Romney Supporters: Herbert Hoover Was a Successful Businessman and Manager, Too
In this Republican presidential primary cycle, no endorsement will be able to match former GE CEO Jack Welch's assessment of Mitt Romney in its sweeping claim: "In my lifetime, Mitt Romney is the most qualified leader I've ever seen run for the presidency in the United States."
Though CEOs love fellow CEOs, a record of sound or even brilliant business leadership is a lousy predictor of eventual political success in either gaining the presidency or governing successfully after winning it. Whether it's Wendell Willkie, Ross Perot, Donald Trump, or Mitt Romney, American presidential races regularly produce candidates or potential candidates whose business management prowess is touted as a key distinguishing advantage in the field of contenders. Thomas Sowell (who has come out in support of Gingrich) notes that "Romney's talking point that he has been a successful businessman is no reason to put him into a political office, however much it may be a reason for him to become a successful businessman again."
One of Romney's governing traits, a big plus for any successful executive, is that he is a "numbers guy" and is heavily dependent on data to make decisions. (For some reason though, he refuses to look at data in the physical world before gulping Kool-Aid from the same global warming cup as does the unhinged environmental left.) Looking at our most recent Republican two-term presidents, George W. Bush (like Romney, a Harvard Business School graduate) was undoubtedly more numerate and business-savvy than Ronald Reagan, but few conservatives question who the better president was.
One of the problems with business managers is that they can never expect the same level of control in government that they exercised as lead investors or as board directors. Romney's enormous success at Bain Capital derived not only from his ability to assess the worthiness of business plans and models, but also from his freedom to hand-pick from among the world's most talented managers to implement a business strategy and to fire anyone who was ineffective at doing so. As president, he won't be able to fire Harry Reid and replace him with Marco Rubio.
Nor does managerial brilliance speak to ideological or policy consistency. Herbert Hoover was one of the most widely acclaimed government technocrats in the early 20th century. A broadly admired centrist, Hoover served under both Democrat and Republican administrations. His administrative skills were so celebrated that when called upon, he capably served under both the progressive Woodrow Wilson and the pro-market Calvin Coolidge.
The fortune Hoover amassed in his early thirties as a successful mining engineer and executive probably compares favorably to Romney's net wealth today. And Hoover garnered worldwide fame in managing food programs that saved the lives of millions of Belgians at the outbreak of World War I, Armenians in the aftermath, and countless Russians in the early 1920s. Romney's rescue of the Salt Lake City Olympics might not have been as dramatic as Hoover's vast humanitarian relief, but Romney's efforts reflect a similar managerial skill.
But none of Hoover's past helped him navigate the onset of the Depression, where he chose a path of central government control and unprecedented tax increases in an attempt to cure the economy. FDR first campaigned deftly against this aggressive intrusion by government, calling it socialistic as he walloped Hoover in 1932, and then copied and expanded upon Hoover's programs in formulating the New Deal.
In his single term as governor, Romney chose similar central government tools when he instituted RomneyCare, and he increased a host of corporate taxes and government fees. Romney contends that his health care overhaul was in keeping with the Constitution and the proper role of states as incubators of innovation. But why is central planning bad for the federal government but good for a state?
Jack Welch and much of the financial world might embrace Romney for leadership skills in business, but because Romney lacks a clear and consistent governing philosophy, he seems to have real challenges in exciting a constituency beyond his 25%-30% base. And his past management successes tell us nothing about he'll perform as candidate or as president.
Claude can be reached at email@example.com.