Do You Need Elected Experience to Be President?

Of the 11 Republican contenders taking the stage in the main GOP debate, three have never held elected office.

In fact, not one of those three - Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina - have any political background whatsoever.

ElectionBillionaire Trump is a real estate mogul. Carson is a retired neurosurgeon. And Fiorina is the former CEO of tech giant Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ).

Republican voters have shown a clear preference for these political "outsiders."

Trump and Carson have consistently been No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls, both nationally and in the early primary states. And Fiorina moved up from the second tier of candidates to the top tier after a strong debate performance in August.

But can someone with no elected experience be a good president of the United States?

The "Outsiders" Have Much to Prove at the CNN GOP Debate

While such experience is not required to be president, conventional wisdom holds that it's a good idea.

Even Jimmy Carter, derided by critics as peanut farmer, had served as governor of Georgia and in the Georgia senate before he was elected president.

Likewise, Ronald Reagan was often chided for his acting career before he entered politics. But he served two terms as governor of California.

And yet America has elected presidents who have never held a prior elected office. Most have made the leap to the White House thanks to their military prowess.

They are:

  • George Washington: Granted, Washington was at a disadvantage being the first president - elected offices were hard to come by. He did participate in the Constitutional Convention. However, Washington did have extensive experience as a military leader, and his success as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army foreshadowed his success as president.

You could have guessed that one. Now here's the rest...

    • Zachary Taylor: Elected in 1848, Taylor had been a general in the U.S. Army. His exploits in the Mexican-American War led the Whig Party to nominate him. We can't tell much from his record as president, however. Taylor died in office after serving a little more than one year.
    • Ulysses S. Grant: His defeat of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the Civil War landed Grant on the Republican ticket in 1868.

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  • William Howard Taft: While never having held elected office, Taft did serve in government. He was appointed governor of the Philippines, then Cuba. He also served as the secretary of war under President Theodore Roosevelt.
  • Herbert Hoover: Like Taft, Hoover did have some government experience before he was elected president. He was secretary of commerce under Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Prior to his political career, Hoover was a mining engineer.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower: A military man, "Ike" had little interest in politics. But as Supreme Allied Commander, Eisenhower gained fame as the man who engineered the defeat of the Nazis. Both the Democrats and the Republicans considered drafting him as their presidential nominee in the years following World War II.

So electing a career businessperson or medical doctor as president would be a first. Keep an eye on this GOP presidential election process.

Tonight's Debate: The Money Morning team will be live tweeting the CNN GOP debate tonight. Check us out here: @moneymorning. In the meantime, read our preview of the CNN GOP debate.

About the Author

David Zeiler, Associate Editor for Money Morning at Money Map Press, has been a journalist for more than 35 years, including 18 spent at The Baltimore Sun. He has worked as a writer, editor, and page designer at different times in his career. He's interviewed a number of well-known personalities - ranging from punk rock icon Joey Ramone to Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Over the course of his journalistic career, Dave has covered many diverse subjects. Since arriving at Money Morning in 2011, he has focused primarily on technology. He's an expert on both Apple and cryptocurrencies. He started writing about Apple for The Sun in the mid-1990s, and had an Apple blog on The Sun's web site from 2007-2009. Dave's been writing about Bitcoin since 2011 - long before most people had even heard of it. He even mined it for a short time.

Dave has a BA in English and Mass Communications from Loyola University Maryland.

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