Voting for character over issues does not make practical sense

I do not mean this to be a Trump or Kavanaugh thread (although I suspect it will eventually steer in that direction anyway), but tangentially, I do recall a lot of people in 2016 arguing that evangelicals or conservatives ought to vote on the basis of personal character and that Trump didn’t meet the criteria.

At the primary level, when there are still multiple candidates to choose from, that would make sense. But that doesn’t make sense once things have gotten to the general election stage and it’s your guy vs. the other side’s guy. (FWIW, I didn’t vote for Trump.) Because the practical consequences of the policies that a candidate supports outweigh the ramifications of his/her personal behavior or character.

If you are pro-choice, and you are faced with a decision between a pro-choice asshole or a pro-life model citizen, it makes no practical sense to vote for the model citizen just because of his upstanding record in the community. His decisions on abortion will affect thousands or maybe millions of women. (Mike Pence might fit that criteria, for instance.) Same on many other issues. If you own guns, you can very reasonably argue that it’s better for your interest to have a pro-gun asshole in office than a saint who wants to take away everyone’s guns. Ditto for one’s views on SSM, the environment, or any particular issue that is close or dear to you.

This isn’t to say that bad character can’t have a practical effect (having a jerk in office can lead to all kinds of practical problems) but that on weighty issues, the political leaning of a candidate is likely to affect so many people in so many ways that his or her personal character usually should seem small in comparison - or at least, to the extent where voting for a ‘good guy’ who opposes your views over a ‘bad guy’ who stands for your views could be politically suicidal.

Anyway, my 2 cents…thoughts?

MY thought? I don’t believe the ends justify the means.

There are a relative few issues where you know a person’s stance on. And they might be important issues to an individual and maybe they are a single issue voter. So you know the person’s stance on guns and abortion and gay marriage and taxes and regulation and perhaps a few other things.

Thing is there are lots and lots of issues a president (or supreme court justice) faces so the only sense you have of how they will act is based on their character.

So, for example, in a hurricane disaster area, based on Obama’s character, I would expect him to be concerned and want to help. Based on Trump’s character I am not surprised when he callously tosses a roll of paper towels at the victims. That is not a “stance” that will come out in an election. Your only way to guess at it is through their character.

As for evangelicals, they constantly harp on how other people’s behavior is evil or morally repugnant so this just throws their hypocrisy into sharp relief.

I generally agree with the OP, and would make an exception only in truly extreme cases. If, say, my party nominated a candidate who was a notorious liar and crook with a long history of sexual assault, I wouldn’t vote for that candidate.

One important factor in choosing who to vote for must be some sense of what their instincts would be when they have to make a decision in circumstances no-one could foresee, or when they’re having to choose what would seem to them or you the lesser of two evils.

In that sense, character is more important than the most carefully articulated policy position.

Private behaviour would be relevant as to what it suggests as an answer to the question: if they can’t do what they wanted or proposed, which way will they jump?

The problem I have is with the people who used character as an excuse rather than as a principle.

“I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton because I don’t think she’s a good person. And I think character matters. Character is the most important thing.”
“Who are you voting for?”
“Donald Trump.”
“What about all the lies he’s told? And the offensive things he’s said? And the illegal things he’s done?”
“Yes, all that’s true. But I’m willing to put those aside because of his stands on the issues. The issues are the most important thing.”

The problem is that a politician, especially president, has a lot of power. Donald Trump, IMO, is seriously mentally ill to the point where he is largely incapable of performing his duties. He likely has dementia and a severe narcissistic disorder.

Now being mentally ill doesn’t automatically disqualify a president. A very large minority of presidents have been mentally ill (mostly depression and substance abuse issues). But they never really prevented them from doing the job or putting the country at risk. Trump’s mental illnesses put the welfare of the country and the world at large at risk.

What if North Korea pulls the strings on Trumps mental illness to attack his ego until he explodes? A lot of people can get hurt.

Also when have democrats honestly talked about taking everyones guns away? That is a scare tactic. The idea that people would vote for a deranged, unfit man due to a conspiracy theory is not a good argument.

A politicians character matters to a degree, to the degree that they can be trusted to perform the job. Trump would not pass the background checks necessary to become a low level military officer or FBI agent, but we made him president. That shows a massive flaw in the system in the US.

When the OP brings up evangelicals, the fact is that they’ve long been in the business of attacking pols they dislike precisely on the basis of the sorts of character issues they felt comfortable in ditching in 2016.

If they’d opposed Clinton strictly on the basis of his being anti-abortion, that would have been one thing. But they opposed him (or said they did) for all the reasons they’re willing to ignore in Trump’s case.

An individual can certainly change his mind between the 1990s and 2016. But a whole movement? Seems awfully strange, like they never meant all that stuff all that much to begin with.

Character and temperment is uniquely important for a President, because he has the ability to start a war all by himself. He can launch nuclear missiles on a whim, killing millions, and nobody can stop him. A nutcase congressman can’t do that.

I like to think that if Trump (or any president) woke up one morning and on a whim said fuck it, we’re nuking China today, that someone would stop it from happening. I cannot imagine the military just going, “Right-O chief! Off they go!”

I believe this was an issue with nixon, he would get drunk and tell the military to attack some country, so various people in his cabinet would tell the military to ignore the president’s orders.

“Character is destiny.” Heraclitus said it 25 centuries ago and it is proven time and time again by history. Regardless of policy, good leaders will govern justly and with reserve, and corrupt, inept, or petty leaders will fail regardless of their intentions or issues. And for a leader in a role who can literally control the lives of millions of people–not only through threat of war, but by the economic, social, immigration, education, and environmental policies–good character is crucial. Lyndon B. Johnson had well intentioned polities, but was a spiteful, egotistical, manipulative man who refused to recognize when he made a terrible judgment. Nixon was arguably even worse despite the fact that they were ideologically nearly opposite in most respects.

