A 2016 checklist from a man who knows what it takes

The president and his not-so-secret non-admirer. Not pictured: another president Robert Gates served but doesn't see as exemplary. (AP Photo)

A president and his not-so-secret non-admirer. Not pictured: Obama’s predecessor, whom Robert Gates also served but doesn’t deem exemplary. (AP Photo)

Robert Gates, who served the last two presidents as secretary of defense, is not known for pulling punches. And he leaves no jabs or hooks left unthrown in an op-ed in the Washington Post describing “The kind of president we need.”

Reading through Gates’ list, it strikes me that a shorter way to put it would be: the opposite of Barack Obama and near-opposite of George W. Bush. If that sounds like a contradiction, given the differences between those two men, consider that both men concentrated power in the executive branch, worsened our position internationally due to misguided foreign policies, and left problems unsolved because of their inability to work with Congress, to name a few examples.

Excerpted below are the qualities Gates lists. I’ll let y’all comment on which qualities apply to the various candidates running for president now. But be forewarned, if you say all of them — even the one about being honest with the public — apply to Hillary Clinton, I’m just going to laugh at you.

1) “We need a president who understands the system of government bequeathed to us by the Founders — and grasps the reality that with power divided among three branches of government, building coalitions and making compromises are the only ways anything lasting can get done. … The next president needs to have a core philosophy and set of principles, but he or she also needs to be a pragmatic and skilled political leader — like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.”

2) “Our next leader needs to speak truthfully to the American people. ‘Spinning’ has been a part of the political process since ancient Greece, but as mistrustful as most Americans are today of political leaders, the new president must speak candidly and honestly to the people. … We have a lot of problems, and the next president has to be honest with Americans about their seriousness and complexity — and how to tackle them effectively.”

3) “The next president must be resolute. He or she must be very cautious about drawing red lines in foreign policy, but other leaders must know that crossing a red line drawn by the president of the United States will have serious — even fatal — consequences.”

4) “Our new leader must be a problem-solver. Recently, we have elected presidents with a conservative agenda or a liberal agenda. This election, how about we look for one whose agenda is just making things work? … We need a president who understands that (our) problems are so complex and so big that overcoming them will require bipartisan support through multiple Congresses and presidencies.”

5) “We need a president who is restrained. Restrained to respect the prerogatives of the other branches of government. Restrained in rhetoric, avoiding unrealistic promises, exaggerated claims of success and dire consequences if his or her initiatives are not adopted exactly as proposed. Restrained in expanding government when so much of what we have works so poorly. Restrained from foreign adventures and from using military force as a first option rather than a last resort. Restrained from questioning the motives of those who disagree and treating them as enemies with no redeeming qualities.”

6) “Finally, the most important quality for our next leader at this juncture in our history: The new president must be a true unifier of Americans. The nation is divided over how to deal with challenges such as immigration, the quality of public education, economic inequality, our role abroad and more. … We must hope that the president we elect next year will again and again remind all Americans of our common destiny, and that our fate as a nation and as a people is bound up with one another. Our new leader should appeal, in President Abraham Lincoln’s words, to ‘the better angels of our nature.'”

Tell us which candidates tick the most of these boxes — or maybe who best exemplifies one particular quality — below.

Reader Comments 0

77 comments
Tiara S
Tiara S

I think I could fit the bill, but I am too young anyway.

truth2power
truth2power

The Republican party has a fetish for ignorant candidates, Mr. Wingfield.  Being "book-smart" is considered weak and effeminate.

WardinConyers
WardinConyers

Big fan of Gates who seems to be an honest man who pulls no punches. 

lvg
lvg

Great summary by Gates of all the reasons Trump would make a terrible candidate.

ByteMe
ByteMe

You don't win primaries by pandering to the middle.  Right now, all the politicians are trying to win their primaries by pandering to the activists in their respective coalitions who are the ones who will get out to vote on a cold winter's day (or night, in the case of Iowa).  Trying to gauge what the winner of those primaries will do after they win their respective primaries is an exercise in tea leaf reading.


So for Hillary, it's pandering to the middle class blue-collar worker and hope to extend that further out to anyone who is workin' for a livin'.

