Many apparent his book maintains an important place


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many traits successful leaders require
have remained similar throughout the course of history.  However, recent elections have re-defined characteristics
that historically were expected in leaders. 
  Examining the behaviors of modern
day Republican leaders gives insight as to what qualities are most important
for a leader to have.  While core policy
differences exist between Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, it is
the comparisons of their personal traits and backgrounds that provide insight
into these changes.  Examining the way
each of these presidents rose to power and how they dealt with major challenges
illustrates characteristics effective leaders require in today’s modern political
landscape.

            Niccolo
Machiavelli’s, The Prince, has been
used for hundreds of years as a portrait of what leaders need to succeed.  The
Prince still inspires many methods that successful, modern day leaders use.
Mussolini and Stalin were both heavily influenced by The Prince.  Stalin having
written his own annotated copy and Mussolini who wrote a discourse on the book
(Service 2004).  Furthermore, the United
States’ founding fathers were believed to have held Machiavelli in mind when
creating the plans for the new country.  What
might be most notable however, is that every significant modern leader is, at
some point in their career, compared with Machiavelli’s vision.  Simple Google searches with the words “Obama
Machiavelli” or “Trump Machiavelli” return nearly 400,000 results, with analyses
from major organizations like, The Washington Post and CNN, to everyday
bloggers.  Though it has been nearly 500
years since the publication of Machiavelli’s, The Prince, it is apparent his book maintains an important place in
the world of modern politics.

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            Throughout
The Prince, Machiavelli explains how a
leader needs to be perceived by those he governs.  Machiavelli (1532) writes, ‘From this a
dispute arises whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the
reverse.  The response is that one would
want to be both the one and the other; but because it is difficult to put them
together, it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one has to lack one of
the two’ (p. 66).  Machiavelli makes
evident that rational leaders would want to be liked and feared, however, if
they must choose, a successful leader will elect to be feared.  He does not see being loved as a requirement
for success.  Machiavelli (1532) provides
his reasoning for this and why leaders will choose fear over love, writing ‘men
have less hesitation to offend one who makes himself loved than one who makes
himself feared; for love is held by a chain of obligation, which, because men
are wicked, is broken at every opportunity for their own utility, but fear is
held by a dread of punishment that never forsakes you’ (p. 66).  It can be understood that Machiavelli
believes intimidation, through law and order is a trait required for
leaders.  Additionally, leaders will need
to be ruthless to employ punishment, when appropriate.  Using these two traits, a successful leader
can implement organization that ensures those that he governs will not easily
abandon him. 

Although
Machiavelli believes force is often required to maintain control, he
understands additional techniques are needed. 
Machiavelli (1532) writes ‘So one needs to be a fox to recognize snares
and a lion to frighten the wolves.  Those
who stay simply with the lion do not understand this’ (p. 69).  Machiavelli uses the lion to represent the leadership
quality of strength but explains that one who intends on maintaining success
cannot rely solely on force.  An effective
leader must also have qualities represented by the fox.  He does not deny that strength is important,
however, to avoid political traps set by enemies, a leader needs to be cunning
and sly to identify them.

            Machiavelli
similarly explicates how leaders can achieve proper perception from those they
govern.  After listing human qualities
relevant to leaders, Machiavelli (1532) writes, ‘And I know that everyone will
confess that it would be a very praiseworthy thing to find mentioned qualities
that are held good.  But because he
cannot have them, nor wholly observe them, since human conditions do not permit
it, it is necessary for him to be so prudent as to know how to avoid the infamy
of those vices that would take his state from him and to be on guard against
those that do not, if that is possible’ (p. 62).  Machiavelli is aware that humans inherently
have vices they give into.  To ensure
these depravities do not tarnish their image a leader must know how to publicly
frame themselves.  This can be done by limiting
the evidence of faulty traits and framing oneself as having qualities they are
lacking. In today’s politics, Machiavelli would likely define this as skill
public relations.  While this ability,
among others, will be seen in one’s rise to power, Machiavelli (1532) recognizes
what leaders will first be judged upon once they achieve power writing ‘And the
first conjecture that is to be made of the brain of a lord is to see the men he
has around him; and when they are capable and faithful, he can always be
reputed wise because he has known how to recognize them as capable and to
maintain them as faithful.  But if they
are otherwise, one can always pass unfavorable judgement on him, because the
first error he makes, he makes in this choice’ (p. 92).  The first act a new leader makes is appointing
those around him, therefore, the competence of these individuals is immediately
critiqued by the people and reflects on the judgement of the leader.  For a leader to be perceived by their followers
in a way that emboldens their authority, they must have good judgement and talent
to persuade the public in their abilities even when they might be lacking.

