The Corner

Politics & Policy

It’s The Candidate

There is a view, widely shared among those in the know and those not in the know, that it’s safe to vote for Donald J. Trump because he will be surrounded by smart people who will guide him, counsel him, and above all, prevent him from making catastrophic mistakes. I think this is profoundly mistaken.

My experience in politics — working for Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Jack Kemp, and a smattering of others, has taught me that there is no great cabal of “wise men” who guide candidates or office holders and ensure that the ship remains on an even keel. These are all humans. The candidate is key. His character, his judgment, his instincts are what determine the direction of policy. His advisors mostly seek to ingratiate themselves with the candidate or office holder, rarely to guide him. If the principal says “Don’t tell me what I can’t do, tell me how to do what I want” the underlings jump to do it. Besides, there is always disagreement among the advisors. The candidate/office holder gets vigorous arguments to do X and to do non-X. Everything depends upon his decisions. 

If, God forbid, the candidate is mentally unstable or venal, the greatest advisors in the world will not prevent the wreckage he can do. The power of the Oval Office is the greatest in the world. Everyone, without exception as far as I’ve been able to determine, who is invited into that iconic office gets a dry throat and sweaty palms. Even critics who had resolved to read the president the riot act find that their voices fail when they are surrounded by the majesty of power.

We have checks and balances. But it’s folly to imagine that one of them is the power of advisors. Human nature being what it is, they are more often toadies. The integrity, judgment, and sanity of the office holder is key.

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