BRUNSWICK — Preoccupation with the presidential horse race hides part of the big picture. Every four years, we elect not only a president but also a government at large.

Most voters are aware of the stakes this year, including the possibility of Democrats gaining control of the U.S. Senate. They also know that the court system hangs in the balance, underscored by the Republican boycott of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

However, the executive branch of government is generally overlooked. Sen. Elizabeth Warren coined the phrase “Personnel is policy” to describe the importance of federal managers. “Legislative agendas matter,” she said, “but voters should also ask which presidential candidates they trust with the extraordinary power to choose who will fight on the front lines to enforce the laws.”

Presidents appoint more than 4,000 agency heads, top managers and special assistants to run the ship of state. These political appointees are entrusted to enforce the law, but their daily influence permeates policymaking, research and analysis, funding, program development and communications.

The big unknown of this election is whether Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, can effectively manage something as large and complex as the federal government. Although the Trump real estate and investment empire is substantial, it pales in comparison to Uncle Sam’s vast array of 15 major departments and 78 independent agencies.

Mr. Trump touts his success as a businessman, but his case is marred by bankruptcies, contract lawsuits, foreign outsourcing and alleged consumer fraud. It is also weakened by his refusal to release personal tax returns.

More troubling is Mr. Trump’s lack of political and government experience. It has already led to a bewildering Republican convention, a rocky transition to the general election and Mr. Trump’s firing of two campaign managers. These events do not bode well for a future government transition. Moreover, someone who has run as an outsider and slammed the establishment will have a hard time attracting the best and the brightest to his administration.

Mr. Trump also believes 100 percent in the biggest myth about government – that it can be run like a business. This fallacy is evident to federal employees, whose ranks I served in for 30 years under six administrations, three Democratic and three Republican. Corporate financial values are square pegs that don’t fit the round holes of government, which are shaped by transparency, information sharing, coordination, fairness concerns and other safeguards.

Another sign of inexperience is Mr. Trump’s cavalier approach to seeking the nation’s highest office. For instance, it was truly astounding to see Mr. Trump suspend his presidential campaign while sojourning to Scotland to promote his new golf and hotel resort. How do you make this mistake unless you’re not fully committed?

It has been suggested that Mr. Trump relishes running for president more than the prospect of being president. This may explain why he cares so little about accuracy, like calling the Environmental Protection Agency – an agency he vows to abolish – the “Department of Environmental.”

The most ardent supporters of Mr. Trump forgive such misstatements because they love his shotgun volleys at Washington and the political establishment. If you’re alienated from the system and angry at politicians of all stripes, it doesn’t matter who becomes president.

The Republican brain trust knows that Mr. Trump still has to sell moderate voters on his management ability. One interesting piece of advice for Mr. Trump came from commentator Hugh Hewitt, who suggested that he announce several Cabinet picks before the election. This novel approach would demonstrate how Mr. Trump will surround himself with qualified people, showcase his chairman-of-the-board leadership style and calm the jittery nerves of potential supporters.

Many Republican leaders are sticking with Mr. Trump to avoid a Democratic landslide. But for people who remain objective, it is worth asking which candidate can best manage our multifaceted government of 2.7 million civil servants and 1.5 million servicemen and women.

Normally, this question is moot because both major-party candidates have public experience, appreciate the complexities and strive to learn. This year, however, one candidate is in over his head, while the other is arguably among the most qualified in history. For those who value government and care about its efficiency, the choice could not be clearer.