Usually, the two of us don't agree on anything about politics. James is a lifelong conservative Republican, a former staffer for the George W. Bush administration, and a former Navy SEAL who has led men in combat. Gautam is a lifelong Democrat, a Harvard Business School professor, and the author of Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter. Two things unite us. The first is a fascination with leadership, whether as someone trained to lead men in battle as a Navy SEAL officer, or as a scholar who has published articles and a book on what makes leaders - particularly Presidents - successful. The second is the conclusion that this interest in leadership leads both of us to: that it is vitally important that Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly defeat Donald Trump.
Studying presidents and working closely for President Bush convinced both of us that every president, regardless of party, must be able to do a number of things if they are to have any chance at success. They range from managing the federal bureaucracy, to communicating clearly with American allies and adversaries, to bringing people together to find creative solutions to the most complicated problems. It doesn't matter what your larger vision of the presidency is if these basics aren't taken care of. Think of them as the "blocking and tackling" required of the leader of the Free World. As in football, it doesn't matter how well you do everything else if you can't get these fundamentals right, and the higher the level at which you are playing, the more difficult it becomes to execute on even the most basic parts of the job well enough to succeed. The Presidency is called the hardest job in the world for a reason. Both research and personal observations tell us that in the Oval Office, like in the SEAL Teams, "the only easy day was yesterday."
What does it take to get this blocking and tackling right? Three characteristics seem fundamental to the success of leaders in high pressure situations, from the presidency to business to the military. They are knowledge, skills, and temperament. These three are necessary but not sufficient for success - their presence does not guarantee it, but their absence guarantees failure absent extraordinary luck.
Knowledge matters because even leaders who choose to delegate heavily must still know enough about the tasks they are delegating to give meaningful instructions and to judge the capabilities of their supporters. During the Civil War, for example, Lincoln - the beneficiary of less than a year of formal education - read extensively on military tactics and strategy, and his increasing knowledge allowed him to make crucial contributions to the Northern war effort. Similarly, George W. Bush accelerated his lifelong passion for reading in the depths of the Iraq war in 2006, immersing himself in books about leaders, history, and current events as he faced daunting decisions about whether to surge troops in Iraq.
Knowledgeable leaders need skills if they are to put that knowledge to use. Successful Presidents have to be good at tasks as varied as management, diplomacy, and negotiations. What's more, these skills are very different in government than they are elsewhere. For example, negotiations in business result in contracts that are binding and enforced by courts. Negotiations in politics result in agreements that are, at best, self-enforcing. The President doesn't get to go to court if his or her negotiating partner breaks their word. Junior leaders in the SEAL teams all have the knowledge needed to lead from their training, but their skill still varies. Some fail because they are simply unable to relate to their men and harness their talent to get them to follow them and get the job done.
Finally there's the question of temperament. Leaders who deal with high-stress situations must be able to think clearly and act deliberately under even the most extreme pressure. Only Washington's ability to keep his calm in the face of British and French provocation kept the United States out of what would surely have been a disastrous war during his Presidency. Eight years ago on a mountaintop in Afghanistan, it was the calm voice of James's Ground Force Commander that inspired trust in his entire team as he provided guidance while calling in airstrikes around them. Even as hundreds of terrorists attacked, he managed questions from his men, ensured the safety of non-combatants on the scene, spoke to aircraft overhead, updated leadership back at the base, and planned an exit route, all while talking over the radio as calmly as if he was catching up with his mother after a long day at work. Real leaders know that in the heat of the moment it's their job to be cool.
These qualities don't guarantee success, but they do make it possible. So how do Clinton and Trump compare? The two of us have different opinions of Hillary Clinton, but we are both certain that she is more than capable of executing the fundamental blocking and tackling of the Presidency. Even if you give her no credit for learning anything during her time as First Lady, eight years in the Senate and four years as Secretary of State gave her plenty of time to build the knowledge and skills needed to do the job. Any fair assessment of her performance during the long sequence of debates during the primaries and general election, for example, would conclude that she has a level of detailed knowledge of issues facing the country rarely equaled in modern Presidential history. Skills and temperament are harder to judge from a distance, but Gautam's research shows that the people best able to judge whether a candidate for leadership can do the job are those who have both extended close personal contact with the candidate and extensive knowledge of the requirements of the job. Of the people who know both Hillary Clinton and the Presidency well, it's more than striking that they, overwhelmingly, seem to express no doubts whatsoever about her skill. There's a reason that every living former President, regardless of party, is supporting her, as are the two most recent Republican Secretaries of State. As for temperament, despite our radically different politics, we were both struck by her ability to stay calm and execute her debate strategy against Trump to extraordinary effect in the face of provocations without precedent in American history. Taken all in all, despite our political differences, we are united in our confidence that Hillary Clinton has everything it takes to do the job of President.
Sadly, we can only say the opposite about Donald Trump. His ignorance of the workings of the American government is almost farcical (for one example among an endless number, he proclaimed that he wanted to protect "Article 12" of the Constitution when the Constitution has only 7 articles). He has not spent a single day in the military and by his own testimony doesn't read much at all, yet has so much confidence in his own knowledge that he's proclaimed that he knows more about how to beat ISIS than American generals do and can teach a former Dean of the Army War College about war. His serial business failures suggest that he is not much of a manager even in business, and his repeated vague proclamations about striking better deals for the United States suggest that he does not understand that government doesn't work by fiat. If that wasn't enough, going through three campaign managers since taking the nomination is hardly a sign of managerial skill. As for temperament, Trump's inability to remain calm under pressure speaks for itself - or if it doesn't, his Twitter account removes all doubt. His self-described "thin skin" was prominently displayed in the debates as he repeatedly let Clinton's needles distract him. It would be easy to describe the various ways in which Trump has shown that he lacks any ability to execute the basic tasks of the Presidency at virtually endless length.
The problem isn't that there's no reason to believe that Trump is up to the job. The problem is that there is overwhelming evidence that he isn't even close - so much so that both of us are convinced that he is less fit for the Presidency than any presidential candidate since (at least) the 19th century.
So that's reason enough for Trump to lose. But why is it important that he lose in a landslide? First, because when the damage that could be done by a completely incompetent president is so great, any chance of it happening is too great a risk. Polls can be wrong, and Trump is already beginning to challenge the legitimacy of his extremely likely defeat. Getting as many undecided voters as possible to the polls to vote for Clinton will both eliminate the chance of a catastrophic Trump Presidency and ensure that his margin of defeat is so great that even his most fanatical supporters will dismiss his talk of a rigged election.
Second, however, and just as important, are that the consequences of a narrow Trump defeat and a landslide will be very different. The Republican Party's decision to nominate Donald Trump is, in our shared assessment, among the most irresponsible acts ever committed by an American political party. The choice by Republican leaders to support him even after his extraordinary combination of erratic behavior, incompetence, and boasting about committing sexual assault is perhaps the most extraordinary collective decision to put party before country in American history. Only a decisive defeat will send the unambiguous message that no one like Donald Trump can ever be allowed within sight of the Oval Office and that nothing like his nomination must ever happen again.