to declare potential successors equally or more experienced. Maybe a rule of significant prior experience will be reestablished after he’s gone–or after one of the GOP newbies makes the kind of mistake on the campaign trail or in office that the MSM decides to chalk up to inexperience. I shudder to imagine the possibilities.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.