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Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin says true leadership is about character

Doris Kearns Goodwin on "The Takeout"
Doris Kearns Goodwin on "The Takeout" 01:08

Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Lincoln, Roosevelt and other revered presidents, said that presidential leadership was defined by character in an interview with CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett on this week's episode of "The Takeout" podcast. Goodwin praised President Abraham Lincoln because of his integrity and his character.

"What is character? It's humility, it's empathy, it's understanding other people's point of views, it's openness to listening, it's controlling negative emotions. It's being able to create a team of people who may be stronger and smarter than you are, but you're going to use them," Goodwin said, drawing an implicit comparison between Lincoln and President Donald Trump.

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Mr. Trump has often been criticized for his lack of character, including by those in his own party. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post this week criticizing Mr. Trump and saying that "the president has not risen to the mantle of the office."

"With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent's shortfall has been most glaring," Romney wrote.

Goodwin said that Lincoln was a "good person who became a great leader -- and that's an unusual thing in politics." She also argued that President Teddy Roosevelt could have successfully challenged Trump today.

"Teddy Roosevelt came into power at a time very much like ours," Goodwin said, referring to the post-Industrial Revolution populism which Roosevelt capitalized on. She recalled his colorful adages, like "Speak softly and carry a big stick," and talked about his ability to tap into populist sentiment.

Goodwin also discussed her process of researching and writing presidential biographies. She said that her goal was to portray historical figures not just as leaders, but as people.

"It's relationships that matter and I think that's what people want to read about. They want to understand the person just as they would understand a grandparent or a great grandparent. They're not remote figures anymore. They're actual people and that's what I try to make them come alive as," Goodwin said.

For more of Major's conversation with Doris Kearns Goodwin, download "The Takeout" podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcher, or Spotify. New episodes are available every Friday morning. Also, you can watch "The Takeout" on CBSN Friday at 5pm, 9pm, and 12am ET and Saturday at 1pm, 9pm, and 12am ET. For a full archive of "The Takeout" episodes, visit And you can listen to "The Takeout" on select CBS News Radio affiliates (check your local listings).

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