As he seeks the GOP nomination, former Jeb Bush is stressing his experience as Florida’s governor. “Who sits behind the big desk as it relates to the presidency is different than perhaps United States senator or another job,” Bush said this weekend in New Hampshire.
This was interpreted — not just as a shot at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — but also as a shot at the three Republican candidates who have officially announced for president.
But 35 years ago, it was Bush’s father who sought the presidency without sitting behind that big gubernatorial desk (though the elder Bush did have “executive” experience), when he ran for president against Ronald Reagan.
During that 1980 primary campaign, George H.W. Bush said then-Gov. Reagan “had ‘absolutely none’ when it came to foreign policy experience,” according to Craig Shirley’s Rendezvous with Destiny.
On another occasion, Reagan pushed back, saying: “George Bush’s experience in foreign policy was one brief term as ambassador to the U.N., special representative to mainland China and director of the CIA — which I don’t think is exactly an education in foreign policy — in good foreign policy.”
Was Jeb’s daddy unqualified to be president, since he lacked gubernatorial experience? Or was Reagan unqualified to be president because he lacked the requisite foreign policy experience as governor of California?
As we watch today’s presidential candidates spar with each other, making arguments for why their experience is the kind that really matters (or, in some cases, how their lack of political experience is a selling point), keep in mind that electing a president is like drafting for an NFL quarterback — you do due diligence, but you can never be sure what you’ll end up with. Those who think they have cracked the code ought to consider that Jimmy Carter was a governor, while Abraham Lincoln was a one-term congressman…
How important is gubernatorial experience? For the Bush family, it appears to be situational. If you’re George H.W. Bush in 1980, not very. If you’re son Jeb, very. For the candidates running for president, this old cliche is true: Where you stand depends on where you sit.