We should now consider candidates' governing qualities

We should now consider candidates' governing qualities
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Amid the Democratic presidential debates over ideology, ideas and experience, each hopeful cites qualities that separates them and would enable them to more effectively govern.

What qualities to look for in electing a president is an elusive subject. Historian Dories Kearns Goodwin lists six "essential traits" a president needs: empathy, resilience, communications skills, openness to different views, impulse control and an ability to relax.

Overarching all these, I believe, is self-security, being comfortable with who you are.


Most of the Democratic contenders possess some of these traits, which seems more relevant than the distinguishing governing characteristics they cite; they include:

Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Tammy Duckworth is the epitome of the American Dream Mexico's president uses US visit to tout ties with Trump MORE: The former Vice President says more than anyone he'll be able to alleviate the poisonous partisanship in Congress, that after Trump the Republican party will be more reasonable and open to compromise.

Biden had a long record as an excellent legislator working with many Republicans as diverse as John McCainJohn Sidney McCain Senate outlook slides for GOP Juan Williams: Time for boldness from Biden Democrats lead in three battleground Senate races: poll MORE and Jesse Helms, whom he persuaded to support funding for the United Nations and to confirm Richard Holbrooke as UN Ambassador.

But this isn't your father's Republican party. In the Obama-Biden administration, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad State and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November Teacher's union puts million behind ad demanding funding for schools preparing to reopen MORE (R-Ky.) saw his job as obstructing. The 2012 deal the Vice President and McConnell reached on extending part of the Bush tax cuts wasn't a very good one.

This won't change, and it's even more poisonous in the House, where Republican leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: Breaking down the June jobs report | The biggest threats facing the recovery | What will the next stimulus bill include? McCarthy to offer bill withholding funds from states that don't protect statues McCarthy calls on Pelosi to condemn 'mob violence' after toppling of St. Junipero Serra statue MORE (R-Calif.) always is peering over his right shoulder. The most important figure in the caucus will be Freedom Caucus leader Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHow conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up Democrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers MORE (R-Ohio) who won't let McCarthy stray. (Unless Jordan gets ensnared in the Ohio State scandal in which wrestlers were sexually assaulted by the team physician when Jordan was an assistant wrestling coach.)

Trump's makeover of the Republican party won't end next January, whether he's reelected or not.


Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegButtigieg's new book, 'Trust,' slated for October release Biden hires top aides for Pennsylvania Democratic lawmakers call for expanding, enshrining LGBTQ rights MORE: The 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Ind., says his election would change American politics by ushering in a "new generation" of political leaders who "can help heal a divided nation." His youthful intelligence has made him the surprise star of this contest.

But it will be of limited value if he is the President.

This sense of a "new generation of leaders" hasn't much permeated Congress — especially the Senate — among either Republicans or Democrats.

This message echoes that of John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaNeil Young updates song 'Lookin' for a Leader' opposing Trump, endorsing Biden Bellwether counties show trouble for Trump Trump may be DACA participants' best hope, but will Democrats play ball? MORE. We celebrate those Presidents and their vitality; it didn't, however, enhance their ability to govern.

Michael BloombergMichael BloombergWake up, America — see what's coming Bloomberg urges court to throw out lawsuit by former campaign staffers Former Obama Ebola czar Ron Klain says White House's bad decisions have put US behind many other nations on COVID-19; Fears of virus reemergence intensify MORE: The billionaire businessman and former New York City Mayor extols his talents and experience as a manager; in a debate, pointing to the others, he bragged that he was the only one who had started a business.

Yet managerial expertise is not associated with the greatness of Lincoln or FDR. "Management is not a word we usually think of when we talk about presidential leadership," notes Ellen Fitzpatrick, a Presidential scholar at the University of New Hampshire.

Still, she adds that having served as a governor has often been seen as fitting preparation for the presidency: "That's less about management skills that a mayor or business executive might have than it is about leading a state which presumably is quite varied and requires outstanding and broad leadership abilities."

This is a Bloomberg’s calling card, leadership not management.

It matters that a president pick good managers for key posts, for example: John Koskinen who managed the Y2K potential crisis at the beginning of the century, or Jeff Zients who straightened out the screwed up roll-out of Obamacare.

Bernie SandersBernie SandersTammy Duckworth is the epitome of the American Dream On The Money: Deficit rises to record .7 trillion amid pandemic: CBO | Democrats sidestep budget deal by seeking 0B in emergency spending | House panel advances spending bill with funding boost to IRS Biden-Sanders unity task force calls for Fed, US Postal Service consumer banking MORE: The Vermont Socialist believes his radical agenda would be enacted by the energy and demands of an historic grass roots movement. One supporter has predicted the resistance movement will be in the streets on Bernie's Inaugural Day.

Other presidents have vowed to go over the heads of elected politicians to rally rank and file voters — but those voters generally have elected those politicians. For Sanders, this might fly in deep blue or ultra-liberal venues; it won't where it would be most necessary: conservative strongholds.

A fallback for some of his supporters is that he can get change, even if it's not the big stuff. That's a heck of a message: Vote for bold change even though we know it won't occur.

Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations Progressive activist Ady Barkan endorses Biden, urges him to pick Warren as VP Congress must act now to fix a Social Security COVID-19 glitch and expand, not cut, benefits MORE: Warren has a similar radical agenda and going-over-the-heads case, with a variation: Unlike Bernie, she does the hard work to actually enact bold change. Her favorite example is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection bureau.

This was her baby, and she deserves enormous credit. But its enactment only was possible due to the active support of President Obama and a heavily Democratic Congress. As president, the Massachusetts Democrat's diligence and perseverance would count for little without comparable advantages.

As for Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases The Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 Hillicon Valley: QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem | Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones | Foreign hackers take aim at homebound Americans | Uber acquires Postmates MORE, we can revisit her if she’s still around in a few weeks.

In evaluating these men and women the character traits cited by Goodwin are important, and especially how comfortable they are in their own skin, to reach out. Who might follow the examples of President-elect Ronald Reagan, who tapped his primary opponent's campaign manager, Jim Baker, as his chief of staff — or Barack Obama, who appointed his rival, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Facebook civil rights audit finds 'serious setbacks' | Facebook takes down Roger Stone-affiliated accounts, pages | State and local officials beg Congress for more elections funds OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Sanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035 | Park Police did not record radio transmissions during June 1 sweep of White House protesters | Court upholds protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears GOP Miami mayor does not commit to voting for Trump MORE, to be Secretary of State?

No matter how well they pass these tests, any new Democratic president will be able to govern effectively only if he or she brings a Democratic congress with them.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.