Why do we have presidential candidates debate with one another? That doesn’t reflect the job at all. We have little actual sense of how someone would perform on the job. Full disclosure: I have not watched any candidate debates this year and will not watch them, even during the general election. But I have seen enough to know that they are rhetorical sporting events of little consequence, useless for determining how well a candidate would do in the job.

How about we watch each candidate perform in a series of unscripted scenarios to get a better idea of how they would perform? It would also make compelling TV. Here’s the specific events I would start with:

  1. Security crisis: Put the candidate in the Situation Room and make him/her work through a national security crisis.
  2. Natural disaster: Have them handle a Katrina type event. How do they handle the optics versus the management?
  3. Legislative deal-making: Handle a major reauthorization on a sticky issue like education, a farm bill or health care.
  4. Budget fight: Make them choose how to cut spending, how to raise taxes, and how to appease people enough to get an agreement.
  5. Management style and skill: Have a stable of permanent staffers that each candidate has to manage for a full week. The permanent staffers could evaluate all of the candidates.
  6. International negotiation: Create a hyper-realistic scenario where the candidate has to negotiate a treaty with another head of state.
  7. Pick a judge: give the candidate eight candidates for a Supreme Court slot, and force them to pick one and explain why. Make sure the candidates all have baggage.
  8. Speech-making: Make them give a speech on a tough subject to inspire people with (unwed pregnancy, arts funding, highway funding, tax increases, etc.).

Of course, down the road, the political scientists, psychologists, economists, etc. could refine these scenarios to get a better lock on the qualities and behaviors we want to elicit in these exercises. But this would make compelling, useful TV I would watch. Also great fodder for some sci-fi stories.

Leader testing: The West Wing meets reality TV
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