The Presidential Candidates’ Core Competencies

Business leaders often talk about the “core competencies” of their organization. A firm’s core competency is not just what a business does best, it is a unique advantage over potential competitors, and it is also a skill or capability that can be reused, applied to multiple potential products and markets.

Core competence is often defined in relative terms: It’s what sets one business apart from other firms working in the same space, a strength when compared with the competition.

Political candidates also have core competencies. And one way to identify those core competencies is to look at the roles that the candidates play within their own organizations — the jobs they do, and also the jobs they want to be seen doing.

For example, the GOP contender, Mitt Romney, has put himself at the center of the campaign’s strategic planning. Unlike most campaigns, which rely on considerable direction from the candidate but are chiefly managed by a powerful staff strategist — an operative/visionary like Karl Rove or David Axelrod — Romney, as Politico put it, is his own top political adviser: “Romneyworld consists of a set of interlocking circles, created during his time in business and in government, tied together by a campaign manager with a clear mandate over the operation but with the candidate himself at the center.”

This isn’t just the way the operation works. It’s also the perception they labor to create. The Romney campaign dislikes process stories and tends to resist participating in media “coverage that focuses on the impact of particular advisers. As Jason Zengerle reported in his excellent GQ profile of senior Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom, there was more than a little internal friction when a debate coach brought on to help Romney was highlighted in a prominent New York Times article. And Zengerle suggests that there were consequences: “A few days later, Romney's debate coach, who figured significantly in the Times story, got booted from the campaign. No one has crowed since.” The campaign wants to ensure that any credit for successful operations goes to Romney, not his aides.

Obama, in contrast, wants to be seen as a visionary rhetorician — a speaker and wordsmith whose candidacy revolves around both his grand ideas and his power to express them.

And in his campaign operations, that’s the role he seems to play. Obama famously wrote his career-making 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, insisting on drafting the speech himself after finding previous speeches and remarks written by advisers Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod to be insufficiently authentic and powerful expressions of his beliefs. Obama felt he could put his ideas into words better than anyone else. And his staff seemed to agree.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Time’s Jay Newton-Small looked at Obama’s speechwriting process, writing that “Obama takes an unusually hands-on approach to his speech writing, more so than most politicians.” Axelrod, the campaign’s top strategist, reinforced this view, telling Newton-Small, "When you're working with Senator Obama the main player on a speech is Senator Obama. He is the best speechwriter in the group and he knows what he wants to say and he generally says it better than anybody else would."

Another way of saying this might be that Obama is selling ideas while Romney is selling action. You can see this reflected in their records. Obama is much more effective at conjuring up a powerful vision than he is at designing the details of legislation or its implementation. As the governor of Massachusetts and the head of Bain Capital, on the other hand, Romney seems to have managed and implemented policy well enough. But he hasn't been able to successfully pitch voters on a grand vision and doesn’t seem to be driven by one himself. In the end, then, their strengths suggest their weaknesses. Looking at the core competency of each candidate tells you as much about the gaps in their abilities as it does about what they think they do well. 


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  • Drake||

    So Obama's core competency is blowing worthless words into the air. I figured him for a bullshit artist 5 years ago.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Romney's core competency is in taking companies private and either making them more profitable or liquidating them.

    Understanding how that process works--and that it's not an evil thing? That's his core competency.

    Barack Obama's core competency is community organizing, telling gullible college students what they want to hear, and turning the UAW's wishlist into official U.S. policy.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Once again, the top capitalists support Obama.

    Real capitalists - not libertarians who pretend such.

  • Ken Shultz||

    You think the U.S. government owning GM in conjunction with the UAW is an example of capitalism?!

  • Drake||

    By "top" you meany crony.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Actually, by "top" shrike means "the one doing the penetrating".

  • Ken Shultz||

    I wish Bain Capital had done the same thing with GM that it did with GST Steel.

    Then the money for those overpaid UAW workers at GM wouldn't be coming out of my future paychecks.

  • Ken Shultz||

    And when, exactly, does the bleeding stop?

    The minute the government sells all that GM stock?

    The minute the president refuses to bailout GM again--and the UAW owners and UAW management of GM have to go into bankruptcy and negotiate with their own UAW members?

    If we reelect Obama, how likely is he to refuse to bailout the UAW again?

    When does the bleeding stop?

  • R C Dean||

    They're already talking about bumping the tax credit for buying Volt up to $10,000/car.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Shit, they'd have to bump the credit up to one dollar over invoice, to get enough of the fucking things on the road to make a difference.