            Stephen Skowronek has also built a
profile of what makes modern day politicians successful by studying their
actions.  In his examination of Abraham
Lincoln, there is evidence as to what traits a successful leader needs.  Analyzing Lincoln’s rise to power, Skowronek
(1993, p. 199) notes Lincoln’s lack of ‘heroic posture’ and ‘history of
national service’ that emboldened resumes of previous presidents like Jefferson
and Jackson.  These qualities, which can
be identified as leadership experience and courage proven through military
experience are not necessarily vital to success, as Lincoln proves, yet
Skowronek undoubtedly values them as highly important.  Skowronek (1993) further compares Lincoln
with Jefferson and Jackson noting ‘These presidents countered their detractors,
neutralized their attacks, and fine-tuned the art of political persuasion by
constructing a discourse impervious to the essential contradiction of
presidential action in history’ (p. 212). 
Whereas Lincoln, Jackson and Jefferson differed regarding their prior
national experience, they all had the ability to persuade people of their
political approaches.  This is often implemented
with expert public relations techniques such as powerful messaging, media
manipulation or skillful oration. 
However, the feature Skowronek seems to value most in Lincoln is that of
pragmatism.  He (1993) writes,
‘pragmatism proved an effective stratagem for Lincoln because he operated
within the contingent structure for action in which it was most appropriate,
the one that maximized presidential independence from the receiving governing
formulas.  The authority to repudiate
gave Lincoln’s pragmatism its range and vitality’ (pp. 208-209).  Skowronek, again, does not make it obvious
that pragmatism is a required trait for leaders but it’s noticeable, based on Lincoln’s
authority and circumstances, that it was vital to his success.  Through Skowronek’s examination of Lincoln,
it can be determined that he achieved his successes despite his lack of
leadership experience, but rather through his skillful oration, persuasiveness
and pragmatism.

Through his individual evaluation of
American presidents, Skowronek has also come to some general conclusions as to
what traits can help lead to success.  Skowronek
(1993) writes ‘Successful political leaders do not necessarily do more than
other leaders; successful leaders control the political definition of their
actions, the terms in which their places in history are understood’ (p. 17).  Accomplishments of political leaders cannot
be measured in the amount that they do, but rather by how they frame their
achievements.  If a politician can shape
their actions in a manner that resonates positively with the people, they will
be considered successful.  Additionally,
Skowronek (1993) argues that success can be as dependent on circumstance as it is
ability, writing ‘Certainly, it is no accident that presidents most widely
celebrated for their mastery of American politics have been immediately
preceded by presidents generally judged politically incompetent’ (p. 8).  This situation might not be directly relative
to a personal characteristic, but it is important in understanding how
politicians might present themselves to the public.  After unsuccessful regimes, a politician will
have an easier time proving their methods successful.  From Skowronek’s analyses it can be determined
a politician’s success hinges as much on their ability to craft a persuasive,
public message as it does on their actions.

