Time to get serious.

Photographer: Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

Paris Reminds Us We Need an Adult in Charge

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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We're all Parisians now, so we should all be adults. Let's bid adieu to the adolescent desire to replace our disappointing elected officials with ingénues.

That means dropping the pretense that an entertaining businessman like Donald Trump could transfer his putative dealmaking skills to the world stage. It means recognizing that governing isn't brain surgery. As good a doctor as Ben Carson was, his skills don't translate either.  

Amusement is the most charitable way to explain how two utter neophytes have led the Republican polls for months, in the company of a few other newbies who break through with the right soundbite every so often. Carly Fiorina couldn't run Hewlett-Packard, except into the ground. Because she can go toe-to-toe with Trump in trading insults doesn't make her presidential timber.

Not that the establishment candidates have any miracle solutions, domestic or foreign. But at least some of them have talked about the issues (the senators) or actually governed (the governors).

Outsiders already were beginning to wear a little thin. Trump faded in the last debate when the night turned to substance. His foreign policy consists mainly of buying drywall from China, though not boning up on whether the country is involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

He also has strong views about immigrants. On Monday, he said some mosques should be closed. "I would hate to do it, but it's something you're going to have to strongly consider, because some of the ideas and some of the hatred is coming from these areas," he said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." He also criticized the president for not attacking Islamic State's headquarters in Syria, even though Raqqa has been bombed repeatedly since 2013.

Monitoring mosques known to be breeding grounds for terrorism isn't unreasonable -- it was done after Sept. 11 -- but it's not sufficient. Dealing with terrorism is chess, not checkers. It's all well and good that Vladimir Putin and Trump met in a television green room (as Fiorina put it), but it doesn't follow that Trump knows the first thing about how to deal with Russia in Syria.

Carson is not even playing checkers. He couldn't find his way out of a confused answer on the Mideast in the last debate and hasn't distinguished himself since the Paris attacks. In several tries, he hasn't come up with a plausible plan to defeat Islamic State. At a meeting of Republican leaders in Florida on Friday he said he would go after the terror group by using "things that they don't know about." That would do it.

On Fox News Sunday, he declined to name a foreign leader or country that we would collaborate with, despite being asked three times. "I don't want to put a specific number on it or indicate what types of people there are because those are decisions that, I think, are made by people who have a tremendous amount of military experience and capability," Carson said.

This lack of basic fluency in world affairs follows assertions on domestic policy and revelations about Carson's past that would kill an insider candidate. His accomplishments in medicine are worthy of the praise he's garnered from an ardent following among evangelicals, home schoolers, pro-life and pro-gun Tea Partyers.

Carson as commander in chief is almost as hard to picture as Trump. Before leaping into the race, Carson managed a tiny staff, showed no interest in politics, built a shrine to himself at his home, and was something of a loner during his years at Johns Hopkins, according to an executive at the hospital.

Nowadays, he's loquacious and seems to relish comparing President Barack Obama's health care law to slavery, and women who terminate their unwanted pregnancies to slave owners. He has also generously indulged in Nazi metaphors to describe all sorts of social ills.

The only time he's raised his voice is when he was challenged about some fuzziness in his official life story -- taking a hammer to his mother, trying to stab a relative or turning down a scholarship to West Point.

Presidents have to watch their every word, but non-politicos enjoy a different standard. What amateurs crave is an audience for their novelty acts and running for president guarantees a bigger one than just being a retired neurosurgeon or a bumptious businessman.

The fling with the outsiders was a symptom of frustration with our politics, not a cure for its failings.

With terror and tragedy, the need to stick it to the man by embracing neophytes is an indulgence the country can't afford. When they cede center stage, voters will be able to weigh the merits of the flawed but plausible candidates who remain. It’s time to grow up. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net