The most experienced candidate

Supporters of Mike Huckabee sometimes claim he is the most experienced candidate in the race. While my objections to Huckabee are centred around his policies, this issue is also worth examining. In part because - unlike so much else that is claimed by his supporters - it is not self-evident nonsense.

A case could be made that he is the most experienced candidate, and that case is worth examining.

The first assumption on which the case for Huckabee is built is one I broadly share - that only executive experience counts. The three leading Democrats, together with John McCain, Ron Paul and Fred Thompson, are running on experience that I rate as literally close to zero. Huckabee is far ahead of them, but so too are Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Bill Richardson.

(In passing, even with zero experience candidates should not be dismissed out of hand. Platforms count too).

The claim that Huckabee is more experienced than Romney, Richardson and Giuliani is built on several further assumptions, all of which are worth challenging.

The second assumption is that only government experience counts. On this analysis, Mitt Romney's extensive record in the private sector counts for nothing. This is a strange - and profoundly unconservative - assumption, which seems to be based on the idea that government has nothing to learn from the private sector. I do not go completely the other way, and argue that private sector experience alone would be adequate preparation for the presidency. Executive experience in the two sectors is significantly different - in particular structures of accountability are different. Ross Perot's campaign for the presidency found no favour with me. But a successful entrepreneur who has successfully applied leadership skills in government as well is certainly qualified for the presidency.

The third assumption is that length of service is the way to distinguish candidates with similar experience - two governors, shall we say. This is not complete nonsense, but is really a very minor point. A second term as a governor certainly teaches someone something, but much less than has already been learnt in the first term. Many years in the same job do not add a great deal. Indeed, they imply that someone's career has been stalled. A series of successful leadership roles - such as those that have graced the careers of Mitt Romney and Mike Bloomberg - demonstrates more than doing the same job year after year can ever do. I would be more impressed with Huckabee's résumé if his ten years in government had been four years as a mayor and six as a governor than ten years as a governor.

The fourth assumption is that size counts for nothing. Running a small state is not the same as running a larger state, or a still larger city government. (This, by the way, is also the major weakness in Bill Richardson's otherwise admirable résumé).

The fifth assumption - and Huckabee's supporters may disagree with me here - is that quality counts for nothing. Frankly, leading Massachusetts competently seems a better background for the presidency than leading Arkansas badly. Giuliani's tenure as Mayor of New York was astonishingly successful and completely changed the way the world views the city. Huckabee's leadership of Arkansas, bringing higher taxes and a precipitate decline in the state's competitiveness, was very poor indeed.

The claim that Huckabee is the most experienced candidate needs, therefore, to be rejected. While a case could be made for Bill Richardson, the strongest résumé overall would seem to be that of Mitt Romney - though if Mike Bloomberg joins the race, he would, just, edge him out.

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