  • Cenotaph||

    Throw in a tax credit for maintenance costs and parking and we'll talk.

  • Ken Shultz||

    There aren't enough tax credits in the world to make up for the mistake of a company that's being run--managed, that is--by the government and a labor union.

    This has already been tried in the Soviet Union. It failed miserably. Hell, the next step would be to shield GM from market forces completely? Because obviously if the market doesn't want to pay UAW's workers their lavish salaries and benefits, then the problem must be the market forces.

    Nationalizing companies and trying to run them better than entrepreneurs? It's ridiculous that we should have to make these simplistic arguments against what Obama is doing--but what he's doing is refuted by simple examples from recent history! He's acting like Hugo Chavez.

    Hugo Chavez does the same thing--and acts like his critics are a bunch of anti-communist dinosaurs, who don't understand his genius for new ideas! I have very little hope that Romney will be a great president--but I know as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow that Obama is a shitty, shitty president.

    Shitty.

  • Drake||

    Volt production is suspended again.

    http://content.usatoday.com/co.....D0YH6Dp_5M

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "no one was jumping for joy more than James Rogers, the CEO of the Charlotte-based energy conglomerate Duke Energy. Rogers was a major proponent of many of the administration’s efforts on energy and environmental policy, and a deafeningly vocal advocate of Cap and Trade legislation. "

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/ma.....onvention/

  • Drake||

    Gee, I wonder why?

  • Ken Shultz||

    You left off the next part of your quote from your link!

    Rogers was a major proponent of many of the administration’s efforts on energy and environmental policy, and a deafeningly vocal advocate of Cap and Trade legislation. But there are always two sides to the coin. Economist Bruce Yandle referred to it as "Baptists and Bootleggers".

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/ma.....onvention/

    All the regulars at Hit Run are familiar with "Baptists and Bootleggers". An excellent example of capitalism it is not!

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "Rogers and Duke lobbied heavily for regulations, Cap and Trade, and 'green' energy grants. For example, the company accepted $204 million in stimulus funds for 'smart-grid projects'. Duke has become dependent on this kind of crony-capitalism. Without these sweetheart deals and regulations that favor their portfolio, they wouldn’t be able to compete. This, and the failure of cap-and-trade early in Obama’s term, explains Duke’s and Rogers’ latest move."

  • Ken Shultz||

    That's what I was talkin' about!

  • Hyperion||

    Cronies, not capitalists. You don't know the difference, do you?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    "Real capitalists"

    What a fuckin' laugh.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Romney's core competency is telling people what they want to hear thereby shamelessly taking both sides of each issue.

  • califernian||

    You meant to say "Obamaney" right?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    It's amazing how shrike can type with DNC cock in his mouth AND ass.

  • califernian||

    Am I to understand from his comment that Shrike actually believes that Obama doesn't pander?

    Really? How can that possibly be?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Well, let's see. Obama can do the Vulcan salute, and he has the ability to continue lying even when everyone knows that he is. He's also a magical black man to a significant portion of the population.

    Romney's hair is perfect, like a werewolf's, and he looks like a TV president. He also has the quality of not being the president presiding over an extended economic decline that is not a complete disaster mostly because of the problems the rest of the world is having.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    No one blamed FDR for the Great Depression that began three years before he was inaugurated. His success in mitigating it can be debated.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I don't blame Obama. The disaster is bigger than him. It's also bigger than Bush or any other president, for that matter.

    Obama loses because he's presided over the mess without doing anything to stop the decline. In fact, quite the opposite. I doubt Romney will do much better, but he has the advantage of not being in office right now.

    Rightly or wrongly, people blame the officeholder for the economy.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I don't blame Obama for the disaster.

    I do blame him for prolonging the pain in his reaction to the disaster.

    Hamstringing the banks with tons of regulation--right when businesses and consumers needed access to credit the most?

    That was profoundly stupid.

    Blame Obama for the economic and credit cycles? That doesn't make any sense. Fundamentally rearranging our financial system to make it less resilient after a crisis? That's all on Obama.

    He's proud of himself for doing that! Why wouldn't we blame him for it?

  • SusanM||

    "without doing anything to stop the decline"

    And what would you have him do?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Repeal Obamacare, the uncertainty around which is absolutely murdering job creation right now.
    De-regulate.
    Cut Federal spending in the executive branches.

  • Pro Libertate||

    What BP said, among other things.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Can we start with what he shouldn't have done?

    He shouldn't have made an issue out of executive pay--as if that were somehow the cause of the problem.

