Drawing on twenty-four years of experience in government, Michael H. Armacost sheds light on how the presidential nomination battle impels candidates to accommodate the foreign policy DNA of the party faithful and may force an incumbent to undertake wholesale policy adjustments to fend off an intra-party nomination challenge. Even the prospect of a primary can prod a chief executive to fix long-neglected problems, duck intractable policy dilemmas, or settle for modest course corrections, underscoring both the virtues and the shortcomings of the U.S. presidential election system in influencing the management of foreign challenges.
Armacost begins with the quest for the presidential nomination and then moves through the general election campaign, the ten-week transition period between Election Day and Inauguration Day, and the early months of a new administration. He notes that campaigns rarely illuminate the tough strategic choices that the leader of the nation must make, and he provides rare insight into the challenge of aligning the roles of an outgoing incumbent (who retains formal authority despite ebbing power) and an incoming president (who performs no formal duties though possesses a fresh political mandate). He pays particular attention to the pressure for new presidents to act boldly abroad, even before a national security team is in place, decision-making procedures are set, or policy priorities are established. He concludes with recommendations for reforming the electoral system while preserving its distinct character.