The analyses by Machiavelli and
Skowronek provide a framework for the necessary traits a successful leader requires.  Although they studied leaders of different eras,
they discover many of the same required qualities.  Machiavelli and Skowronek both emphasize the
importance of political persuasion.  It
is possible to achieve this through different methods and Machiavelli, having
written before the technological era, differs in his description from
Skowronek.  However, it is obvious both
understood leaders must convince the public of their strategies and resulting
actions. This ultimately leads to them being viewed as successful and worthy of
being followed.  Another similarity in
their analyses is the necessity to have good judgement.  Without this, Machiavelli explains that
leaders will quickly be exposed through their political appointees.  Skowronek doesn’t opine on political
appointees specifically, however the emphasis he places on pragmatism and its
importance in navigating the nuances of a job as complex as being president,
reveals his belief.  Where Machiavelli
and Skowronek differ somewhat seems to be in their definitions of strength.  Skowronek focuses more on proof of courageous
experiences, while Machiavelli emphasizes using intimidation and even physical
force if required.  The times likely play
a role in their definitions, as physical force was more accepted in
Machiavelli’s era, still, there seems to be a gap between Skowronek’s
definition of courage and Machiavelli’s belief of using fear as a
motivator.  Regardless, from their
analyses it is evident some of the most important traits a successful leader
needs are those of good judgement, public relations abilities and proven courageousness.

Richard
Nixon’s rise to power displayed traditional qualities that a modern leader often
requires to flourish.  Proof of his
courage was seen through his military experience as he joined the Navy in what
was conceivably a politically calculated move. 
As Black (2007) writes regarding Nixon’s enlistment, ‘There may have
been also a political consideration. 
Since Nixon had his heart set on a career in politics, he would have
reasoned that sitting out the war in the office, that rationed everything,
including profiles, and, for millions of people, incomes, would not be great
for a postwar vote winner’ (p. 56).  Nixon may have planned his resume to perfect
his opportunity at a successful political career.  Black (2007), points out that it was clear
that “The United States has always like veterans politically, and lionized war
heroes’ (p. 56).  This follows
Skowronek’s belief that courage through military experience is a characteristic
that resonates with people.  Nixon continued
to follow Skowronek’s model after the war when he ran for a seat in the House
of Representatives. Not only had he emboldened his resume as a military
veteran, but also as a political representative. 

With
significant experience, Nixon’s next step was gaining a national platform which
he accomplished in achieving the vice presidency.  What put Nixon in the running for the job was
assistance he provided in manipulating the California primary so that it could
be ‘snaffled up for Eisenhower if need arose’ (Black 2007, p. 188).  Black (2007) describes the situation, writing
‘The California delegation had to be infiltrated and undermined, but not so
that Warren, who ruled in Sacramento as an emperor – in his third term, like
Dewey – would notice’ (p. 188). Nixon was chosen for this job because he was,
as Black (2007) states, ‘an expert at this sort of Machiavellian maneuver, and
he would undertake to subvert Warren’s position without greatly offending him’
(p. 188).  It is evident Nixon was
equipped with traits of cunning and slyness, those of which Machiavelli described
through his fox metaphor.  Through
performing this operation for Eisenhower, Nixon came upon the radar for the
Vice Presidency.  Nixon’s rise to power
demonstrated a traditional path presidents have taken to achieve success and
was aided by his cunning aptitude.

