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Elaine Kamarck On Her New Book, ‘Why Presidents Fail and How They Can Succeed Again’

Election 2016 brings us two candidates that definitely come with some baggage: Clinton and Trump. Clinton's emails and the cozy relationship between the Clinton Foundation and the state department. Trump's bankruptcy and his off-the-cuff, controversial remarks. Harvard Kennedy School's Elaine Kamarck (@EKamarck) has a new book, ‘Why Presidents Fail and How They Can Succeed Again,’ and she's looking to help future presidents understand the past, so they aren't doomed to repeat it.

In one of her early books, 'Primary Politics: How Presidential Candidates Have Shaped the Modern Nominating System,' Kamarck discusses how the modern presidential primaries can produce more drama than many general election campaigns. Kamarck says when the system changed in the late 60's, people worried about a primary season similar to the one we're seeing this year. "They worried about a Trump-like candidate. They worried about some demagogue type taking over the system. Somebody who was not qualified to be president." 

Her new book touches on three presidents who saw significant failures in office: Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. She argues that president's must balance policy, communication, and implementation evenly to succeed. "What the president's haven't done is they haven't paid attention to organizational capacity. They just assumed that the government was there and it was going to work," says Kamarck. In particular instances, it a misunderstanding between agencies and the executive branch that leads to failure.

Kamarck also argues that the large size of the federal government makes execution difficult for many presidents, but that failure can be preventable. She says, "These things are knowable, but presidents don't make the time to know something about the government they're running." She also argues that the modern system of picking presidents rewards communication skills over governing skills, and that needs to change.

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