Talmage Boston: How do candidates stack up against former presidents?

By Talmage Boston, The Dallas Morning News

Both presidential candidates have received high negative approval ratings the old-fashioned way: They earned them.

Though the Republican and Democratic nominees each have millions of supporters, at least 20 percent of voters remain undecided and must now choose the lesser of two evils. To help make that determination, let’s grade the nominees using what I call the 10 Commandments of Presidential Leadership:

1. Who is better suited to serve as conscience-in-chief, like George Washington, who epitomized integrity? Alas, this year’s candidates bring up the rear. Neither engages in consistent ethical conduct and both are setting records for their Pinocchio prevarications.

2. Who is more likely to build consensus, as Thomas Jefferson did in bringing the country together after the Sedition Act? Though Trump prides himself as a “deal maker,” he appears to have no interest in building any type of political consensus. Clinton is a former U.S. senator, suggesting that at least she recognizes the need to engage with those across the aisle.

3. Who is more likely to follow James Madison’s example and partner with the best and brightest advisors? Both Trump and Clinton can probably choose a solid advisory team, so the question becomes: Who is more likely to listen to advisers? Trump has presented himself as someone who thinks he doesn’t need advisers, while Clinton appears open to considering input.

4. Who has shown more capacity to triumph over setbacks, as Franklin D. Roosevelt did in defying polio? Trump has shown a measure of resilience by bouncing back from occasional downturns in the real estate business, while Clinton has never let controversies, her troubled marriage or past political failures lessen her drive.

5. Who is more likely to play hardball skillfully when necessary, like President Eisenhower quelling instantly the 1956 Suez Crisis? Trump talks like he intends to play geopolitical hardball, though given his lack of experience in international affairs, it’s unclear whether he will know how to play it well. Although Clinton has significant experience, her lack of diplomatic achievement as Secretary of State should give voters little confidence.

6. Who is more likely to remain calm and make good decisions in a crisis, like John F. Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis? Trump has weathered storms and made many good business decisions, though whether that translates into politics is unknown — particularly given his tempestuous political personality and refusal to provide any plans for the execution of his objectives. Clinton’s record in crisis decision-making during her time as senator and secretary of state is, at best, undistinguished.

7. Who has a better sense of good timing when pursuing initiatives, as Lyndon Johnson did with Civil Rights legislation? Trump has a good record of making real estate deals which is usually tied to good timing — though he’s also had several business failures. Clinton’s lack of success as a Senator and Secretary of State proves this trait isn’t in her toolkit.

8. Who is the better communicator and can follow through on what he or she says, as President Ronald Reagan did with his speeches and action on ending the Cold War? Trump’s political rise demonstrates he can communicate better than his Republican competitors, though he has major problems after changing positions on key issues. And his strong words having alienated even members of his own party. Whether his walk will ultimately match his talk is an open question. Clinton has always been an uninspiring communicator who continues to believe she must “reintroduce” herself — even after many decades in the public eye.

9. Who is more likely to put the nation’s interests above his or her own personal interests, as George H.W. Bush did when he hiked taxes to cut the federal deficit? Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns and his public statements raise questions about how his business dealings with Russia would affect his presidency. Using her personal email server to process the country’s confidential information and her record of bestowing business and diplomatic favors on Clinton Foundation donors are clear examples of Clinton favoring herself over the country’s interests.

10. Who is more likely to fully grasp public sentiment and devise a successful strategy for molding it, as Abraham Lincoln did in guiding the nation to end slavery? Trump grasps the sentiments of his share of the electorate, and Clinton does the same with hers. Neither appears to care or empathize with those in the opposing camp, eliminating their capacity to become agents for positive change.

Measuring the candidates against these traits may help those 20 percent of the voters on the fence, though this election presents other hugely important considerations. Those include: who is most likely to adhere to the Constitution and the rule of law? And, who would a candidate choose as future justices, with the U.S. Supreme Court now hanging in the balance?

Voters have more information about the candidates this year than in any prior election. With this difficult choice, discernment by the undecided may arise only after they pursue an unlikely but wise course of action before casting their ballots in November: engaging in earnest prayer.


By Talmage Boston, The Dallas Morning News

Talmage Boston is a Dallas lawyer and historian. He wrote this for the Dallas Morning News. Readers may email him at [email protected].

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