Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

New Perspectives on the Public Presidency: The Impact of Elections and Presidential Travel

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

New Perspectives on the Public Presidency: The Impact of Elections and Presidential Travel

Article excerpt

The Rise of the President's Permanent Campaign. By Brendan J. Doherty. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2012. 203 pp.

The Presidential Road Show: Public Leadership in an Era of Party Polarization and Media Fragmentation. By Diane J. Heith. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2013. 193 pp.

In the March 2013 issue of this journal, Lawrence R. Jacobs authored an essay, "The Public Presidency and Disciplinary Presumptions" (Presidential Studies Quarterly, 43:1, pp. 16-34), concerning the contemporary state of research on what he termed the "promotional presidency," a piece motivated by his observation of the repeated misstating of the realities of "going public" by nonexperts both within and beyond the academy. In this essay, Jacobs calls for "translational research" that simultaneously disseminates findings while confronting misunderstandings about presidential public leadership (pp. 18, 29-31).

Recent books by Brendan Doherty and Diane Heith represent exceptional examples of this kind of work, as both are driven by theoretical arguments firmly grounded in the growing body of literature that Jacobs reviews (and that many ill-informed commentators ignore). Moreover, both Doherty and Heith successfully reconcile what Jacobs identified as the two strands of public presidency research--how presidents go public and the effects of those public leadership efforts--and they do so in a way that manages to advance our understanding of the institution while clearly conveying an accurate portrayal of what "going public" looks like and accomplishes today.

Though both books identify separate and discrete central research questions, the overlap between them is significant. Elections and presidential travel are central components to the core model offered in each book, albeit in ways that are conceptually distinct. In a sense, one could describe the role elections play in Doherty's volume as prospective, in that he analyzes how presidential efforts are designed to affect future outcomes, while the role of elections in Heith's book is retrospective, as she assesses the explanatory power of a president's electoral coalition on subsequent behavior.

In Brendan Doherty's The Rise of the President's Permanent Campaign, the focus is on how electoral considerations shape the way presidents allocate strategic resources, particularly their time and the use of their staff. Doherty operates under Mayhewian assumptions (p. 9), expecting presidents to behave strategically in order to maximize their reelection prospects, especially with respect to fund-raising and travel. In the course of the book's analyses, which are exceptional in their linkage of archive-sourced qualitative information and empirical data measuring aspects of presidential behavior, Doherty confirms many conventional assumptions (i.e., presidents fund-raise more today than previously; presidential travel is driven by electoral incentives, etc.) but goes beyond these confirmations in significant and laudable ways. Two examples perhaps best illustrate this: first, Doherty's observations of for whom presidents raise money is illuminating; he shows that variation in where presidents "put their political chips" can be explained by a few key factors, most notably, the increasing nationalization of parties and, at least for Bush II and Obama, a greater focus on themselves and not on their party or their party's congressional candidates (pp. 83-88). Second, Doherty links the rise of targeted presidential travel to, among other factors, the rise of a particular type of president that has emerged in recent administrations because of the way contemporary nomination and general elections are structured. That is, presidents who want to be elected to a second term continue to allocate scarce resources in a way that is driven by the same factors that determine campaign season allocation decisions, namely, how valuable a state is in achieving nomination and adding to one's Electoral College vote tally (pp. …

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