For Republicans, it's evangelicals and stoking retirees who think this country is going to hell in a handbasket.


The middle isn't really going to get heard until they pick a side next November.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

@ByteMe

Heh heh--Democrats "working for a living".

50% of Americans get a check from tax payers.  They vote Democrat in huge numbers.

GayWileyShook
GayWileyShook

Dr. Ben Carson has been my choice since last February. Could we please go for the brains this time?

ProfitBGoode
ProfitBGoode

Granted Carson can direct a surgical team of a handfull of like-minded medical staff. Yet Carson has never led a hospital, muchless a diverse environment such as HCA.

Our next POTUS needs much more than "BRAINS".

ByteMe
ByteMe

@GayWileyShook If I want to build a rocket, I'm not hiring a brain surgeon.  It's the wrong person for the job.


When I want someone who understands how government operates and can operate within the confines of the Federal government, I'll hire a politician who can do that, not a brain surgeon.

truth2power
truth2power

@GayWileyShook Dr. Carson has literally disgraced himself with his lack of knowledge about anything unrelated to neurosurgery or the Bible.

JamesRiter
JamesRiter

It's real easy to cast stones when you have not sat in the seat. I agree with much of the statements but it's just not that easy to be everything to all people. 

Christi Renee
Christi Renee

FDR secured the middle class while Reagan began it's demise.  This guy must have had Carson write this lol

Laurie0980
Laurie0980

@Lil_Barry_Bailout Median incomes rose at the cost of future generations, ensuring that many would not be able to get to or stay in the middle class.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

@Laurie0980 @Lil_Barry_Bailout

Nonsense.  Median income has continued to rise since Our President Reagan left office.  Even after seven disastrous years of Obamanomics and falling median income, it's still a bit higher than in 1988.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

And yet median incomes rose on Our President Reagan's watch, and the leftist Carter malaise was reversed.

Michael G Conroy
Michael G Conroy

“We need a president who understands the system of government bequeathed to us by the Founders — and grasps the reality that with power divided among three branches of government, building coalitions and making compromises are the only ways anything lasting can get done. … The next president needs to have a core philosophy and set of principles, but he or she also needs to be a pragmatic and skilled political leader — like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.”


Apparently, Gates does not realize that his exemplars totally contradict his point.  FDR and Reagan were, respectively, the most prolific wielder of executive orders in US history and the most prolific wielder of executive orders in the past 55 years.


Jackalope
Jackalope

@Michael G Conroy Executive orders, in and of themselves, are no indication of respect for the Constitution.  The reason this power was granted is because the Chief Executive, needs the ability to do things simply to keep government operational...to, "keep the lights on" so to speak.  So the number of orders really doesn't matter.  What matters is the impact of those orders; the magnitude of the order.  If I make an executive order, "Have the office staff always wear blue for uniformity", that doesn't have anything to do with Constitutionality.  If I issue one that says, "Have the Border Patrol and Immigration Service completely ignore laws passed by Congress regarding immigration" that's only one order, but the magnitude is enormous.


Robin Ray
Robin Ray

My vote goes to Bernie Sanders!!

Christi Renee
Christi Renee

@Robin Ray I agree, FDR was great for our nation. We need another FDR and Berrnie is the clear choice. Too many decades of Reaganomics are ruining this country.

JeffreyEav
JeffreyEav

I don't know what congress Gates is talking about. Certainly not the US congress.

Germany's parliament voted to go after ISIS. Ours not so much.

Peter Galanek
Peter Galanek

Americans need to get out of the "my team against your team" mentality.  Both parties are mostly corrupt and/or inept.  

The Republican party needs to realize that most Democrats and most undecided voters DO NOT want to vote for Hillary.  All the Republicans have to do is nominate someone who is not a crazy person or a religious zealot to win.  Kasich seems to be the only real option to attract voters across party lines.  Maybe Rubio, but most people don't know much about him.  I think it would be very smart for a Kasich or a Rubio to go across party lines for a VP.  Kasich with Warren, a responsible Republican focused on the economy with a trusted Democrat given the mandate to reign in Wall Street and big banks...That would kill Hillary's chances and give the overwhelming majority of the public confidence that Kasich wants what is best...Plus, they'd easily be able to influence the House and Senate....The fact is that both parties need to be thrown out of office though..

