This Just in: Presidential Candidates are Egomaniacs

And presidentialism encourages this kind of behavior.

potus seal partialI found the following headline/story at Hot Air amusing:  Brit Hume: Obama told a friend of mine before he was elected, “Wouldn’t it be great for the world if I were president?”

Let’s set aside the silliness of the “a friend of mine told me” (and from six years ago no less) and stipulate the premise for the sake of discussion.  Having done that, let me note this is what every candidate who runs for the presidency thinks.  Who would pursue the job if they did not think that way?  Why else do these individuals put up with the process to get the job, let alone the job itself, if they don’t believe this to be true?

As I have often noted to my students over the years:  to seek to be president is to assume that one is uniquely qualified out of over 300 millions Americans to assume not only the most powerful position in the US government, but one of the most powerful positions in all the world.  This requires a great deal of self confidence (to understate the matter more than a tad). Indeed, what is a presidential campaign other than a multi-year attempt to argue that “Wouldn’t it be great for the world if I were president?”

As an aside, I would note that presidential systems such as ours require that people of that point of view work their way through politics and, indeed, incentivize the behavior in question.  One has to have a pretty strong ego to seek to be Prime Minister as well, but one has to work to build a party/coalitional majority to do so, which requires a different set of strategies.  (Not to mention that a PM does not compete in a national election in which he or she personally receives the accolades and votes of the citizens).

So, as I often note, institutional design matters and the design of our executive branch very much encourages the kind of thinking that is being made fun by Hot Air and Fox News here.  Of course, partisans often like to think that only the other party is filled with egomaniacs, while their co-partisans are just servants seeking a better America.

FILED UNDER: Political Theory, The Presidency, US Politics, ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. C. Clavin says:

    It would be even greater for the world if I were President.

  2. Mu says:

    Good that we have a well armed militia in the case of the Clavin presidency

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Well-armed but piss-poorly regulated. Based on the record they are far more likely to shoot themselves, or their children, in the face than secure a free state.

  4. Pinky says:

    Everyone says that presidential candidates must be egomaniacs, but I’ve never bought into that. He doesn’t have to believe that he’s the best of 300 million people for the job, just the best of a dozen or so.

    You’re interested in politics and good at public speaking, so you run for city council. A few years later your congressman retires, and his designated successor gets arrested for drunk driving, and suddenly the local party is pressuring you to run. You get the seat, and it’s a safe district, and over the next ten years you get pretty good at it. And you decide to take a risk – giving up your seat to run for the Senate. There’s some ego in that, sure, but it’s mostly because you can’t stand your current Senator and you’re kind of maxed out on advancement within the House leadership. Eight years later, you’re not thinking of yourself as a demigod who deserves to be president. You’re thinking of yourself as a guy with a good resume from a swing state who has passed some popular legislation. There are five other candidates in your party: one that no one likes, another with a past that won’t stand up to press scrutiny, one who wants to move the party in what you think is the wrong direction, and two unqualified cranks. You may talk in terms of sweeping vision and key moments in history, but basically you’re just a reasonably confident guy who thinks he can handle the job.

  5. Pinky says:

    @Pinky: And the other side is, the closer you get to power, the less impressed you are by the people who wield it. It’s not that you think you’re worthy of greatness as you realize that high office doesn’t require greatness.

  6. Andre Kenji says:

    I disagree. This year, in the Brazilian Presidential election we are seeing the most boring and normal candidates possible. Even the far left candidates are boring.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    Wow…I guess only men can be President.
    Hillary is going to be bummed to find out.

  8. @Andre Kenji: One can be boring and have a huge ego 😉

  9. (Not to mention that many egomaniacs are, ultimately, bores).

  10. Pinky says:

    @C. Clavin: My mistake. I assumed we were communicating in a Romance language. Clar caddanu,k.

  11. This kind of of feeds into one of my perpetual complaints as a voter: on some level, I simply don’t trust anyone who wants to be president to be president, but I’ve not been able to come up with a good way of identifying potential candidates among the set of people who don’t want to be president.

  12. bandit says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Use the King of Poland method

  13. Just 'nutha' Ig'rant Cracker says:

    @Pinky: I disagree, he’s just using Pinky/Jenos parsing practice. You didn’t specifically say “she” but you did say “he” instead of “he or she,” “s/he,” or using alternating gender in each phrase. If must be significant.

  14. gVOR08 says:

    The commonplace remark that no sane person would want the job is pretty true.