Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Hi, I'm Jess :) I've been doing some thinking and I wanted your input. I noticed that most presidents have been governors and the track of running for president often involves being elected as governor. Why is that? I would think that being in congress would be a better way of getting the presidency because once a candidate gets there, he or she has a better understanding of congress and would be more effective as a president than someone who has not been in congress. I'm thinking of LBJ, really
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Hi Jess.  I’m Anthony.

LBJ is kind of an anomaly because very few Congressional leaders (Speaker, House Majority or Minority Leader, Senate Majority or Minority Leader) make the jump from the Legislative branch to the Executive branch.  Why?  Because reaching a leadership position in Congress usually requires seniority.  LBJ was one case where the tradition of seniority was broken because he understand the arcane rules and parliamentary tricks so well that he shot up through the ranks of the Senate like a rocket to become Majority Leader at a relatively young age.  By the time Congressional leaders reach that position of power in Congress, they’ve usually put in most of their career.  Gerald Ford is a perfect example.  Before Spiro Agnew resigned and Nixon appointed Ford to replace him as his Vice President, Ford was contemplating retirement.  He had spent nearly 25 years in the House and the last 8 of those years as Minority Leader.  His dream was to become Speaker of the House, but the GOP never controlled the House during his service there.  But he’s a Congressional leader who transitioned to the Executive branch because of Agnew’s resignation and then became President because of Nixon’s resignation, not because of any intent that he had to make the jump to the White House.

There is also another reason that it is tougher for members of Congress — whether they are from the House or the Senate — to be elected directly to the Presidency from Congress.  Unlike Governors, Congressmen have voting records that they have to defend.  Governors sign the bills and can veto them, but they are seen as administrators — executives — and that comes in handy when running for the job of the nation’s Chief Executive.  But Senators and members of the House have to defend every single vote that they cast and, if they are incumbent members of Congress while seeking the Presidency, they often have to make very unpopular or politically dangerous decisions with their Congressional votes in the midst of a Presidential campaign.  Whether it’s fair or not, it’s a political liability that is easy to exploit in a campaign.

Personally, I definitely like knowing that a President had prior experience as a Governor because I feel like being the chief executive of a state helps them prepare better for the type of job the Presidency is than serving in Congress.  I truly believe that nobody can completely prepare for being President and that nobody knows how to do the job until they have the job for a while, but I definitely feel like that administrative experience that comes from gubernatorial service helps new Presidents hit the ground running.  Ideally (to me at least), a President would have gubernatorial experience, some legislative experience (either nationally or on the state level), and some sort of experience in the private sector.  I feel like that builds a more balanced President.

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