For post-19th century presidents, the highest ranked are the Roosevelts, Truman, and Eisenhower. The lowest ranked are Hoover, Coolidge, George W. Bush and Harding. Harding was very successful in business but is consistently rated as one of the worst presidents, so one of the most successful businessmen was a conspicuous failure as president.
The majority of U.S. presidents have been lawyers or career politicians, 21 were both. There were eight generals, some engineers and professors, an actor, and a smattering from other professions. The unquestionably successful businessmen were Andrew Johnson (tailor), Harding (newspaperman), Hoover (mining), Jimmy Carter (farmer), and George H.W. Bush (oilman). Truman, who did so poorly in business he sought public sector employment to make ends meet, became a great president.
Many questions have been raised about George W. Bush's success as a businessman. Some have attributed what success he did have to his connections and his name. His oil business did poorly, but he made over 15 times his original investment in the Texas Rangers. Historians and scholars do not rate him highly as a president. A 2010 poll of presidential scholars ranked him 39th, below Millard Fillmore. The verdict on Bush: mixed to marginal as a businessman, failure as a president.
Scholars specializing in American history and politics at the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of London rated the U.S. presidents through George W. Bush. This survey placed some small government advocates higher than many U.S. polls; Jefferson was 4th and Reagan 8th. It ranked the presidents since McKinley in the following order from most to least successful: FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, Truman, Reagan, Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, JFK, William McKinley, Carter, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Gerry Ford, Howard Taft, Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, George W. Bush and Harding.
Organized by primary pre-presidential vocation and background, the British list, from most to least successful, considering George W. Bush a business success is: CP (career politician, FDR); CP (Teddy Roosevelt); professor/politician (Wilson); CP (Truman); actor and union organizer (Reagan); Army General (Eisenhower); CP (Johnson); CP (JFK); CP (McKinley); successful businessman/politician (Carter); CP (Clinton); successful businessman/CP (George H. W. Bush); CP (Nixon); CP (Ford); CP (Taft); successful businessman (Hoover); CP (Coolidge); successful businessman (George W. Bush); successful businessman (Harding). The first successful businessman comes in at position 9, Carter. Of the bottom four, three were businessmen.
So the number of highly successful businessmen who became highly successful presidents? None. Or conversely, the number of successful presidents who were successful businessmen? None. The number of successful businessmen who failed as president? Three. Truman, a very successful president, failed in business. The best model the Republicans can offer is Poppy Bush, successful businessman and a respectable president. But even he ranks below Carter, who the Republicans always disparage as a failed president, on the presidential success meter.
The conclusion - Romney's business experience is largely irrelevant and may even be a liability. Historically, business success correlates more with presidential failure than success. So, there is absolutely no evidence to support the idea that Romney's past business success means he will be a good president.
Campbell is a physician and retired U.S. Army Colonel. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland.