Mitt Romney: Make Business Experience A Requirement For The Presidency

Mitt Romney thinks prospective Presidents should be required to have business experience.

During a speech in Las Vegas earlier this week, Mitt Romney argued that business experience should perhaps be a qualification for the Presidency just like citizenship and age are:

“I was speaking with one of these business owners who owns a couple of restaurants in town,” Romney said. “And he said ‘You know I’d like to change the Constitution, I’m not sure I can do it,’ he said. ‘I’d like to have a provision in the Constitution that in addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president and the birthplace of the president being set by the Constitution, I’d like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he could become president of the United States.'”

Romney continued: “You see then he or she would understand that the policies they’re putting in place have to encourage small business, make it easier for business to grow. They’d understand that if they say something negative about Las Vegas it means that businesses and government agencies aren’t going to come here. And that would mean that people who have jobs in hotels will lose those jobs.”

Interestingly enough, Romney’s proposed amendments would have disqualified a whole host of American Presidents including Dwight Eisenhower, George Washington, Andrew Jackson,  Abraham Lincoln, and George H.W. Bush.  Now it’s probably that Romney was being just a little hyperbolic here, but the statement is of a piece with what has been a general theme of his campaign from the beginning, the idea that as a former businessman he is uniquely qualified to deal with the economic situation facing the country. The problem is that there’s not really much historical evidence to support Romney’s argument. For one thing, we haven’t really had that many “businessmen” serve in the Presidency to begin with, and many of the non-businessmen who have held the office have been more than qualified for the position. So, arguing that business experience is somehow essential to the Presidency is not supported by history, and doesn’t really hold up to serious examination on its own.

I dealt with this particular issue about two weeks ago and, at the time, noted the following:

[C]ontrary to the way people seem to frequently put it, the Presidency is not like being a Chief Executive Officer. Not only does the analogy end up being an incomplete description of presicsely what a President’s duties and role in the Federal Government actually are, but it deliberately ignores the significant differences between the two roles. When a corporate CEO makes a decision, he can reasonably expect that what he decides will be what actually happens, and if it doesn’t then he’s going to fire someone. To some extent, the CEO is restrained by the Board of Directors, which does ultimately have the power to remove him or her, but for the most part what the CEO says goes. No such luck for a President. Even with the way that Presidential powers have expanded in recent years, there is still much that an American President cannot do without the agreement of other branches of government. Often this means having to negotiate with a Congress controlled in whole or in part by the opposing party, but sometimes a President must also deal with opposing factions in his own party.

Perhaps there are skills that Romney learned in business that would make him a good, or even great, President, but it strikes me that he would be the exception rather than the rule. The two men with the most business experience to ever reach the White House were Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush, and neither one of them seemed to have that great of a handle on what it took to be a good President. Indeed, one could argue that it was their business instincts that tripped them up in the Oval Office. On the non-businessman side meanwhile, we have the men I listed above, along with men like Bill Clinton who, whatever else one wants to say about him, remains one of the most skille politicians the nation has ever had in the Oval Office. Romney’s (perhaps not seriously) proposed change to the Constitution would have barred all of them from being President for reasons that, in the end, seem trivial at best.

There’s nothing wrong with someone with business experience being President, of course, but the idea of making it a job requirement for all Presidents is quite simply absurd.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Economics and Business, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Hey Norm says:

    Well this makes perfect sense if you are a Republican and your only allegiance is to big business.
    Cap and Trade is a perfect example. Romney says you can’t tax carbon because that will increase costs for business. But a President also has an obligation to those who aren’t in business…those that have to breathe polluted air and drink polluted water for instance.
    Business is critically important, but it’s not the only constituency in the country. A President needs to balance interests. Romney shows no indication of understanding that.
    It’s pretty clear that Romney’s business accumen did not serve Massachusetts very well at all. If it had he wouldn’t be hididng from his term there.
    I’m not buying the argument.
    But a whole lot of people bought it from Bush 43, and they will probably buy it again this time…because that worked out so f’ing well.

  2. Herb says:

    Very convenient…..

    Next we’ll hear Obama say that all future presidents should be lawyers. Oh wait….no we won’t.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Here is a clue Republicans: What is good for business is not necessarily good for the economy. (see repeal of Glass-Steagall).