Although
Nixon’s rise to the presidency followed a historically traditional course, his
downfall was unique to American presidents. 
The traits that led to his ruin exemplify what leaders should avoid or,
beware of exposing to the public.  In
1973, after Nixon’s second term victory, his approval rating was 66%, however,
within a year it fell to 24% (The American Presidency Project n.d.).  He had won re-election by a popular vote
record of nearly 18 million votes. 
Understanding Nixon’s popularity in relation to the Watergate scandal exposes
his unnecessary paranoia.  Furthermore,
his lack of judgement led to a cover up attempt and ultimately caused the
public to turn against him.  Nixon was
not the first president to have participated in illegal activities however, his
relationship with the press was poor and, upon the revealing of Watergate, his
defenders were few.  Even in defending
himself, Nixon’s messaging to the public was poor.  Black (2007) writes, ‘He had to stop muddling
a technical defense with self-righteous posturing that was not supported by his
reluctance to release all the evidence, and stop attacks on his opponents in
the media and previous administrations. 
It was never clear if he was saying that he was absolutely, or
technically, or just relatively blameless, so he brought much skepticism on
himself’ (p. 916).  Through all the
turmoil, Nixon tried to avoid resignation and only did so, as Schmidt (2013)
writes, ‘when it was obvious that public opinion no longer supported him’ (p.
181).  Nixon’s fall, was due not only to
his having taken part in illegal activity, but also because of his poor abilities
in public relations, something both Skowronek and Machiavelli believed
vital.  Nixon was unable to repair his
image and even in defending himself, made the public more doubtful.  Through his downfall, it is evident Nixon was
lacking in judgement and the media savviness that might have been required to
turn public opinion in his favor. 

Ronald
Reagan’s path to the presidency, at the time, was untraditional, however, bore
some similarities to Nixon.  His military
career was not as extensive as Nixon’s, yet Reagan did serve in non-combat
positions.  However, after his service,
he focused more on acting and his leadership role within the Screen Actors
Guild.  It was not until years later that
Reagan entertained the thought of political life. This contrasted Nixon, who
was focused on a political career from a young age.  As Wagner (2004) writes, ‘Reagan had never
seriously entertained the idea of running for president, but after
overwhelming success of his Goldwater speech, he began to think that even at
age 54, it was not too late for him to consider changing careers’ (p. 44).  Understanding he needed political experience,
Reagan ran for the California Governorship to bolster his resume.  Not surprisingly, after the governorship, his
skillful oration led to his rise in popularity and potential as a presidential
candidate.  After losing the Republican
primary in 1976, Wagner (2004) explains, he ‘studied Jimmy Carter, the man who
ultimately won the presidency.  He saw
how Carter’s policies were failing, how unemployment and inflation and interest
rates were on the rise, and that the military was facing severe budget
cuts.  Reagan believed that these
policies were wrong, and he did not hesitate to speak out against them’ (p.
51).  These ruthless, Machiavellian style
attacks on Carter continued for four years as Reagan eyed the 1980 presidential
campaign. Reagan’s rise to the presidency, while untraditional, still
maintained core traits presidents have previously had, such as eloquence,
strength, proven courage and political experience.

Although
the resumes of Nixon and Reagan had similarities, their reactions to scandal meaningfully
differed.  Shortly after re-election,
Reagan was faced with his largest presidential scandal, the Iran-Contra
affair.  While Reagan, like Nixon,
initially denied the allegations against him, his better judgement eventually
led him to his best attribute, speaking. 
As Wagner (2004) writes, ‘To save his presidency and restore public
confidence, Reagan fired the men who handled the deal and replaced several
members of his staff.  The final step was
to explain to the American people what had happened.  In a nationally televised speech, he said
that his belief that arms had not been traded for hostages had been proven
false’ (p. 71). Whether or not this last part is true is irrelevant as the
American people believed him.  Reagan had
saved his presidency and although investigations remained, the public support
was again in his favor.  He would leave
office with a strikingly high, 63% approval rating.  Contrasting this with Nixon’s reaction to
Watergate, shows the importance of skillful public relations, good judgement
and eloquence.  As easily as Watergate destroyed
Nixon, Iran-Contra could have done the same to Reagan.  However, unlike Nixon, Reagan restored
confidence in the American people which led him to being one of the most highly
regarded presidents in the modern era despite a major scandal.

