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Number One Qualification for President - Be Popular

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By Robert Safir

The shape of American politics continues to change over time. George Washington was a Revolutionary War hero who became president. Dwight Eisenhower, president from 1953 to 1962, was also a war here, but in his case, he shined in World War II. George H.W. Bush served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before he was elected president in 1989.

Serving in the military gave presidential candidates a certain amount of political capital. Patriotism was considered automatic. So were other character traits - honesty, character, and integrity - just to name a few.

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Having the Right Stuff

Stack of blocks showing leadership skills
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Beyond basic character traits, strong leadership tends to incorporate certain innate abilities. Good communication, the ability to delegate, confidence, commitment, and hopefully, a good sense of humor, are all brought to the job to make it successful.

If we were to look above and beyond all of that to a higher level of qualifications, a good president would have a strong vision for the future and the courage to make unpopular decisions. Almost all presidents have had to deal with a crisis of some sort, and that's where experience really can make a difference in critical decision making.

Can Anybody be a POTUS?

President Ronald Reagan and American Flag
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So what's different today? Are these traits no longer important or has the game shifted so that - as they say - "anybody can be President of the United States." A POTUS, if you will.

Perhaps the change started with Ronald Reagan. His initial claim to fame was that he was a Hollywood actor. His first starring role was in the 1937 movie, "Love is in the Air," and he eventually went on to appear in 19 movies. Reagan was later elected as president of SAG, the Screen Actors Guild. Ronald Reagan also was elected as Governor of California.

"You're Fired" (Don't worry - later on you'll be hired)


Reagan was known as "the great communicator." This characteristic was no doubt helped by his frequent exposure on television. He knew how to "work it." His background as an actor didn't hurt either.

And so we come to today. Donald J. Trump. He initially took charge of his family's real estate business, built or renovated skyscrapers, hotels, casinos, and golf courses, and owned the Miss Universe and Miss USA beauty pageants from 1996 to 2015. But this was just a warm-up for what was to come. He also produced and hosted "The Apprentice," a reality television show, from 2003 to 2015. Reality shows became more and more popular in that time period and he eventually became known for his often quoted phrase, "You're Fired."

A Recognizable Brand

President Trump and Cabinet Meeting
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When Donald Trump ran for president, name recognition was no problem. He was already a "brand." He leveraged that brand by adopting quirky behavior during the election. Name calling, conspiracy theories, and a touch of racism in his language and actions, began to draw in large crowds. But in 2009 he became of prolific user of Twitter. His daily use of social media as a vehicle for connecting to his audience was unprecedented as a campaign tool. And so, the popular Donald J. Trump became even more popular.

Social Media Provides a Strategic Advantage

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Today, social media disseminates a tremendous amount of political content, but much of the material is shallow, trivial, unreliable, and polarizing. Donald Trump has made good use of it, but so has Kim Kardashian. She went from being relatively unknown to become world famous, and even though she didn't have any real talent, her incredible good looks propelled her to the top.

In 2019, she revealed that she was studying to become a lawyer. Kardashian even visited the White House to speak on behalf of criminal justice reform. To this date, she has helped seventeen people who were facing life sentences to be released from prison.

And now, Shark Tank investor Daymond John revealed how the reality star turned lawyer could actually become president someday. John said that in 10 years, "she’s probably going to be able to reach half a billion people with her cell phone. She already has a mixed marriage, she has the LGBT representation in her family, she has female empowerment. It’s going to be pretty hard to beat her.”

This is the essence of the argument that popularity can trump experience for someone running for office, even president of the United States. Kim Kardashian as President of the United States would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago. But today, it seems, the number one qualification for being president is to be popular.

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