Policy is often fungible, particularly if a leader is willing to accept the evidence and be persuaded that their policy is not good. But character dictates how someone deals with crisis, and the decisions they make beyond policy.


If a politician doesn’t have good character, then you don’t know where he stands on the issues. Yes, maybe that asshole is saying that he supports the same things that you do… but is he saying that because he really does support them, or just because he’s calculated that saying that is what will get him elected? If the latter, then you have no reason to believe that he’ll actually act that way once in office.

Yep. Character is not real high on my list when voting. It’s a factor, but not a dominant one. It’s not that I think all politicians are scum or anything, but I do find pople seeking high office to be very slightly unpalatable to begin with. Someone absolutely needs to do it, but my own personality does not mesh with those of the highly ambitious and that includes really driven, ambitious types in other walks of life as well. So politicians, at the highest Federal level at least, start off with me at a small character deposit to begin with.

Barack Obama seems like a very nice man. But deep down I still think there is something deeply wrong with him that he wanted to be president. No “sane” person should want to subject themselves and their family to that sort of pressure or have that much hubris that they think they are up to the job ;).

But, yeah - extreme is extreme. Consistently shitty character is an overarching deal breaker.

Although you put the smiley in jest, I think there is an essential truth here. In order to want to be in that particular job, you both have to have some belief that you have a special perspective and unique talent, and like to perform in front of others in testament to yourself. Obama clearly thought he had a unique perspective to bring (and I think that is true in a number of ways) but he also clearly likes public speaking and engaging with crowds, even or perhaps especially when being confronted and challenged; I’m not sure there is anything he actually enjoyed more than patiently listening to someone who disagreed with them and meticulously picking apart their argument and lecturing at length about why it is wrong as if addressing a law school class. I’d say the same thing about the pre-2008 John McCain as well, and it is really the hallmark of a great politician to be both popular and sound smart.

George W. Bush liked the performance aspect but I don’t think he viewed himself as having much in the way of unique perspectives and left detail policy completely to others. John Kerry, on the other hand, had a lot of good policy ideals, but was not very comfortable ‘performing’ and didn’t really enjoy debating or calling out people for their dishonesty even when it was clear, hence why he was a far more effective Secretary of State, operating often quietly behind the scenes than he was a presidential candidate.

Trump is kind of unique in having neither good ideals or character; although he likes to perform, he absolutely shies away from challenge of any kind, and vacillates from pompous bombastic to self-pitying narcissism, often in the same speech or interview. People voted for him largely because they’re frightened, angry, and feel abandoned, and he mirrors and feeds off of their emotions and doesn’t treat them with contempt (even though many of them, like white nationalists and conspiracy nutters should be due contempt).

Character isn’t the only thing you should vote for, but the candidate you vote for should have good character. Otherwise, you are buying a shiny new car with a crappy engine and a transmission that is going to start leaking fluid as soon as you drive it off the lot.


Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

Long ago, I had a long thread here about character over issues, and yes, I will vote for someone with whom I disagree but respect over someone who I do not respect but agree. Because most issues are really trivial, but when push does come to shove, I want to know that I can get behind that person and they will do the right thing. And if there aren’t any candidates worthy of my respect, there’s always the Monster Raving Loony Party.

I will say two things: Policy matters, and good people can believe in bad policy.

Policy matters because it affects huge numbers of people more-or-less directly and sets up conditions for the next long period of time. Lower taxes? Usually done by reducing social services, which destroys safety nets, which directly leads to people sleeping in their cars or worse. Pursue an aggressive foreign policy? That leads to tariffs, which lead to factories closing, which leads to, again, more people camping in the great underpass.

Now, that’s an argument for voting the whole ticket, not so much for voting for a President in specific, but the President isn’t just a figurehead. They appoint the people in cabinet positions, and those people set policy even more directly.

Yes, policy matters.

Second, good people can believe bad policy. Take economics: It’s pretty well settled that the way out of a recession is to get money moving again, and that doing it early both halts the decline and gets the economy growing again. However, this involves taking on public debt, which some people, in all honesty and in good faith, believe to be immoral. They believe that all debt is immoral, a sign of a weak character and a profligate lifestyle, and utterly refuse to see that sovereign debt is any different from household debt. This is wrong. It isn’t debatable, it’s wrong. It’s like saying the common cold is caused by excess yellow bile. Put that person in power during an economic downturn, and they’ll fight all attempts at getting the economy moving again by shutting down public works programs and other ways the government effectively injects money into a slow economy. The recession will become substantially worse for their economic ignorance, even though they’re someone of good character doing what they think is the best and most moral possible thing.

So I weight policy more heavily than character to a point. I don’t care if a rapist or a murderer has good policy, because those crimes are entirely beyond the pale, but a philanderer or a tax cheat can have good policy.

With a few exceptions, one issue should not be a determinative issue outside of extreme ones, like supporting child sacrifise.
The best way IMO is the looking at the whole package and seeing whether or not someone would actually get their policies enforced or have a reasonable chance to if in office. Idealism and ideology is all good but as the trite saying goes, “politics is the art of the possible”.

I would rather vote for the someone who I agreed with on 50% of the issues who gets 75% of her agenda through than someone who I agree with 95% and who gets only 10% of his agenda through.

I also don’t think just how much of an “objectively good” person an individual is should matter a jot, again outside of some very major criminal misconduct. A thread from a few years ago had this discussion, and I remember RickJay stated that Brain Mulroney was i) An odious human being and ii) Had successful and good policies which he maanged to pass. That post is one I think of regularly whenever this question comes up.