Donald
Trump’s ascent to the presidency combined new political characteristics with
historical ones.   Unlike any president before him, Trump had no
military or political background.  His
platform and credentials came from his business and reality television
experience.  Cristina Rivero (2016) of
the Washington Post, explained advantages of his unique situation writing, ‘Trump already had an established,
world-famous brand. He used his celebrity name to attract attention and amplify
his campaign message over Hillary Clinton’s. Trump capitalized on the power of
the Trump brand, which people associate with and aspire to luxury, wealth and
celebrity.’  Not only did Trump
capitalize on his brand by using it as a platform, but his background gave him insights
into the workings of modern media.  His
ability to manipulate the press was different than that of Reagan’s and perhaps
more impactful as he relied on his media skills to make up for a lack of
experience.  Using this knowledge of
media, Trump, unlike his opponent, delivered clear and understandable messages
that resonated with people.  His
messaging and attacks on Clinton regarding issues surrounding the economy and
law and order bore an obvious resemblance to Reagan’s campaign against Carter.  The Machiavellian instincts of strength and
ruthlessness were often displayed by Trump at his rallies and in debates.  It can be determined that although Trump
forged a new landscape, proving someone can achieve the presidency without
political experience, his techniques regarding messaging were historically
similar to candidates that came before him.

Shortly
after his election victory, Trump was faced with a major political scandal, the
Russia investigation.  Trump’s reactions to
the investigation have more closely resembled those of Nixon’s to Watergate
than Reagan’s to Iran-Contra.  Trump has
been defensive, wanting none of the blame and often attacking the media, even
labeling them an ‘enemy of the people.’  Though
his negative treatment of the media helped during the campaign, it has limited
him as president.  This contrasts Reagan
who, due to his positive relationships, was able to maintain political capital
which he used to admit wrongdoing and ask forgiveness regarding the Iran-Contra
affair.  Trump, instead, has alienated
possible defenders which undoubtedly relates to the overwhelming amount of
negative news stories.  Claire Atkinson
(2017) of NBC News reported that the ‘Pew Research Center, in a content analysis of the early days of the Trump presidency, found
that 62 percent of the coverage was negative and only 5 percent was positive.’  This has resulted in an average
approval rating of 38.4% which is ’10 percentage points lower than any other
elected president’s first-year average’ (Jones 2018).  This is striking because as Jones (2018) explains
‘Presidents usually get substantial support from the public during their first
year in office, known as the “honeymoon period” and marked by above-average job
approval ratings.’  However, what is possibly
most telling in relation to his record low approval is the turnover in Trump’s administration.  Machiavelli explained the significance of
character in those that a leader surrounds himself with.  Eli Stokols (2017) of The Wall Street Journal
reported that through December, the Trump administration saw a 34% turnover
rate.  Since record-keeping began, this
is the highest in history.  ‘The
presidency with the next-highest first-year turnover rate was Ronald Reagan’s,
with 17% of senior aides leaving the administration in 1981.’  Trump’s inability to attract high quality
appointees exposes his poor judgement and preparation to lead. Analyzing
Trump’s constant administrative turnover, reaction to scandal, and negative
interactions with the media, exposes his lack of judgement and poor public
relations ability which have harmed his ability to lead.

Comparing
three recent Republican presidents such as Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan and
Richard Nixon distinguishes historical norms that are changing from those that
remain effective.  Richard Nixon and
Ronald Reagan contrasted each other often. 
Interestingly, Donald Trump combines many of Reagan’s qualities that led
to his success with those that led to the downfall of Nixon. The traits that
led to these president’s electoral victories, such as military and political
experience in the cases of Reagan and Nixon, and strength in messaging and
media savviness in the cases of Trump and Reagan, provide insight into what can
be useful for a leader to achieve success. 
However, it is the traits that these men used when faced with scandals
that are most telling.  Reagan handled
his with grace, eloquence and accountability, allowing him to achieve the
forgiveness of the American people.  In
contrast, Nixon and Trump have acted defensive and defiant.  For Nixon, this eventually led to his impeachment
and with Trump it has resulted in historically low public support.  These examinations prove that good judgement,
the ability to manipulate public relations in your favor and skillful oration are
vital to a leader’s success. 

 

 

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