    He shouldn't have squandered $700 billion in what would have been free cash flow and consumer discretionary income on bailing out Wall Street and the UAW.

    He shouldn't have seized institutions like Washington Mutual--even though they were still within their reserve requirements--and sold their assets to an investment bank. For a long time, the banks were afraid to do anything!

    And talk about a convoluted economic policy! The Obama was calling for a reinstatement of Glass-Steagall--scaring the hell out of investors in our financial stocks--even as he seized Washington Mutual (a retail bank) and sold it to an investment bank--even as Obama forced BofA to buy Merrill Lynch!

    He shouldn't have done that.

    ...

  • Pro Libertate||

    The WaMu business is particularly galling to me, because I held on to my stock solely because they could've withstood the disaster from a strict balance sheet perspective.

  • Ken Shultz||

    They weren't even out of compliance with their reserve requirement!

    It was wholesale theft. And last I heard, the shareholders were still suing the government because the FDIC refused to give the money they got for WaMu to the shareholders! They kept the money for themselves. The money didn't even go into the FDIC bank bailout fund--it went into their operations budget.

    That's theft.

    It's the worst thing I've seen since what Obama did to the Chrysler bondholders.

    The Obama Administration diluted the the senior bond holders equity to 33 cents on the dollar--and gave a controlling stake to Fiat, the UAW, and the U.S. government. I believe their lawsuit is still running, too...

    How do you jip senior bondholders in bankruptcy court?

  • Pro Libertate||

    There's still a lawsuit going on about that, last I heard. I get notices occasionally. I still hold shares, refusing to give them up for the $4.00 or whatever I was offered for them.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If justice prevails, you should get your share of whatever the FDIC sold WaMu for...

    Actually, if justice prevails, you should get more. They opened negotiations on WaMu and sold it in an afternoon. There wasn't any bidding!

    That's unacceptable from any perspective. I couldn't sell a hot dog stand without doing more due diligence than the government did.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I'll take the same number of shares in Chase stock.

  • R C Dean||

    And what would you have him do?

    Reform the tax code to get rid of all the tax credits, loopholes, deductions. Tax accounting would be strictly GAAP.

    Lower tax rates across the board.

    Start repealing regulations wholesale (which he doesn't need Congress for, BTW). Set up a commission to look into interstate compacts as the proper, Constitutional mechanism for regulation of commerce.

    Do all that, and you get yourself an economic boom. And that's before you take a meat-axe to the budget.

  • SusanM||

    You realize that Obama "doing something" would be the exact opposite of what you and BP have outlined. Maybe it's for the best he did nothing at all ;)

    The next questions that come to mind are "Does the president really have that power by himself to impact the economy for well or ill" and "Would Romney do any differently in any substantive way?"

  • Killazontherun||

    Does the president really have that power by himself to impact the economy for well or ill

    Suppose that congress with the active support of the White House passed a law that required every house hold in America to take a ten dollar bill and burn it. Would that not have an impact on the economy in the aggregate through a diminished money supply? Now take Obamacare which is a much more significant burden than merely burning a ten dollar bill for each household, are we to assume it doesn't have a tremendous negative impact on the general prosperity? That assumption is nonsensical.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Now maybe we can talk about some of things he should have done:

    One of them?

    Instead of squandering the hundreds of billions on the stimulus that was "paid back" to the government by way of TARP?

    He should have really paid the taxpayers back that money by either slashing taxes or reducing the debt!

    You know most of those notes to raise that $700 billion were sold as ten-year treasuries, meaning that the money to repay the principal to those bond holders still hasn't come out of our paychecks yet.

    We can keep rolling it over so long as inflation stays low, but any way you slice it, when the government finally does have to really pay that TARP money back? It's gonna hurt.

    Some people find it hard to believe that squandering $700 billion in what would have been discretionary income or discretionary cash flow--is hard on the economy. And, yes, Barack Obama is one of those people. I guess he just figured he'd be able to avoid it until after he was reelected anyway?

    What a shitty president.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I'm gonna go run like five miles and try to get this shitty Obama president out of my mind...

    But that's what GOP should be focusing on to win. This election isn't about Romney. Make sure he isn't so scary that people are afraid of him, but otherwise?

    This election is about Obama. Do we keep him or do we kick him to the curb? He's got such a stack of crap to show for his efforts, that he should lose.

    If Romeny's the next president, it won't be because he won. It will be becasue Obama lost. Romney won't have a mandate for anything other than being a competent president. And if we set the bar there for Obama--was he a competent president? That bar should be impossibly high for him.

