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How the presidential-selection process should be changed

Posted by John Reed on

The Constitutional process for becoming president is fatally flawed and must be changed. I am finishing a novel where the selection process was almost absent. It causes interesting consequences:

The Unelected President Novel

Get the parties out of the presidential selection process

Get the two major parties out of it. At present, each of those private organizations is guaranteed a place on every state ballot. Get all parties out of it. There should be no state or federal government anointing of private parties on an official government ballot.

March-Madness-type tournament

We should have a non-partisan, March-Madness-type tournament. The first election will have blank ballots. All voters write in the name of the person they want to be president.

That national write-in election—not caucus or convention—would take place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January of the election year.

The top eight vote getters in the write-in competition move on the the Elite Eight which is held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in April.

The top four vote getters in the Elite Eight move on the the Final Four which is held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in July.

The top two voters in the Final Four move on to the Presidential election on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November..

A non-partisan process

As I said this would be non-partisan. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans nor the Libertarians nor the Greens nor any other party would be guaranteed a spot on any ballot, let alone the final ballot.

This would eliminate the inherently two-faced pattern of being a super partisan in the primaries then moving toward the center for the general election. My tournament would encourage everyone—other than some gutsy off-center candidate—to operate more or less from the center all along. Two-faced politicians need not apply. That should eliminate blowouts of extremists like Goldwater in 1964 and McGovern in 1972.

Convention delegates will be meaningless

The parties can have a convention if they want, but it will not put anyone’s name on the official ballots. The parties can select delegates any way they want and allocate delegates any way they want and adopt whatever rules they want, but all of that will be irrelevant to what names appear of the official ballots printed by the government for the last three stages of the four-stage Presidential tournament.

Who advances in the tournament and who wins the presidency will be decided strictly by the voters. Party officials will have absolutely NO say at all.

Minimum standards to be president

The Constitutional standards for president are too low. Look at age: 35. When the Constitution was ratified in 1788, the average life span in the U.S. was 36 years. We could keep the same percentage of life expectancy. 35/36 = X/79 (today’s U.S. life expectancy) That would say the minimum age to be president would be 77.

That’s too old. I prefer the peak earning years. For college grads, those are 45 to 54. I suggest 50 as the minimum age. That would have forced just nine of our presidents to wait a few years before they ran. 

The nine Presidents in their forties were, at the time of inauguration: 

James K. Polk and James A. Garfield  (49); Franklin Pierce (48); Grover Cleveland and Barack Obama (47); Ulysses S. Grant and Bill Clinton (46); John F. Kennedy (43); and Theodore Roosevelt (42—assassination of McKinley). A minimum age of 50 would not have denied any of them the office, only forced them to wait an election cycle or two before they ran.

Minimum-residence requirement

That’s already in the Constitution: 14 years. No need to change it.

Remove ‘natural born citizen’

I would remove the phrase “natural born” and open it up to all who were citizens at birth by virtue of whatever legal mechanism. I am not averse to naturalized citizens becoming president, but if we do that, there should probably be a minimum 20 years residence in the U.S.

Military service

There is no military service requirement in the Constitution. But there should be. I would set it at a minimum of two years on active duty. What would such a short period accomplish? It would show you that the U.S. military is a screwed up SNAFU, FUBAR, FUBB mess. It is crucial that the commander in chief know that. Presidents who did not serve only know and, God help us, believe, the Hollywood image of the military. Aghhh!

Our last three presidents—Clinton, Bush II, and Obama—never served. Clinton and Bush were out-and-out draft dodgers. Obama chose not to serve. And I don’t think there are many who view their records as commanders in chief as admirable.

One important reason the Founders put in no such requirement was that they opposed having a standing Army between wars. With no army to serve in, they could not require it. They had a Navy but it wasn’t much different than merchant shipping at the time what with pirates and such.

