John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Limits of Inexperience

Posted on November 16, 2011

There is a reason Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are most confident debaters, especially when topics turn to international affairs and domestic policy.

They have deep experience in how policy works in the nation’s capitol.  They have both taken several trips overseas, they know the players, they understand the bigger game.

They are fluent in Washington.

I was thinking about Washington fluency and Herman Cain.

Cain speaks sixth-grade Washington.

He gets some of the some verbs.  He knows how to hit the high-points.  But on the deeper policy points, he is lost.  Clueless.   And it can be embarrassing.

This is not to slam Herman Cain.  He is right where the American people are on Libya and other foreign policy issues.  They know about as much as he does.

And Cain has an everyman image that has proven to be quite appealing to everyday voters, if the polls are to be believed.  But being an everyman has its limits.  Voters want somebody who knows how to speak to them, but they also want somebody who actually knows the issues too.  And Cain has proven time and again that he just doesn’t measure up in that department.

Of course, he is not the only one.  Michele Bachmann has proven to be incapable of probing deeper on policy.  She is damn good at the sound bites, and for that she got a nice bounce early on.  But her inexperience and her gaffes (and her own quirky personality) doomed her campaign before the campaign really got started.

Rick Perry is another one who is not very conversant in the Washington-speak.  Of course, he has proven to be not conversant in English either.  He is inability to rapidly grasp and respond to issues has, at least for now, relegated his campaign to the low single digits.

Jon Huntsman has all of the diplomatic tools to succeed on the Presidential level.  He doesn’t, though, have the campaign chops.  His experience as former ambassador to China is certainly impressive if you are looking to hire somebody as the CEO of an international conglomerate.  It is much less impressive, though, if you are running to become CEO of America.

The current front-runner, Mitt Romney, has learned the hard way how to become fluent in Washington policy while still retain an ability to communicate with the voters.  He is not a former Senator, so he doesn’t lapse into Dole-Gore-McCain speak, talking about H.R. this or Senate Res. that.

But, so far at least, he hasn’t been caught off guard with any questions of foreign or domestic policy.  Every answer he gives is carefully calibrated to annoy the fewest voters while still answering the question.  Not an easy feat to perform, and Romney has pulled it off time and again.

The bottom line is that there is no substitute for real experience.  Real experience in working with complicated policy issues and real experience in running for office at the Presidential level.

Many Tea Party Republicans seem to gravitate to the candidates, like Bachmann and Cain, who have almost no experience.  But that seems to me to be a self-defeating strategy.  The last time the voters picked the guy with almost no experience, they picked Barack Obama.  And how do you think that worked out?