The Corner

Politics & Policy

‘The Word “Experience” Is Still Good’

President George W. Bush waves as he walks onto the stage to give his speech on the final night of the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York, September 2, 2004. (Rick Wilking / Reuters)

Today, I have a piece on the homepage called “Tested (or Not).” It’s about presidential candidates and experience. I take that word “tested” from Bob Dole, who used it a lot: who used it in his 1996 campaign, when he was the GOP nominee, and in 1988, for that matter, when he tried for the nomination against Vice President Bush and others.

“I’ve been tested,” Dole would say. He meant in war, in politics, and in life. He sure had. He is being tested still, in fact, dealing with old age, finding ways to serve regardless.

I’ll tell you a funny story. After he lost the nomination to Bush in ’88, someone said, “Well, there’s always ’96.” (The person must have assumed that Bush would win the general election and run for reelection four years later.) Dole quipped, darkly, “Yeah, that’s how old I’ll be.”

Today, in fact, Dole is 96.

Last week, Sean Hannity asked President Trump a very good question: “What are your top priorities for a second term?” And the president gave a very interesting answer.

“Well, one of the things that will be really great — you know, the word ‘experience’ is still good,” he said. “I always say talent is more important than experience. I’ve always said that. But the word ‘experience’ is a very important word. It’s a very important meaning.”

The president went on to explain that, when he was elected to the job, “I didn’t know very many people in Washington, it wasn’t my thing. I was from Manhattan, from New York.” But “now I know everybody.”

Trump was saying, I suppose, that a second term would be better than the first, because he has gained experience.

Pre-2016, I would quote our Richard Brookhiser, who would say, “The presidency is not an entry-level political job, unless you’ve won a world war.” Trump has turned things on their head (a great strength, his supporters say).

This morning, I was thinking about second terms, and the importance of answering, “What would you do with four more years?” In 2004, when he was running for reelection, George W. Bush gave a surprisingly programmatic convention speech. It was even wonky, in parts. He decided he had to answer the question: What’re we gonna do, besides just continue?

Maybe Trump will give such a speech at his own convention.

Also, Bush took account of some reservations that many had about him, personally. He did it in a very deft way, I think:

In the last four years, you and I have come to know each other. Even when we don’t agree, at least you know what I believe and where I stand. You may have noticed I have a few flaws, too.

People sometimes have to correct my English. I knew I had a problem when Arnold Schwarzenegger started doing it.

Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger — which in Texas is called “walking.”

Now and then I come across as a little too blunt — and for that we can all thank the white-haired lady sitting right up there.

He was referring, of course, to his mother.

Can Trump pull off something like this at his convention this year? Should he try?

Back to experience. It is not the be-all, end-all, of course. Plenty of other factors come into play. No one has been more experienced than James Buchanan — who had been a House member, an ambassador, a senator, secretary of state . . . The man who succeeded him had served just one term in the U.S. House (and four in the Illinois house).

As I say in my piece today, Joe Biden’s choice of running mate seems especially important, given worries about Biden’s age and health. Will she (the potential vice president, and president) be “ready on Day One”? Is that true of Val Demings, elected to the House in 2016? Of Keisha Lance Bottoms, elected mayor of Atlanta in 2017?

Ordinarily, I would say no. But Trump has rendered things extraordinary, right? Before being elected president, he had been a tabloid figure: a reality-TV star, a Howard Stern guest. So, do Republicans have a leg to stand on when and if they say of Demings or Bottoms, “Not enough experience, not ready?”

In my piece, I speak of talent and experience (as Trump did in his answer to Sean Hannity). A friend of mine, long active in politics, has e-mailed me:

If your candidate has talent, go with talent. If your candidate has experience, go with experience. If your candidate has neither, pound the podium and shout, “End the parking-meter racket!”

Yeah, those dang meters.

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