A New Way to Evaluate Presidential Candidates

According to sportswriter Rick Reilly, Donald Trump is a serial cheater when it comes to his favorite pastime: golf.

Reilly’s opening statement says it all. He claims that Trump cheats like a mafia accountant when he plays golf. Much of his discussion with John Berman focuses on the fact that the president is actually pretty good at golf. So why does he cheat? According to John Cassidy, who reviewed Reilly’s book, the author consulted an expert on that question.

In searching for deeper motivations, Reilly consults with Lance Dodes, a Harvard psychiatrist, who says, of Trump, “He can’t stand not winning, not being the best. It had to have started very early in his development. . . . He exaggerates his golf scores and his handicap for the same reason he exaggerates everything. He has to. He exhibits all the traits of a narcissistic personality disorder. . . . He’s a very ill man.”

In other words, everything we needed to know about how Trump would handle himself as president could have been learned from evaluating how he played golf.

That story reminded me of something Michelle Obama did when she was dating Barack.

Two decades ago, Michelle tells Craig she’s dating a new guy at her law firm whom she’s relatively serious about, but she wants Craig to figure out if he’s the real deal. Can this future lawyer be trusted? She tells her brother that her suitor self-identifies as a basketball player and asks if he can play with Robinson and his friends. The six-foot-six Robinson was a two-time Ivy League player of the year at Princeton and a fourth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers, so the competition level was relatively high. Robinson tells the rest of it like this:

“This story gets bastardized,” he begins. “I tell every reporter the same story, using the same words, and then they write whatever they want. But here is what happened: When I played basketball with Barack, he was quietly confident, which means he had good self-esteem without being cocky. He was certainly a team player — he wasn’t a pig, he passed when he was supposed to pass, and he cut when he was supposed to cut. To me, that speaks to a lack of selfishness. He had natural leadership ability, because he didn’t just pass me the ball because he was dating my sister. Whenever a player gets tired, he reverts back to the player he truly is. That’s how you tell. And we played for hours. That’s how I could tell.”

Are you starting to get the picture? Perhaps one of the ways we can evaluate presidential candidates is by observing them playing their favorite sport.

At this point, what we know about the 2020 Democratic candidates is that Bernie Sanders, who also loves basketball, was crafty, threw elbows, and liked to be in charge. Cory Booker played tight end and wide receiver at Stanford. His teammates describe him as someone who did whatever job he was assigned to do and was genuinely liked, but didn’t have a mean streak. Based on what we’ve seen from the two of them as politicians, I’d say that those descriptions are very accurate.

Honestly, it’s Friday and I’m only being a little bit serious. There’s also the issue that many of the candidates don’t have hobbies that include sports. But the truth is that how someone engages in competition can tell us a lot about them.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.