Knowing my interest in politics, I've had a few people ask me to give them a break down of the different candidates. I've been trying to figure out the best way to do that as I like to inform people of the issues rather than tell them who they should vote for. It's caused me to think through how I choose presidential candidate to support.
There are a lot of different theories on choosing a presidential candidates. The establishments of both the Democrat Party and the Republican Party will tell you the what you need to do is choose a centrist candidate who has appeal to win over Independents and even some people in the other party. This has worked in the past, as George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were centrists, Bush with his "compassionate conservatism" and Clinton with his "Third Way", who managed to win presidential elections* (Though, Bush won his first election on a technicality). Party activists will tell you a different story. They say they base of the party need to be inspired by a pure candidate to make activists of them and spread their message. On the right there are two variations of this "purity rule", the first one is from William F. Buckley, dubbed "The Buckley Rule" , "you pick the most conservative [or most liberal] candidate that can win." In other words, there's no point in choosing a very ideological candidate that can't win an election. A more recent rule is from radio host Rush Limbaugh or "The Limbaugh Rule" is "you pick the most conservative [or most liberal] candidate to inspire the base." In other words, candidates personal mannerisms and eccentricities are just superficial, if they've got the right values, that is what's going to make the base get excited, start telling people about their candidates, etc.
Neither Mr. Buckley or Mr. Limbaugh coined their "rule" names, that was done by the media, and I'm sure they would agree it's more complicated than that. In a series of posts, I'm going to outline my rules for choosing a President. Today, I'm going to give a general overview and in the coming days, I'll be delving deeper into each one. Next week, I will give outlines on each on candidates viability within each of these rules.
Rule #1: The Candidate Must Share My Values: If the candidate does not share my values, it's a non-starter for me. I'll go deeper into how I came into understanding my political views, but I'll just say from the outset I am a conservative with some libertarian leanings on certain issues. I do not see the government as the solution to every problem Americans face. In fact, more often than not, government tends to mess things up. As it stands now, based on their view that government CAN be and often IS the solution to problems we face, I am not going to vote for most Democrats right off the bat. So that leaves Republicans and Independents I can choose from. But if you think just because someone is apart of the party you generally agree with that means they automatically share your values, think again! Unfortunately there is a culture of establishmantarianism in both parties in Washington, I'll go into more detail as to what that means, but the short definition is people who want to keep things the way they're going. The one thing committed liberals and committed conservatives agree on is that's not good enough anymore.
Rule #2: The Candidate Must Have the Capacity to Be A Good President. Well, duh. This is a question of temperament more than values. A president has to be a leader, a diplomat, a commander-in-chief, a thinker, they wear a variety of hats and it takes a special kind of person to do all of those things well. When I look at candidates, I ask myself, what kind of person is this? What is, to quote Martin Luther King Jr, "The content of their character"? Were I a liberal, I wouldn't even consider Hillary Clinton as I don't think she's a person of upstanding character and it's not because she's a Democrat, I think that of a Republican candidate too that I will discuss later. But someone who has been caught in lies multiple times, who is constantly trying to obfuscate information to hide whatever it is they're hiding is not worthy of the office of President. We've got to recognize that just because anyone can become President of the United States, doesn't mean everyone should. It takes a very special person to be a successful leader of the free world.
Rule #3: The Candidate Needs to be Viable in their Primary: This takes understanding who the primary audience is. In my case, I vote in the Republican Primary. I may like a particular candidate, but they may not be able to get through their primary for whatever reason: they took a liberal position on an issue, they don't have money to compete, etc. This cycle, I like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, he's a great candidate and is running a pretty good campaign, but as of now he doesn't have the money to compete at the top. That could change, but right now it's not worth considering Governor Jindal because he's going to have a hard time winning his primary. If the candidate is an independent this point is moot, Independents don't have primaries. If it's a candidate for office to represent us in the state of California (State Assemblyman, State Senator, U.S. Congressman, U.S. Senator, Governor), this point has a different calculation. In California we have a "Jungle Primary" where all of the candidates from all parties compete for the top 2 positions. It means we could very well have 2 Democrats that end up being the final 2 candidates for Governor or Senator.
Rule #4: The Candidate Needs to be Viable in the General Election: A candidate can share my values, they could potentially be a good president, a candidate can win their primary, but if they can't win a general election there's no point in supporting them. Unlike the establishmentarians in both parties, I don't believe moderation is a good way to win a general election, look at the establishment moderates that have been presidential candidates: Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John Kerry, John McCain, Mitt Romney. At the same time though, there are two glaring examples of "purity" that have lost too: Barry Goldwater for the Republicans and George McGovern for the Democrats. I think the best type of candidate is someone who is committed to their values, but is able to communicate them in a way that inspires people: Ronald Reagan did this, Barack Obama did this. Reagan was a committed conservative who was able to inspire a large segment of the American people by presenting them in a simple, positive, optimistic way. Likewise, Obama was able to project a simple positive optimistic message while remaining true to his values (He campaigned on a tax increase, something that killed Democrat campaigns in the past if it was even suggested.)
So, those are my rules for choosing a president! In my next post, I'll delve deeper into the question of values and give an overview of the main political philosophies that dominate the American system today.