The current fight against COVID-19 favors a president who is quick to decide, willing to let businesses help out, friendly with the media, and motivated by a deep desire to handle the crisis right.
Of the seven most recent presidents, none had everything going for them, but two had three of the four needed traits: Donald Trump and Bill Clinton.
Gerald R. Ford
Gerald Ford was a policy wonk. Having lived his life in Congress, he knew all the moving pieces of what had to be done and why and what was possible. Remember, Bismarck said that politics is the art of the possible. Ford personified that. He was into the weeds on all of the issues. He could lose you in the details. Ford had many presidential qualities that Trump doesn’t have. His humility, for example. “I’m a Ford, not a Lincoln.” But Ford was not nearly as strategic as Trump.
Jimmy Carter was brilliant, patient. It was how he found solutions between Israel and Egypt. But he was slow to act. He does not have Trump’s breathless, dazzling speed. Nor his guts.
Perfect for the Cold War. Relentless. Even-headed. Like Trump, Ronald Reagan was not swayed by the majority but saw things realistically. He had an iron will to stand up against evil and a soft heart for the weak. And the media could not sway him from either course. Like Trump, the media hated him. But he would not be on top of this crisis. It demands too much decisive action that he just would not take.
George H.W. Bush
Smart. Very political. Kind. But George H.W. Bush deliberated endlessly and couldn’t make decisions. He liked lots of options. Trump does, too, but he finally makes up his mind.
Bill Clinton seems to have some of the emotional qualities needed to deal with this current crisis. Of course, if it had happened on his own watch, with all that was going on in his personal life, it could have been disastrous.
But if he were the president today, like Trump, he would have a deep desire to do it right, and, like Trump, he would know how to merge some of the best of the private and public sectors. He also would have media allies.
George W. Bush
George W. Bush was the anti-father son. He was very decisive, although many of his decisions were bad, and he never looked back. I see GWB stumbling into this current crisis the way he did the economic crisis of his time.
Barak Obama‘s presidency was over as soon as he was elected. He was given the Nobel Peace Prize. As the first African American president, he is assured a huge place in history. He had no drive to do anything. Obama saw everything as the responsibility of others. He blamed everything bad that happened in his administration on his predecessor and then tried to take credit for all the good that happened under Trump.
Donald Trump was born for this moment. He has a strong desire to handle it well. He knows how to bring back the economy in a way that Obama couldn’t. He has the confidence and optimism of Reagan and no help from the media. A more establishment Republican would hesitate before committing to a large government program. Trump has no qualms about it. As a former businessman, Trump also set corporations free to help.
There is one other element to understanding Trump. He was on the motivational circuit. I was too. We all expect our leaders to be winners. We want our surgeon, our airline pilot, our accountant, our attorney to all be winners. He wants to be a winner as a president. He wants to live up to the speeches he gave onstage as a motivational speaker.