In this post I will outline my back criteria for picking or assessing political candidates.
1. The Buckley Rule
This is variously paraphrased, but the basic idea is to choose the most conservative electable candidate. So there's a balance between ideology and electability.
i) Some Christians become very agitated if you mention electability as a criterion. But why vote? If you don't think electability is relevant, why vote at all? What's the difference between voting for an unelectable candidate and not voting for him? The outcome is the same.
Why participate in the political process? To me, it's to influence the outcome. To change the status quo. To make a difference. That's the objective.
What do you wish to accomplish when you vote for a candidate? Do you wish to accomplish anything? If you knowingly vote for an unelectable candidate, then what did you acheive? What's the point of voting for someone who can't win? As a practical matter, how is that different than not voting?
Why bet on a race horse when you know he can't make it to the finish line?
ii) For this reason, electability is my first consideration. Ideology is not my first consideration. I start by asking which candidates are electable, not which candidates are conservative.
It's not that ideology is unimportant, but it's unimportant at this stage of the analysis. If they make the first cut, then I consider ideology. If they don't make the first cut, then ideology is moot, since they can't win. If they can't win, they can't turn their wonderful ideas into law and policy. These are just inert, otiose ideas.
I don't begin with a comparative ideological analysis of the candidates. That's premature. That's a waste of time.
If one candidate is ideologically superior, but unelectable, then his ideological superiority is beside the point. The invidious contrast is irrelevant.
Conversely, there's no point at this stage in the process of detailing the flaws of each candidate. If a particular candidate is the most conservative electable candidate, then there's no point listing his flaws, because if he's the best viable candidate, then that's what you're stuck with.
iii) Electability is a best guess. A prediction. Based on probabilities. We may be mistaken, but we can only go with the best information we have at any given time.
iv) Electability can be a matter of degree. When I say "unelectable" that's shorthand. I don't mean that candidate can't possibly win.
Here's a common tradeoff: candidate A is more conservative, but less electable; candidate B is less conservative, but more electable. So that becomes a question of risk assessment. How much do you have to lose by losing with A? How much do you have to gain or lose by winning with B?
v) Some Christians get angry about these calculations. However, I didn't create the situation. I didn't create the options. I play the hand I was dealt. (Although there are extreme cases where I'd leave the table–to continue the metaphor).
i) Having narrowed the contestants to a set of electable candidates, then I generally opt for the most conservative remaining candidate. That's where comparative ideological analysis comes into play.
ii) In addition, ideological considerations come back into play if he's elected. That's when voters should oppose those aspects of his policy initiatives that are unacceptable.
But that's after the primaries. After the nomination. After the election.
Someone might complain that if you wait that long, it's too late. But that's the best we can do. And we still have ways to influence or block his policies. For instance, if he wants to run for reelection, he will avoid alienating the base. Likewise, Congress can act as a check on the President.
Over and above the Buckley rule is competence. For instance, is the candidate a coalition builder? Does he have the social skills to form an effective working relationship with Congress? If he can't partner with Congress, he will be unable to get his great ideas enacted into law. That will severely limit the good he can do, even if he's a solid conservative ideologue.
i) Most candidates, including conservative ideologues, backpedal on one or more issues to get elected. There are different ways to assess that:
ii) What's the scope of their flexibility? What's the spread? Does it fall within a conservative range, from far right to center right, or is it from liberal to conservative, or vice versa? Is their flexibility still within a conservative spectrum?
iii) Even conviction politicians have priorities. Some issues are more important to them than others. They might flip-flop on an issue they don't really care about in the first place. The issue is their core identity. Likewise, how responsive are they to the base?
iv) It also depends on the instrinsic significance of the issue.