WASHINGTON — At 44 years of age, Florida Senator Marco Rubio is the youngest candidate in the current presidential field, and sensitive to any suggestion he hasn’t accumulated the necessary credentials for the oval office. “This election cannot be a resume competition,” he said at the Republican debate earlier this month. “It’s important to be qualified, but if this election is going to be a resume competition, then Hillary Clinton’s going to be the next president, because she’s been in office and in government longer than anybody else running here tonight.”
Fact-checkers pointed out that several contenders on the debate stage have been in office longer than Clinton even if you count her years as First Lady. That aside, Rubio’s point is that voters want leadership, a quality that doesn’t necessarily materialize with time served in elective office.
Ironically for Rubio and others in the field, that’s what the voters see in Donald Trump, a rambunctious businessman who never has faced the voters though he has flirted with running for president in the past. By the normal standards of qualification measurements, he’s asking the public to take him on a wing and a prayer.
There are some things we expect a president to know more about than the average Joe. Foreign policy, the military and national security tops the list with the economy following close behind. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s advisors thought they were reassuring a nervous public when they let it be known that Walker, then the frontrunner in Iowa, was being tutored on foreign policy.
Now that Walker has fallen behind Trump in Iowa, there’s less talk about his lack of foreign policy experience than his lack of performance skills, especially when compared to Trump, a reality TV star and born entertainer.
Dr. Ben Carson, a world famous neurosurgeon before he went into politics full time, didn’t know the Baltic countries were in NATO and protected under the U.S. military umbrella. Carson also thought former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was secretary of the Treasury, not a fatal error but reflective of someone who hasn’t paid close attention to matters that would routinely come before a president.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is rising in the polls and touting her business credentials along with the many leaders she has met, including Russian President Putin. She likes to say she’s the only candidate in the field who knows more world leaders than Hillary Clinton. “But I had substantive conversations with them, not photo ops.”
On closer inspection, Fiorina’s vaunted career doesn’t hold up so well. Before being fired as HP’s CEO, she presided over the layoffs of 30,000 people, inconvenient truths that helped sink her as a candidate for the U.S. Senate in California in 2010.
With the exception of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian with isolationist leanings, all the candidates are hawkish yet none in the top tier have any military experience. You have to cross over to the Democrats to find someone with foreign policy chops. Hillary Clinton, still the frontrunner despite the beating she’s getting from the media, and from her political opponents, served on the Armed Services Committee alongside Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., when she was in the Senate, and then of course was Secretary of State.
Setting politics and partisanship aside if possible, Clinton is the only one in the field with significant foreign policy experience. The lone exception is former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, a decorated Vietnam veteran who served as secretary of the Navy under President Reagan. His campaign has yet to gain traction.
No one on the Republican side comes close to Clinton’s expertise and experience. Instead, outsiders lead the GOP pack. They talk tough, and as former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld once said though in a different context, they don’t know what they don’t know.