Work experience

There is no work experience requirement in the Constitution. There needs to be. There is no such requirement because it never occurred to the Founders that elected offices would be taken over by a ruling class of persons who never, or rarely, spent any time in the real world. Today’s politicians typically go straight from college or law school to government/politics/charity/academia or maybe work in a non-noteworthy, undistinguished capacity for a year or two outside of government.

But the president’s main job is presiding over the optimal climate for private enterprise. So he or she ought to have meaningful work experience in the 28 years between college and age 50. And since the president is head of the executive branch, it ought to be successful executive experience in a for-profit business.

Successful military leaders

In general, I would ban career military officers because they are bureaucrats and the worst kind of bureaucrats: martinets with the power of life and death over subordinates. Not useful or even acceptable for managers of civilians.

But too many presidents who had experience as colonels or generals did well in the job for me to exclude them. They are:

  • George Washington: Revolutionary War (Continental Army)
  • James Monroe: Revolutionary War (Continental Army)
  • Andrew Jackson: War of 1812 (Army)
  • William Henry Harrison: Indian campaigns (Army)
  • John Tyler: War of 1812 (Army)
  • Zachary Taylor: War of 1812, Black Hawk War, Second Seminole War, Mexican-American War (Army)
  • Franklin Pierce: Mexican War (Army)
  • Abraham Lincoln: Black Hawk War (Indian Wars) (Army)
  • Andrew Johnson: Civil War (Army)
  • Ulysses S. Grant: Mexican War and Civil War (Army)
  • Rutherford B. Hayes: Civil War (Army)
  • James A. Garfield: Civil War (Army)
  • Chester A. Arthur: Civil War (Army)
  • Benjamin Harrison: Civil War (Army)
  • William McKinley: Civil War (Army)
  • Theodore Roosevelt: Spanish American War (Army)
  • Dwight Eisenhower: World War I and World War II (Army)

So I am not going to advocate a standard that keeps out all those guys. But make sure of the details. The candidate must be a commander at the rank of colonel or higher in successful combat operations or a successful war. Reaching that rank in a totally peacetime military is worse than worthless. It’s like a fireman whose firehouse never went to a fire. Similarly, combat experience at lower rank followed by getting out or staying in a peacetime military is okay, but not a substitute for significant executive experience as a for-profit business executive.

Absent successful colonel or higher rank successful experience in a war, the candidate must have successful experience as an entrepreneur or as an executive employed by an entrepreneur. At the moment, I am not prepared to specify the detailed standard, but it can be done.

Faceless middle manager in a bureaucracy would not suffice. You have to be able to see whether the executive was truly effective—bottom-line responsibility and adequate profit and return on equity.

Government executive experience

Being a mayor of a city of 50,000 people or more or a governor is valid experience for being president, but not enough to excuse the candidate from the two years of military service or successful experience as an executive in the for-profit sector.

I thought about saying all presidential candidates should have to be former governors. There are lots of them. And would-be candidates would bend their careers through the governor’s mansion or try to if they had to.

But I do not want even successful governors who have been in nothing but government or politics since college. True, the job of president involves being in charge of government employees like a governor. But the essence of the presidency is leading the non-government employee population to prosperity, peace, and safety. Governors have only limited duties with regard to prosperity and defense.


I’m okay with a high school diploma minimum. WI governor Scott Walker was a college dropout. I think he would have been fine as a president. I would not recommend only a high school education for a president, but I don’t think guys like Walker or Rush Limbaugh or Beck should be excluded.

No felons

Convicted felons should be excluded. The Constitution does not happen to say that. There may be some more recent federal statutes that do. We have enough non-felons to keep the Oval Office filled.

Which presidents would have been excluded?

What post-World War II presidents would have been excluded by these requirements? Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Truman. Or perhaps a better way to say it would be they would have made better presidents if they had faced these requirements and took steps to meet them before running.

Constitutional amendment

All of this should be done by Constitutional amendment because we cannot trust the parties to vote themselves out of power or to not try to repeal a mere law that did that.

I previously wrote about how Congress should be changed:

And about how we should have binding national referendums (not referenda):

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