Governors as Mini-Presidents

In a Sunday Show appearance mainly given notice as indicating his apparent eagerness to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, Martin O’Malley did something that is sadly common but ought to be mocked out of existence: pretending that being a governor is not only an adequate but a complete preparation for the presidency. Get this (from JP Updates‘ Jacob Kornbluh):

O’Malley, who came as close as he can to announcing a 2016 presidential run, cited Maryland’s state sanctions on Iran’s economy under his tenure as one example of how he had already slowed Iran’s rush towards acquiring a nuclear bomb. Maryland had “passed some of the earliest and strongest sanctions against Iranian nuclear development of any state in the nation,” he asserted.

C’mon, give me a break. This is the foreign policy equivalent of the exceedingly annoying tendency of governors to take personal credit for national economic booms, like a child in a car seat pretending to drive his parent’s automobile. I say this as someone that worked for three governors and have had opportunities to closely watch many others–including O’Malley. I like and admire these people, as a group, far more than Members of Congress. But in trying to counter Washingtonian prejudice against politicians who aren’t performing in the Big Top, they sometimes go too far.

O’Malley isn’t remotely as egregious on this score as Scott Walker, who is rhetorically trying to reshape the world in the image of the view from his window in Madison. But he still ought to cut it out. He’s been a two-term big city mayor and a two-term governor. He’s qualified to run for president by any reasonable standard. But the idea that if elected he can smoothly move into the Oval Office as assume the responsibilities of Commander-in-Chief without some culture shock is simply not credible. That’s true of Very Senior U.S. Senators, for that matter. Truth is, there is only one putative candidate for president who is entirely acclimated to the foreign policy challenges of the presidency, and in my opinion, that should offset a lot of the carping we hear about her lack of specific “accomplishments.”

In any event, governors should stop trying to project themselves as mini-presidents. Being a governor is a big job, and an important job, and a job that tells you a lot about its occupant’s qualities. But it’s really not the same thing.

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.