What’s left when the campaign cheering stops?

Donald Trump attends a campaign rally at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Jan. 26, 2016. (Eric Thayer/The New York Times)

It’s been said that politics is the only profession that requires no preparation whatsoever. Those contending this year for election as president of the United States, commander in chief of America’s Armed Forces, and Leader of the Free World (what’s left of it) would appear to substantiate that assertion.

The Democratic party’s presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton, served as Secretary of State during the first four years of President Barack Obama’s administration.

The experience she gained in that high office is frequently cited as giving her a huge advantage over other contenders.

But if you simply look at the damage done to America’s stature in the world during those four years, you have to ask yourself if this is something she should try to use for political advantage.

To be sure, the eight years she served as first lady is a plus of sorts.

She doubtless got to exchange small talk with many important people from all over the world. She knows where a lot of bodies are buried. She can find her way around the White House without getting lost.

Hanging over her head, however, is the very real possibility of criminal charges and indictment over her mishandling of classified material during her time as Secretary of State.

From Obama heir apparent to the Democratic party’s worst nightmare is but a single stumbling step.

That and the FBI.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (feel the Bern!) has even less executive experience to brag about than Mrs. Clinton, but nothing in the way of potential scandal. Mayor of a small town in a small state, followed by a long career in Congress (where Hillary served one and one-third terms as senator), Sanders made his way to an improbable six-coin-toss loss to Hillary in Iowa.

Neither he nor Hillary, the two survivors in the Democratic race, can point to distinguished achievement in the legislative branch as preparing them for the presidency.

Nor in fact can any of the survivors in the Republican race. Neither Sen. Ted Cruz (the victor in Iowa) nor Sen. Marco Rubio (the surprise third-place finisher and current darling of the mainstream media) stand head and shoulders above their peers in what is, in historical terms, a most undistinguished Senate.

A Republican governor would seem to fit the bill, but for whatever reason not one of them in the race has caught fire, and time is running out.

The American people rightly have some misgivings against electing another one-term senator as president, whether Democrat or Republican, as a successor to the one we now have in the White House.

But that could well be the choice they will have to make when all is thankfully said and done.

And what of “The Donald”? Does his success in building and running a huge business empire qualify him to become president?

Conventional wisdom says no, but then there is nothing at all conventional about Donald Trump. He is not a politician, and that is perhaps his greatest attractiveness to an American electorate largely fed up with the lot now in Washington. He is blunt. He expresses the disgust many are feeling over “political correctness.”

Going into Iowa, he seemed to have everything going for him. Until it wasn’t. Though finishing second, he was served a large dose of humble pie there.

Next comes New Hampshire, and after that South Carolina. There is still time for him to prevail. But will he?

When one looks for the best qualified contender, it is wise to bear in mind one simple fact: there is no preparation that guarantees election of a successful president.

The job is simply too big, too demanding.

Our best presidents have been those who 1) have basic core principles that are shared by a majority of Americans, 2) have the ability and the courage to choose the best people to fill senior posts in his administration, and 3) know how to communicate and persuade supporters and opponents alike that the actions he takes are the ones that best further the national interests, both foreign and domestic, of the United States of America.

When the cheering ends, everything else is pixie dust.

R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.