GOP needs to get serious about governing 

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A businessman/reality television star and a doctor each lacking any government leadership experience, and two first-term senators who come election day will both be only 45-years-old. About one month before voting starts in Iowa and New Hampshire, these are your front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination. Together, these four — Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio —are garnering nearly 75 percent support in the most recent RealClearPolitics average of polls.

That so many Republicans are supporting candidates with no demonstrated history of government leadership for the most important executive position in the world is unfathomable. After all, one of the Right’s principal warnings in 2008 about then-candidate Obama was his lack of any demonstrated leadership experience. Hillary Clinton warned of Obama’s lack of experience in the primaries.

Would that those warnings had been heeded.

Despite the naïve optimism of the Nobel Peace Prize committee, President Obama has been a terrible leader of the free world. Some examples: “leading from behind” on Libya, failing to lead at all on Ukraine, declaring and then abandoning a “red line” on chemical weapons use by Syria, throwing away hard-won gains in Afghanistan and Iraq, and disregarding ISIS as “the JV team” while it festered throughout the Middle East. Even on issues dear to him such as climate change, the president has been unable to accomplish anything actually meaningful.

President Obama’s domestic leadership skills are no better. He has achieved effectively nothing legislatively since losing his filibuster proof majority in the Senate in 2010. While his apologists would point at Republican intransigence, members of his own party have been among the harshest critics of his poor leadership style.

The two Democratic front runners this year, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have more gray hair than Obama did in 2008, but scarcely any more demonstrated leadership ability. Clinton failed to get health care reform through in her husband’s first term and had no significant legislative accomplishments as Senator from New York. She did serve as Obama’s Secretary of State, but see above for some evidence of how she performed there. Sanders, the Socialist legislator from Vermont, is just an older Obama.

Against this backdrop, simply as a matter of politics, Republican primary voters would be wise to select a candidate who compares favorably to Clinton and Sanders in terms of leadership experience. The television ads would write themselves.

But the politics shouldn’t even matter.

For the good of our country and our allies around the world, Republican voters have a responsibility to pick someone who can be an excellent leader as president. Not just someone entertainingly angry, not just someone with a compelling life story, and not just someone who gives a good speech containing the right talking points. We need to put forward someone who we know can actually lead, because if he or she is elected, it will take leadership to repair the damage of Obama’s two terms.

Looking at Trump, Carson, Cruz, and Rubio, what evidence is there that these candidates would be able to successfully build coalitions to address pressing domestic issues such as economic stagnation and immigration reform?  Is there evidence that foreign leaders will respect them, or at least fear them, whichever works in a given instance to advance our national security interests?

I just don’t see it. Trump and Carson are non-starters. Cruz, in second place behind Trump nationally and leading in Iowa, is very smart but is loathed by everyone in Washington. Rubio at least isn’t loathed, but what leadership accomplishments can he point to? His own campaign website biography doesn’t identify any.

It’s not as if we lack for Republican candidates with demonstrated executive experience in the race. For example, Jeb Bush (Florida), Chris Christie (New Jersey), and John Kasich (Ohio) have each served as governors of large states.

Consider Kasich. He spent two decades in Congress, including on the Armed Services and Budget committees, and is in his second term as governor of Ohio where he has a 62-percent approval rating. He has not hewed the conservative line on every issue as governor, but that is precisely the point; governing is about making hard decisions, not posturing.

Kasich, however, currently is absent in the Iowa caucuses and is in fifth place in New Hampshire, if only a few points from second in that crowded field. Christie and Bush (whose last name is both a blessing and a curse) also have their merits, but are similarly lagging in the polls.

Since 2009 we have seen the chaos that results when Americans elect a chief executive who cannot successfully execute. We cannot give chaos four more years. It is time for Republicans to get serious and build support behind a candidate who can govern if elected.

Otherwise, while we may not deserve to lose, we certainly will not deserve to win.

Contributing columnist Kevin P. Martin is a constitutional and regulatory law expert practicing in Boston. The views expressed in this column are his own and not those of his law firm. You can read his past columns here.