What Makes for a Successful Presidency?


Written by: Bearing Truth

The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.  — James Madison, Federalist #57

 

Every president has supporters, loyalists who call him a “good” president,” but what truly makes a president good? More appropriately, what makes a President successful? Public approval[i], while a common factor, too often relies on emotional reactions rather than evaluating factual occurrences throughout a presidency. These emotional factors will not be addressed here. Rather, this article addresses the qualities and characteristics identified as desirable for success.

Many articles, books, and media sources debate leadership qualities required in a presidency. These sources often take the best qualities or characteristics of a single president (or group of presidents) and identify qualities perceived to make them successful. These characteristics have been condensed into two categories: 1) Personal Qualities and 2) Political Competencies (NOTE: Some of these characteristics fall under both categories).  These categories are considered predictors of success and are reflected in the following Table 1: Characteristics of a Successful President – Personal Qualities and Table 2: Characteristics of a Successful President – Political Competencies.

A feeble executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government. — Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #70

The last two categories must be evaluated longitudinally, based upon the policies and actions that occur during the president’s term in office. These should then be compared with the characteristics of a successful president to determine if the predictive characteristics were of value in determining how successful a president was. These categories are outcomes-based, evaluate a president based on the success of his actions while in office, and include the evaluation of results following presidential actions as identified in Table 3: Characteristics of a Successful President – Results of a President’s Actions. Some of the classifications in these categories are subjective, while others relate directly to the successful implementation of the actions of the president while in office and how much of his specific policies are approved and implemented by Congress.

The final category that evaluates presidential success occurs in terms of policy implementation and how well it adheres to the principles of federalism and to the Constitution. As required by the Constitution, the president-elect takes the Oath of Office [xii] prior to officially becoming president. The Oath of Office states:

‘‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The following table, Table 4: Characteristics of a Successful Presidency – Adherence to the Constitution and the Principles of Federalism, addresses factors of a successful president specific to both the Constitution – as the supreme law of the land – and the principles of federalism, which are the issues and ideals that were used in the creation of the Constitution.  It further addresses the question of re-eligibility of election referenced by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 72:

With a positive duration of considerable extent, I connect the circumstances of re-eligibility. The first is necessary to give the officer himself the inclination and the resolution to act his part well, and to the community time and leisure to observe the tendency of his measures, and thence to form an experimental estimate of their merits. The last is necessary to enable the people, when they see reason to approve of his conduct, to continue him in the station in order to prolong the utility of his talents and virtues, and to secure to the government the advantage of permanency in a wise system of administration. — Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #72

Using the current president, Donald J. Trump, as the focus, the principles of federalism will be explored more fully over time in a series of articles analyzing the president’s adherence to the principles of federalism. Factors of eligibility for reelection will be explored in the same context.

i What Makes a Successful President? Measuring Presidential Success through our Last Five Presidents. Shirin Sharif. June 2006, pp. 10-11. Thesis submitted to the Public Policy Forum. Stanford University. Retrieved from the Web February 3, 2017. file:///C:/Users/bjspray/Downloads/2006shirinsharifthesis.pdf

ii “12 Leadership Qualities of an Often Overlooked President.” Mike Myatt. August 29, 2013. Forbes. Retrieved from the Web February 3, 2017. http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2013/08/29/12-leadership-qualities-of-an-often-overlooked-president/#2fa91c842b3f

iii “What Makes a Great President.” Karl Rove. 6/30/2003. History News Network. Retrieved from the Web February 3, 2017. http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/1529

iv “The Qualities that Bear on Presidential Performance.” Fred I. Greenstein. Excerpt from Greenstein’s book, The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to George W. Bush, 2nd edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004. Pp. 217-223. Retrieved from the Web February 3, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/choice2004/leadership/greenstein.html

v Excerpt from Hail to the Chief: The Making and Unmaking of American Presidents. Robert Dallek. New York: Hyperion, 1996, 2nd edition. Retrieved from the Web February 3, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/choice2004/leadership/dallek.html

vi NOTE: Karl Rove explained in his HNN article, “What Makes a Great President,” that Professor Freed Greenstein referred to Emotional Intelligence as “free of distracting emotional perturbations.”

vii “What Criteria Should We Use When Selecting a United States President?” Allen Tharp. 2015. San Antonio Tea Party. Retrieved from the Web February 3, 2017. https://sanantonioteaparty.us/what-criteria-should-we-use-when-selecting-a-united-states-president/

viii “What Makes a Great President.” Karl Rove. 6/30/2003. History News Network. Retrieved from the Web February 3, 2017. http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/1529

ix “The Qualities that Bear on Presidential Performance.” Fred I. Greenstein. Excerpt from Greenstein’s book, The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to George W. Bush, 2nd edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004. Pp. 217-223. Retrieved from the Web February 3, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/choice2004/leadership/greenstein.html

x Excerpt from Hail to the Chief: The Making and Unmaking of American Presidents. Robert Dallek. New York: Hyperion, 1996, 2nd edition. Retrieved from the Web February 3, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/choice2004/leadership/dallek.html

xi “How to Measure for a President.” John Dickerson. September 26, 2012. Retrieved from the Web February 3, 2017. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/features/2012/how_to_measure_a_president_/what_qualities_should_we_look_for_in_our_presidents_.html

xii “Oath of Office.” The Heritage Guide to The Constitution. Retrieved from the Web February 7, 2017. http://www.heritage.org/constitution/#!/articles/2/essays/85/oath-of-office