Mitt Romney has based nearly his entire presidential campaign on his experience as a businessman. "I spent my career in the private sector," Romney told Fox News in late November. "I think that's what the country needs right now."
Romney has said roughly the same thing hundreds of times since. Indeed, there are campaign appearances in which he dwells on his experience as a private equity consultant and does not even mention that he was once governor of Massachusetts.
Romney and his campaign aides have made the calculation that an I-know-how-to-crea te-jobs appeal will work in today's difficult economy. But his strategy raises a question: How often have American voters chosen a businessman as president?
They didn't when they elected Barack Obama, who had zero experience in business.
They didn't when they elected George W. Bush, a failed oilman whose family connections helped win him a stake in a professional baseball team, which provided him the fortune he needed to enter politics and run for president on the strength of his record as governor of Texas.
They didn't when they elected Bill Clinton, who almost never held a nongovernment job.
They didn't when they elected George H.W. Bush, whose extensive experience in government service was the basis for his appeal.
They didn't when they elected Ronald Reagan, whose career as an actor was the backdrop to a life spent building the conservative movement -- and serving two terms as governor of California.
Jimmy Carter used his business as a peanut farmer as part of his campaign pitch, but he also stressed a broad range of experience -- including a term as governor of Georgia -- and, above all, his integrity in a post-Watergate campaign.
No one elected Gerald Ford president, but if they had, it would not have been on the basis of a career in business.
The voters didn't elect a businessman when they chose Richard Nixon.
They didn't when they elected Lyndon Johnson.
They didn't when they elected John F. Kennedy.
They didn't when they elected Dwight Eisenhower.
They didn't when they elected Harry Truman.
They didn't when they elected Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The last president elected as a businessman was Herbert Hoover in 1928, and even he relied on a campaign b iography that included a Cabinet post and a high-profile stint as relief organizer. "Hoover's appeal, before his reputation became tarnished by the Depression, was as a problem solver and a solid businessman," says Princeton University historian Fred Greenstein. "Someone who was not erratic -- to the point of being dull."
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