If Trump wants to win in the Beltway, he needs some ringers
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Suppose you were interviewing someone for a high level position in your organization.

An individual comes in and not only has the person never worked in any organization like yours but he actively brags about his lack of experience. The likelihood that you would trust this person with a high level of responsibility is very low.

Of course, that is exactly what happened in the 2016 presidential election.

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Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRussian bank owners sue BuzzFeed over publishing dossier Why global health investments are key ‘Making America Great’ Major golf tournament opens at Trump National Golf Club in Va. MORE boasted about his outsider status and his ability to shake up Washington. In a sense he’s been successful, as the government is in greater disarray and is accomplishing less than it ever has before. But it is not clear that this is the type of “shaking up” that Trump’s voters had hoped for.

 

The price of having an outsider is a lack of experience and competence in a job that has a harsh learning curve. Whether it is not understanding the relationship between China and North Korea, claiming a battleship is heading in the opposite direction it is really going, or failing to sufficiently think out the process for passing a health care repeal you made a centerpiece of your campaign, the hallmark of the first 100 days of this presidency has been failure.

Theoretically an outsider can compensate for their lack of experience in government by appointing individuals who have spent their careers in public service. President Trump instead has filled his White House staff (including his warring aides Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner) with neophytes. Similarly his secretaries of State, Treasury, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Commerce are all new to government.

The appeal of outsiders in the race for the Presidency is a long American tradition. The difference is that until 2016, true outsiders like Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996, and Herman Cain in 2012 never got terribly close to the Presidency. Candidates who campaigned as outsiders and won the Oval Office such as Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were outsiders to Washington but not to government (and in Carter’s case even his experience as Governor of Georgia left him unprepared for the job of President while Reagan surrounded himself with DC veterans).

The Founding Fathers may have envisioned governing as a part-time job handled by those who had been successful in other arenas. But the world is much more complicated now than it was in 1789. And so is the job of governing.

Both running a government agency, and understanding the importance of accountability to the public are learned skills not inherent ones. They are different than responsibility to shareholders or running a business where measures like profit and productivity can tell you whether you are a success.

There is no reason to think the set of skills needed to run a business will translate to running a government (and many reasons to think they won’t).

As much as I disagree with his policy aims, the Trump appointee who has moved the fastest toward accomplishing his goals is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions brought to his office experience as a U.S. Attorney, Attorney General for Alabama, and twenty years of experience in the U.S. Senate.

In other words he is the consummate insider. Not surprisingly he has quickly begun to implement his agenda at DOJ.

As an opponent of Trump’s policies, it is tempting to revel in his numerous failures to date. Instead they worry me. The credibility of the United States around the world is dropping. Problems that need solutions are going unaddressed.

Perhaps President Trump will realize the error of his ways and quickly restructure his government to bring in public sector professionals. If he doesn’t, expect the failures to continue. 

Stuart Shapiro is professor and director of the Public Policy Program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. Follow him on Twitter @shapiro_stuart.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.