No Experience Necessary?

Trump voters view his lack of governing background as a plus

Donald Trump's supporters think his business success is easily transferable to the White House. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Donald Trump's supporters think his business success is easily transferable to the White House. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted April 27, 2016 at 5:00am

If Donald Trump wins the White House, it will be the first time in American history that voters choose a candidate with no political or military experience.  

To put that into perspective, try looking for other Washington, D.C.-area jobs with no experience necessary on Craig’s List.  You’ll find jobs as a pool cleaner, an airport shuttle bus driver, or a “model for body rubs,” whatever that is.  You’ll even find a job in politics, as a canvasser, the door-knocking, literature-dropping grunt work campaigns often have to farm out when they can’t get volunteers to do it for them.  

President of the United States isn’t on the “No Experience Necessary” job board yet, but it may be soon.  That’s because voters, especially Republicans this cycle, are sending a message to Washington that not only is previous governing experience not necessary to be elected president, it is fast becoming a liability.  

Democrats had their own moment of discarding experience eight years ago, when they rejected Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and a parade of more experienced options for a freshman senator named Barack Obama.  After eight years of a two-term Texas governor named George W. Bush, Democrats were looking for a change. And now, so are Republicans.  

It’s the natural progression of public opinion when overall approval ratings for Congress hover between 9 percent and 17 percent, as they have since 2013 , and just 10 percent of Republicans approve of the job Obama is doing (Democrats and independents grade him much better, of course).  

When GOP voters are sick of both the Republican-led Congress and the Democratic White House, it follows that the bragging rights for a presidential candidate that once came with two-terms here, and a sub-committee-chairmanship there will do almost nothing to win voters over in 2016, and that’s exactly what’s happening.  

According to the Pew Center, 44 percent of Republican
voters say they are less likely to support a candidate for president who has significant Washington experience, more than double the percentage of Republicans who said the same in 2007.  

In 2015, Pew asked a similar question over a period of five months: Did voters prefer a candidate with “new ideas and a different approach” or “experience and a proven record?” In March, a majority of Republicans said they valued a proven record over new ideas, 57 percent to 36 percent.  But by September, after the presidential primary began to really heat up, that number had flipped, with nearly two-thirds saying it was more important that a candidate have new ideas than experience in office to win their vote for president.  

Maybe because of the candidates Democrats have to choose from, just 19 percent said they see Washington experience as a reason to vote against a candidate, while 27 percent told Pew they’d be more likely to support someone with a long track record.  

It’s no secret campaign managers have long preferred candidates without lengthy public records to defend. But when meaningful governing experience becomes a candidate’s greatest liability among voters, there’s a good chance voters will pick a person totally unprepared for the position they’re elected to.  

Several of the GOP’s other top candidates also had little to no political or military experience. Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson had none. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio had two unfinished terms in the Senate between them. But Trump alone has dominated.  

It’s clear that the attribute many Trump voters see in the mogul is success, a quality they believe would be easily transferable to the White House. His $9 billion real estate fortune and 15 years as the face of “The Apprentice” franchise have imbued in supporters the belief that Trump has the leadership qualities they’d like to see in the White House. That this success came in the private sector instead of in government is not only not disqualifying for his supporters, it is preferable to succeeding in a government system they believe has become rigged against good people anyway.  

Of the three presidents in history who had no political experience, Presidents Zachary Taylor, Ulysses Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower were all generals in the Army who had led the United States to victory in the great conflicts of their times—the Mexican American War, the Civil War, and World War II, respectively.  The most conflict Trump has seen may have been at one of his own rallies.  

That’s enough, so far, for millions of Republican voters to send him to the White House.  If Trump wins the GOP nomination, he’ll have to hope that millions more independents and even some Democrats agree.  

Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for the Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter at @1PatriciaMurphy

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.