    P.S. Shitty president. Shitty.

  • wareagle||

    Now maybe we can talk about some of things he should have done:

    Ken,

    you and others continue missing the point, as if Obama did things that happened to turn out badly. No, he did those things because they would turn out badly. This is not the result of inexperience or bad advice; it is the deliberately calculated outcome of thinking that is outside the bounds of even traditional liberals.

    A parallel can be drawn between what Obama and Reagan both inherited. There were great similarities between 1980 and 2008. The two men took diametrically opposed paths and, surprise surprise, saw opposite results.

    Analyzing Obama requires one to abandon traditional thinking. He's not Clinton or Kennedy or even LBJ/FDR. His vision is not of a central govt that helps usher in prosperity; his vision is of purposely diminishing America's power abroad and potential for prosperity at home. The worst thing that a leftist regime can consider is a vibrant middle class.

  • freeforall232||

    Obama should vote Gary Johnson 2012 if he's serious about fixing things.

  • Drake||

    It was definitely a depression. FDR made it great.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    I blame FDR for the Great Depression lasting so long.

  • SugarFree||

    Romney's hair is perfect, like a werewolf's

    They noticed that you noticed it was too perfect. The newest iteration of the hair nor includes a piece that struggles free and bounces a bit when he talks or gestures. The perfect imperfection.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Retaining perfection. Imagine how intimidating his perfect hair will be to foreign leaders and dignitaries!

  • SugarFree||

    Every strand as a mockery of their foolish decision to not be Americans.

  • Homple||

    "Obama, in contrast, wants to be seen as a visionary rhetorician — a speaker and wordsmith whose candidacy revolves around both his grand ideas and his power to express them."

    And the results of his powerfully expressed grand visionary ideas are spread before a candid world.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    More like core INcompetences, get it?

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Obama, in contrast, wants to be seen as a visionary rhetorician — a speaker and wordsmith whose candidacy revolves around both his grand ideas and his power to express them.

    He has to be a visionary rhetorician (with the aid of a teleprompter). It's not like he has a record of clear-cut successes to run on.

  • Pro Libertate||

    And I don't get this business about him being a great speaker. He isn't. His presidency has established his weaknesses in public oration quite thoroughly, I'd say.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    It take a rhetorician of profound insight and ability to mispronounce the word "corpsman."

  • Cenotaph||

    Having the media on your side covers a multitude of rhetorical sins.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I'm not saying he isn't serviceable as a speaker--he's better than me, for instance (not a high standard, I admit)--but "great" is a word that simply doesn't belong anywhere near him as an orator.

  • ||

    Frankly, I find his tone forced and patronizing.

    And most of his speeches sound like he's seeing the words for the first time. This is not the mark of a great orator.

    This is the kind of thing you get when someone of relatively low accomplishments gets this much help in creating a cult of personality.

  • Pro Libertate||

    That's my reaction. What they should do is drug him and implant a wireless device in his ear.

  • Hyperion||

    And in other news, those zany libbies in Hollyweird keep up their vile rhetoric:

    Hollyweird mouthing off again

    Wouldn't it just be the damndest irony ever if the storm does a direct hit on the DNC in Nawlins and half of them wash out to sea?

  • Ryan60657||

    Another OBAMNEY core competency: Expand the size, scope, and scale of the Federal Government and restrict civil liberties.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Oh, but he's not done enough on that score, Ryan. No wonder far-leftists are disappointed in Him.

  • califernian||

    They have one competency: Smile and wave and make people think they are not fucking idiots.

    They are actors, nothing more. They don't even understand the positions they keep changing.

  • Killazontherun||

    Romney is a pretty smart guy, but I'm not voting for anyone with the stink of the history of establishmentarian compromise oozing from every pore. Nothing personal, I even like him to an extent, I just have a good idea of whom I should not turn my back on.

  • califernian||

    I have yet to be convinced Obamney can tie his own shoe. Act like they care, act like they have a plan, act like you are the most important person in the room when they are in person,sure Actual IQ. No not so much.

  • califernian||

    To put it another way, I would bet my first born's life that Romney doesn't know the first fucking thing about the big issues.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Another way of saying this might be that Obama is selling ideas while Romney is selling action"

    And yet another way of saying it is that Obama is flat out incompetent.

    He can't do anything except run his mouth.

  • John New||

    What about Johnson's core competencies? Isn't he a candidate for the presidency too?

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