Executive and Military Experience of 2020 United States Presidential Candidates

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A Brief History

On November 3, 2020, the 2020 United States of America (U.S.) presidential election will be the 59th quadrennial U.S. presidential election.  The president of the U.S. is the head of state and head of government of the U.S.  The president directs the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.  This article therefore indicates the executive and military experience of the major party candidates currently running for president.  For the purpose of our table below, “executive experience” refers to holding an executive political office such as mayor or governor and not an executive business title.  (See our article “10 US Politicians who Fought for the United States”)

Digging Deeper

NamePartyExecutive ExperienceMilitary Experience
Michael Farrand Bennet (born November 28, 1964) DemocraticSuperintendent of Denver Public Schools (July 1, 2005 – January 21, 2009)None
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. (born November 20, 1942)Democratic47th Vice President of the United States (January 20, 2009 – January 20, 2017)None
Cory Anthony Booker (born April 27, 1969)Democratic38th Mayor of Newark (July 1, 2006 – October 31, 2013)None
Stephen Clark Bullock (born April 11, 1966)Democratic24th Governor of Montana (January 7, 2013 – present)None
Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg (born January 19, 1982)Democratic32nd Mayor of South Bend (January 1, 2012 - present)He served in the United States Naval Reserve (2009–2017) during the War in Afghanistan and attained the rank of Lieutenant.
Julián Castro (born September 16, 1974) DemocraticMayor of San Antonio (June 1, 2009 – July 22, 2014) and 16th United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (July 28, 2014 – January 20, 2017)None
John Kevin Delaney (born April 16, 1963)DemocraticNoneNone
Tulsi Gabbard (born April 12, 1981)DemocraticNoneShe has served in the United States Army (2003–present) during the Iraq War, has attained the rank of Major, and has been awarded a Meritorious Service Medal, an Army Commendation Medal, and an Army Achievement Medal.
Kamala Devi Harris (born October 20, 1964)Democratic27th District Attorney of San Francisco (January 8, 2004 – January 3, 2011) and 32nd Attorney General of California (January 3, 2011 – January 3, 2017)None
Amy Jean Klobuchar (born May 25, 1960)DemocraticNoneNone
Wayne Martin Messam (born June 7, 1974)Democratic10th Mayor of Miramar (April 1, 2015 - present)None
Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke (born September 26, 1972)DemocraticMayor pro tempore of El Paso (June 14, 2005 – June 20, 2006)None
Timothy John Ryan (born July 16, 1973)DemocraticNoneNone
Bernard Sanders (born September 8, 1941)Democratic37th Mayor of Burlington (April 6, 1981 – April 4, 1989)None
Marshall Clement "Mark" Sanford Jr. (born May 28, 1960) Republican115th Governor of South CarolinaHe served in the United States Air Force (2003-2013) and attained the rank of Captain.
Joseph Ambrose Sestak Jr. (born December 12, 1951)DemocraticNoneHe served in the United States Navy (1974–2005), attained the rank of Vice admiral, was the Director of Navy Operations Group, and earned the following awards: Defense Distinguished Service Medal (3), Navy Distinguished Service Medal (2), Legion of Merit (2), Meritorious Service Medal (2), and Joint Service Commendation Medal.
Thomas Fahr Steyer (born June 27, 1957)DemocraticNoneNone
Donald John Trump (born June 14, 1946)Republican45th President of the United States (January 20, 2017 - present)At age 13, he was enrolled in the New York Military Academy, a private boarding school. By his senior year, the cadet attained the rank of captain.
William Joseph Walsh (born December 27, 1961) RepublicanNoneNone
Elizabeth Ann Warren (born June 22, 1949)DemocraticNoneNone
William Floyd Weld (born July 31, 1945)Republican68th Governor of Massachusetts (January 3, 1991 – July 29, 1997)None
Marianne Deborah Williamson (born July 8, 1952)DemocraticNoneNone
Andrew Yang (born January 13, 1975)DemocraticNoneNone

As a potentially important note, some of the candidates listed above actually avoided serving in the military during wartime.  For example, both Biden and Trump received student draft deferments during the peak of the Vietnam War (1955–1975).  They subsequently received reclassifications for medical reasons.  In 1968, Biden was reclassified by the Selective Service System as not available for service due to having had asthma as a teenager, while Trump was given a medical deferment which resulted in a 1-Y classification: “Unqualified for duty except in the case of a national emergency.”  In 1972, Trump was reclassified as 4-F, which permanently disqualified him from service.

Question for students (and subscribers): Should the president of the U.S. have both executive and military experience prior to becoming president?  Should those candidates in the table above who have neither be essentially disqualified as valid candidates?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Biden, Joe.  Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose.  Flatiron Books, 2017.

Buttigieg, Pete.  Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future.  Liveright, 2019.

Moulton, Seth.  Called to Serve: Learning to Lead in War and Peace.  All Points Books, 2020.

Sanders, Bernie.  Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution.  Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), 2017.

Trump, Donald J.  Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America.  Threshold Editions, 2016.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Sgt. Gabriela Garcia of John Mack (left), Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. (second left), and Steven Wallace (right), the Co-founder of Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation (MC-LEF), awarding Donald J. Trump the Commandant’s Leadership award during the MC-LEF 20th Annual Semper Fidelis Gala at New York, N.Y., April 22, 2015, is in the public domain because it contains materials that originally came from the United States Marine Corps. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

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About Author

Dr. Zar

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history in Ohio.