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@Peter Galanek

If you're gonna cross party lines for VP, I'll take Webb over Warren.

Warren's a one-trick pony who's more than happy to support Hillary Clinton. Even Bernie plans on voting for Hillary if he doesn't get the nomination. 

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Peter Galanek Interesting concept. I've thought the same thing but not as detailed as selecting Warren. The candidate that will win will balance his/her ticket in the middle. The far left/right turn too many people off. 

How about a ticket that both the left/right accept? Gates would be one. Same for Powell. Others? Someone with Federal legislative experience .

CardiganBoy
CardiganBoy

@Peter Galanek I like the way you think.  The principles may be up for debate, but you make a lot of sense.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

"We have a lot of problems, and the next president has to be honest with Americans about their seriousness and complexity — and how to tackle them effectively.”

Gates assumes the American people can handle the truth. 

I don't think they can. To accept the truth would require they fasten their seat belts and prepare for the treacherous road ahead...economically speaking.  

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Hillary Clinton:  Uniter.  Truth-teller.  Problem solver.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Too bad Bernie isn't a real candidate. If he were, he would do things like actually campaign against Hillary.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Based on what I'm reading from many liberals, Donald Trump is a good reason we should have closed primaries. Liberals are vowing to vote for Trump so Hillary can win. Most of Trump's support comes from indies who lean GOP. Likely to vote Republicans aren't in his camp. SOGOTP, indies.

What a mess!

Since my preferred candidate is now speaker of the house, I think a Kasich/Rubio ticket would guarantee conservative principles governing in the immediate and not-too-distant future. A Christie/Rubio ticket could accomplish the same thing.

Political pundits, Kyle being the exception, need not apply. They contribute to the division.  

lvg
lvg

Biden in 2016 is the  only possible candidate who fits Gates description . He is the only one who can accomplish no. 4 with Congress. Otherwise next best is Christie.

Dick Helgeland
Dick Helgeland

After reading Robert Gates suggested character needs of a Presidental candidate, I tend to. believe Robert Gates has the experience and Sense of integrity that would likely cause him to serve our country more effectively than any of the current candidates. What would it take......to influence Robert to consider to become a candid for the Presidency of the United. States?

I would really be actively supportive of his election. Richard. Helgeland

Sara R.
Sara R.

This is Dr. Ben Carson.  In every one of the points above, I was thinking of a specific example of things Dr. Carson has said that represented what Robert Gates is talking about.  

TarHeelBezerker
TarHeelBezerker

@NieldSWND I like Webb, but unfortunately one apparently has to be a pinko commie lib to have any chance at the Democrat Nomination. 

mjt178
mjt178

I'm laughing at you for using Hillary Clinton as the choice for lying rather than Donald Trump.

Les Bouska
Les Bouska

What he's looking for is a fairy godmother, not a candidate. Also, if the man has any insight at all, he will acknowledge that the biggest problem lies with congress. Republican leadership, obstruct, obstruct, no, no, no, obstruct. Even if the people scream out for it. Obstruct. The article should have been about the congress we need. 

ProfitBGoode
ProfitBGoode

Obstructionist?!

Can You say Sen. HARRY...?

LincolnX
LincolnX

Every thing he says relates as much or more to our dysfunctional congress than the executive branch. Obama had good ideas but when you are opposed in principle with no room for negotiation by Mitch McConnell and his cronies, you get this. In addition to a good president, you need a functional congress even more - any any analysis that leaves that out is short sighted.

Caius
Caius

@LincolnX Actually Congress does function.  Every dime of the $18 trillion + national debt was approved by a majority vote in Congress.  Congress continues to approve spending for the government but refuses to give the government the reevenue required to pay for the spending they approved.  So they then tell the Treasury Secretary to borrow the money needed to fund the government.


But hey, it is easier to blame one person, the president, than to blame 535 persons, the Congress.


Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Obama only has one idea--shovel as much cash from people who work for a living to Democrats.