Some signs would suggest that we’re finally seeing the decline of the Donald Trump candidacy/reality show. If so, Republicans and the evangelical “base” will go on in search of their candidate of choice. And GOP candidates will go on trying to convince us that they are the next Reagan, and the anti-Obama.
Vetting the candidates is good and proper, although it means that vast amounts of money are spent on ads trying to play on the emotions of disengaged voters. Over at First Things, Pete Spiliakos makes an excellent point about the vetting – the advent of the internet, talk radio, and other outlets has hardly diminished the vast institutional/media advantage that liberals have in the presidential contest. One only has to observe the appalling games played over the Planned Parenthood expose videos (they don’t exist! they’ve been doctored! let’s parse Carly Fiorina’s words to find so-called “lies,” and ignore the fact that PP is selling body parts of babies for profit!) to realize the advantages that liberals still have in the media.
Fox News is supposedly the big “conservative” outlet. But while they employ some excellent news journalists, many of Fox’s most popular shows are given over to the crass and sensationalist aspects of Republican politics, aspects abundantly illustrated by the inane and boorish Donald Trump. His made-for-tv candidacy is based on making rude comments and starting pointless fights. If you ever watched “The Apprentice,” you’ll note the commonalities.
In spite of the liberal lean of most culture-making institutions, Republicans and Democrats alike still yearn for the political messiah who will fix everything if we can just elect him/her. I expect that I don’t need to explain this point with regard to President Obama. Elected on a wave of unparalleled exuberance in 2008, even many liberals have been disappointed with his lack of results and/or perpetuation of the political status quo.
Even if evangelicals coalesce around a candidate (Marco Rubio? Carly Fiorina?) we need to remind ourselves every day until the election: there is no political Messiah. Ronald Reagan wasn’t one (how much progress was made under him on the pro-life issue?), and there’s not one in the current crop of candidates. None of these candidates will “make America great again,” whatever that means.
Evangelicals (and all American voters) need to remember that they’re not looking for a candidate who will fix everything. We’re looking for more modest attributes: someone of good sense, decent moral character, relevant experience, and someone who is unlikely to do much damage in the White House. Presidents like Nixon have squandered their vast experience because of serious moral problems.
Bill Clinton squandered much of his moderation, brilliance, and relateability because of impulsive personal behavior. While Lincoln did well with little experience, our most recent occupant of the White House has not. Bush ’43 was relateable and had true personal decency, but showed an appalling lack of judgment in foreign affairs and military interventions. Good qualities in some areas don’t make up for even one major deficiency in judgment, character, and experience.
In the end, evangelicals will need to coalesce around a candidate who will not be all they’re looking for. They’ll need to support a candidate who can garner more than just evangelical votes. Politics requires building alliances for the common good – or at least for ensuring the least common damage.
Perhaps the very best person we can support is one who realizes that politics doesn’t help that much. Someone who understands that a thriving American society is marked by strong “mediating institutions,” especially families and congregations. Someone who thinks about how government can encourage these institutions, mostly by getting out of the way. That person won’t be the Messiah, he or she will just have good sense about what government can and can’t do.
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