Again and again during the campaign, Barack Obama supporters pointed to his campaign and its smooth operation as evidence of his fitness and capacity not just to be President, but to be an excellent one. We’ll see if they were right. Lots of good campaigners–Jimmy Carter in 1976 comes to mind–turned out to be perfectly horrid Presidents.
That said, I think it’s fair to admit that the qualities displayed by John McCain during the race would have been, at the very least, quite problematic for a President. The better Presidents tend to have a large vision of where they want to go. Effective Presidents generally inspire loyalty, keep in-fighting to a minimum, resist wild swings in policy and tactics, and are persuasive communicators. None of these qualities came through during the McCain campaign.
It doesn’t mean McCain didn’t have the better of the argument on national security, or that he didn’t offer an economic policy closer to the successful, free-market strategies that have worked in the past. And for conservatives, his understanding of the proper role of the judiciary gave hope that his nominees would have been in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. Still, if conservatives learned anything with President Bush, it is that execution matters, communication skills are essential, and organizational discipline is the bare minimum needed for a successful Presidency.
Republicans would do well to keep these things in mind next time around. It is not just a matter of electability, but of governance. And if the Republicans have suffered from one thing, it is a lack of competent, effective, and principled governance. They should internalize that lesson.