Experience Counts

Being an outsider makes it harder to be an effective reformer

The word "establishment" has gotten a raw deal in today's political environment. Some consider "outsiders" to be purer and better leaders, untainted by national debt, not responsible for past governmental problems, offering different approaches to national and international policy issues, unsullied by history. With national polls reflecting preference for outsider Republican candidates, danger exists that Republicans will choose an outsider nominee and assure that their Democratic opponent becomes president. This would destroy their romantic notion that an outsider would automatically shrink the federal government and make it stronger internationally and less intrusive at home. Candidates naive about public policy soon lose public support. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris show us why the right kind of establishment candidate is America's best choice next year.

"Establishment" is best defined as the existing power structure of an organization, and includes supporters of traditional management practices, knowledge of how such management systems work, and having the means to support them. When Paris was attacked, the establishment government there leapt into action, marshaling resources, convening strategy meetings and imposing policies intended to control the mayhem affecting their citizens. Worldwide, people looked to their establishment leaders in this acute time of crisis. Other establishment governments offered assistance. But that's what effective establishment leaders do — using familiarity with the resources at hand to protect the public. Threatened and frightened citizens often turn to the most experienced and trustworthy, who have proven ability.

Polls consistently show that 25 percent to 30 percent support exists today for outsider Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Both men have records of private accomplishment, but lack what so many of their supporters revile — government service. They've faced — and met — crises in their own lives, but not public crises. Establishment Republicans Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie, and to a lesser extent, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, have experience dealing with public problems. Citizens of their respective states have rightly called on them for help. They've been valuable resources in a crisis.

America will face numerous national and international challenges ahead, requiring the best values and experience at our nation's disposal. If a minority of Republicans nominate an outsider because we're unhappy with the past eight years or disgusted with America's diminished standing in the world, that's akin to conditions that exist in the U.S. House of Representatives today, where less than 50 conservative representatives identified with the Freedom Caucus seek to impose their will on the majority of establishment members, oftentimes thwarting the majority viewpoint. Insistence on ultra-conservative policies has resulted in greater political polarization, underscoring the continually low public approval ratings for Congress. Those policies have also falsely defined Republicans on a range of issues.

Complaining about anything conventional has become a badge of honor for some. Ted Cruz proudly runs for president as a disrupting, negative force — attractive to his supporters, but dangerous for the orderly operation of efficient governance. He's a reliable, self-promoting critic of all things conventional, railing against tradition, compassion and order. As president, he'd shake up — and break — America.

Donald Trump is used to buying whatever he wants. Presidents, however, can't do that — they must work within the Constitution. Ben Carson is a nice and accomplished man without a clue about how government works, especially foreign affairs. He'd have to spend two years learning about government complexities and how to manage thousands of federal government employees.

Voters should listen carefully to what establishment candidates say — and analyze what they've done. Just because a candidate has prior government service doesn't mean that candidate isn't conservative or opposes conservative viewpoints on issues facing America. Conservatism without experience equals experimentation.

One thing most conservatives — tea party and Freedom Caucus members alike — agree on is that Ronald Reagan is an icon of the conservative movement. Many quote him today and extol his virtues. Yet Reagan was establishment through and through — a former governor and private sector success who knew enough about government to try to fix it by carefully crafting conservative ideas and leadership qualities. Ronald Reagan without government and leadership experience would likely have floundered as president.

Too many Republican presidential candidates today think that complaining about government is the same as having a realistic plan to fix it. Those who have labored as conservatives in government are best equipped to offer policies that will help overcome America's shortcomings and move America forward. They shouldn't be rejected out of hand because they have government experience.

If America suffers more terrorism in the days and months ahead, reliable, conservative, experienced leadership will be required that can marshal governmental resources, adopt sensible policies and make Americans proud again. ♦

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About The Author

George Nethercutt

From 1995-2005, George Nethercutt was the Republican Congressman from Spokane. He contributes to the commentary section of the Inlander.