August 31, 2015
By ANDREW MALCOLM
INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY
If Donald Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination and then the general election in 14 months, he would join a very select band of the nation’s leaders.
So would President Carly Fiorina. Or President Ben Carson.
They would be Americans whose very first elected office was the presidency.
Americans through the generations have clearly preferred leaders with political experience to head the country, predominantly governors. But political office experience hasn’t always been necessary. Only five men out of the 44 presidents so far have accomplished that in the country’s 239-year history. All were Republicans or Whigs and three of them were generals
None of today’s candidate crop has accomplished anything like those political predecessors. (BTW, we’re not counting George Washington, who had no party affiliation.) Can you name the five?
Don’t strain yourself. It’s Monday. We’ll help:
Dwight Eisenhower. Herbert Hoover. Howard Taft. Ulysses Grant. And Zachary Taylor.
Eisenhower (1953-61) was a career Army officer who fought in both World Wars. He was architect of the successful North Africa and Normandy invasions and ended World War II as Supreme Allied Commander Europe. He also served as Army Chief of Staff, NATO’s first commander and president of Columbia University before declaring his candidacy in 1952 to counter the isolationist wing of the GOP.
Less known was his assignment after the First World War to take an Army convoy cross-country and survey the nation’s primitive road infrastructure. Having just seen how a lack of adequate roads crippled France’s military defense, Eisenhower reported this country needed a nationwide system of highways for defense purposes. More than 30 years later, Ike followed his own recommendations to create the Interstate system.
Herbert Hoover (1929-33) was an experienced engineer, businessman and internationally-renowned humanitarian for his relief work in China and fighting hunger in Europe after World War I. He gained a can-do reputation through the 1920’s as Secretary of Commerce, promoting government efficiencies through business partnerships, launching construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and what would become Hoover Dam.
Hoover was elected the country’s first Quaker president in a 1928 landslide and donated his entire salary to charity. The subsequent stock market crash and Depression overwhelmed his recovery policies and he lost a 1932 reelection bid.
Memo to Hillary Clinton and John Kerry: Hoover was the last cabinet secretary to occupy the White House.
Howard Taft (1909-13) was Teddy Roosevelt’s handy-man, taking on a variety of assignments from governor of the Philippines to Secretary of War. Previously, he’d been solicitor-general and a federal appeals court judge. Roosevelt’s hand-picked successor, Taft like Hoover ran afoul of events larger than himself (which is really saying something) and he lost reelection in 1912, also to a Democrat.
Z. Taylor, not insane (Library of Congress)
For years Taft served as an arbitrator and peace advocate until President Harding named him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1921. Taft is the only president in U.S. history to head both the executive and judicial branches of government.
At 330 pounds, Taft was also the fattest president. But, most importantly, he’s the last chief executive with the wisdom to sport facial hair, a glorious handlebar mustache.
Ulysses Grant (1869-77) was an aggressive Union general who won President Lincoln’s favor by splitting the Confederacy with his conquest of the Mississippi River and then defeating Gen. Lee in a series of bloody northern battles. He also integrated his armies and oversaw initial Reconstruction.
As president, Grant used the Army and Justice Department to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan and enforce voting rights for freed slaves. His administration was plagued by corruption charges and the GOP denied him a third nomination. Which was actually good because Grant then wrote an impressive autobiography as he was dying of throat cancer.
Later came publication of the hard-drinking, cigar-chewing general’s numerous and touching love letters to his beloved wife Julia during his long military absences. Grant is the only president buried in Grant’s Tomb.
Zachary Taylor (1849-50) was another career Army officer who gained national heroic status with a series of stunning victories over larger Mexican forces. His political views were little-known when the Whig Party sought him in 1848, which served him well. He declined to meet with voters or share his positions publicly.
A strong advocate of states rights, Taylor opposed expansion of slavery, though he owned some himself. He despised patronage and the standard games of politics. Election Day, Nov. 7, 1848, was the first statutorily on a Tuesday and the first conducted on the same day nationally. With 145 electoral votes needed, Taylor won 163.
Taylor’s presidency began March 4, 1849. But that was a Sunday. So he refused to take the oath until Monday.
Taylor died of a mysterious stomach illness 16 months later, leaving the country in the hands of Millard Fillmore. Taylor also left for posterity his thoughts on seeking the presidency: “Such an idea never entered my head,” he once wrote. “Nor is it likely to enter the head of any sane person.”
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