Billionaires, millionaires, bankruptcies—businessmen of all types have run for the highest office in the land. In 2012, Republican candidate Mitt Romney campaigned unsuccessfully on his reputation as a businessman. With Fortune 100 business leaders Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina both declaring their candidacy for 2016, history tells us that business people in the modern era do not necessarily make for the best president.
America has seen 20 presidents since 1900, five of whom had million dollar business careers before entering politics. However, this list does not possess some of the most beloved leaders of our over 200 year history.
The 29th President of the United States, Warren G. Harding, led the nation through the beginning of the Roaring Twenties. Harding, a Republican, owned a successful newspaper before his career in politics began in the early 1900s. However, corruption and scandal marred Harding’s presidency even after his death. Harding’s foremost legacy left the country with an unemployment rate of 11 percent and on the verge of economic depression.
At the end of the 1920s, Republican Herbert Hoover’s first year as president saw the start of the greatest economic crisis in American history. Hoover began his career as a mining tycoon before entering politics. Hoover served as Secretary of Commerce during Harding’s administration and corruption followed him.
Hoover feared government intervention in the Great Depression would undermine economic growth in the future and, as such, his popularity quickly declined in his first and only term in office. By 1932, Hoover’s last year in office, nearly 1 in 4 Americans were unemployed and more than 5,000 banks failed. Hundreds of thousands of Americans found themselves without a home and lived in shanty towns near big cities, unlovingly dubbed “Hoovervilles.”
Georgia Democrat and peanut farmer Jimmy Carter became the 39th President of the United States in 1977. The governor of Georgia left the Navy and ran his father’s peanut farm for the better part of the 1950s before entering politics.
Carter surprised many when he won the Democratic nomination in 1977. Carter went on to create two cabinet departments: the Department of Energy and the Department of Education.
However, Carter is remembered as an ineffective and weak president unable to take on the Washington elites he attacked during his presidential run. During his one term as president, Carter’s tenure was filled with continued inflation and recession, as well as an economically damaging energy crisis. Carter also called for a boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980. The last straw for many Americans came in Carter’s isolation during the 444 day long Iran Hostage Crisis, that left eight Americans dead.
The last of the two successful businessmen presidents also happen to hold a relationship not in controversy, but in kinship as father and son.
The 41st President of the United States, Republican George H. W. Bush, founded his own oil company before becoming interested in politics.
Foreign policy drove Bush’s one term as president, which left the economy behind. The elder Bush’s presidency saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and a war in Kuwait against Saddam Hussein. Failing on his promise of “no new taxes,” Bush’s popularity waned as economic recession pressed on the last year of his presidency.
Like his father, George W. Bush had vast entrepreneurial success before assuming the presidency. The 43rd president owned part of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers before assuming a bigger role as Republican governor of Texas.
The younger Bush’s presidency began and ended in controversy. His election alone is still debated in present day with the Florida election scandal. Even though challenger Al Gore won the national popular vote, Bush was elected when Florida, with Governor Jeb Bush (brother to George), refused to recount votes that were marred in controversy of voter coercion, questioning voter intention if they really intended to vote for Bush on a confusing ballot.
The nation rallied around Bush in his response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Bush went on to finish his father’s work by taking down the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. On large part, Bush’s first term was dubbed a success.
However, Bush’s second term exposed the corruption of the first. Information was leaked exposing the doubt of whether or not the war in Iraq was justified. After ending major combat operations in the country, civil war erupted, causing more troops to be deployed into the region.
In 2005, the administration’s poor response to Hurricane Katrina began a decline that Bush would not come back from during his presidency. Bush’s approval rating during his second time averaged 37% according to Gallup, bottoming out below 30% in October 2008. By this time, the United States still fought in two foreign wars leaving trillions of dollars in debt. In the twilight of his presidency, Bush’s legacy was written when the country fell into the worst recession since the Great Depression.
The track records of the two businessmen who have declared for the Republican nomination mimics controversy as well. USA Today and CBS News dub Carly Fiorina as one of the worst CEOs in American history. Donald Trump continues to be one of the most controversial figures in American business. With those track records, the candidates may need to remember the legacy of their former businessmen in the White House when campaigning for the Republican nomination.