  4. Mr. Prosser says:

    The business experience line is a tired meme. There are a number of failed businessmen who made it into office (U.S. Grant comes to mind) and even some small business owners (Truman) but the majority have been lawyers.

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    This is yet another 1+1 = 5 moment on the Internet. Read the underlying article again. Let’s go ahead and assume those quotes are accurate and that they’re not taken so far out of context as to fall into the realm of the liberal media’s pretzel logic for Romney agenda. Even with that assumed it appears quite obvious that Romney merely was recounting what someone else said to him and then riffing on it a bit; in other words that Romney was speaking figuratively and not literally, anecdotally and not prospectively as a policy point. You don’t actually believe Romney wants to make such sweeping changes to the Constitution, do you? Come on, man, let’s not jump the shark tank.

  6. Robert in SF says:

    No comments on the slipped in provision supposedly already in the Constitution: about the birthplace of the President [“…and the birthplace of the president being set by the Constitution…”]?

    I thought the requirement was “natural born citizen” not born in the USA….nice way for him to play the birther card without showing it.

  7. al-Ameda says:

    His experience in acquiring companies and laying off workers should be a pre-requisite for any president desiring a recession or deflation.

  8. DRS says:

    Before we can do that, we have to define “business”. Running a restaurant or a retail outlet? Business. Running a manufacturing company? Business.

    But wait – running a business or owning a business? Different things entirely. What if you’re running a business with most of its workforce in Southeast Asia? What if all you do is invest money in businesses run and owned by other people? Is that “business” if you’re reaping the rather passive rewards of investing in someone else’s hard work?

    What if being in business is really a limited spell of time in an overall career? Herman Caine made a lot of noise about running a national pizza chain but that was several years ago now and in recent years he’s been a professional motivational speaker.

    So we’d need to define this term carefully before it becomes a requirement for the office. (And I’m not going to discuss the “three years” thing – how much real business experience can you accumulate in only three years?)

  9. rjs says:

    maybe a prereq should be experience in social work…makes as much sense…

    merkel is an engineer…

  10. george says:

    Well, by today’s standards Eisenhower is definitely a Rino … and I suspect so is Lincoln. Romney wouldn’t want anything to do with either in any case.

  11. PJ says:

    Reagan would be a tax increasing RINO.

  12. Gustopher says:

    How about creating jobs, rather than destroying them?

    Or a medical exam, including mental health professionals trying to determine if the candidate is a sociopath?

  13. MBunge says:

    I’m less interested in Romney’s blather than on the raging narcissism of the supposed businessman who made the initial suggestion. I’m entirely sure that guy would freak the ‘eff out if an academic suggested an educational requirement for President.


  14. @PJ: So would Lincoln, he signed into the law the first income tax, which was later found to be unconstitutional. The income tax was also progressive, a sure sign of socialism nowadays.

  15. In other news, Newt wants all future Presidents to be adulterous slimeballs.

  16. michael reynolds says:

    I understand there are a number of unemployed experienced business executives from Lehman Brothers, Yahoo, Enron, Bear Stearns . . . I’m sure any one of them would be just swell in the job.

  17. An says:


  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Does anybody here think this was a serious proposal to amend the constitution? Does that change the point Romney was trying to make, that presidents should have business experience? Does that change the historical fact that the few presidents with business experience have been very bad presidents? Hoover and W Bush come to mind? Truman may be the only ex business person who was a good president. And he wasn’t a very good businessman.

  19. Franklin says:

    I believe Jimmy Carter owned a business before becoming President. I forget, how did Republicans like his administration?

    To be honest, I think there could be *less* requirements. The age is completely arbitrary, and it doesn’t seem very likely that anyone under 35 would get elected anyway. Even the citizenship by birth requirement seems a bit too “royal” for me.

  20. anjin-san says:

    So Mitt thinks only people who are a lot like him should be allowed to become President. Why is that not a surprise?

  21. al-Ameda says:

    In a very related matter:

    Meg Whitman – founder of E-Bay, and now the CEO of Hewlett Packard, and exactly the type of job creator that Mitt Romney thinks should be president – just announced that HP will lay off 27,000 workers.