Biden or Trump, some choice

The 2024 polls show most Americans prefer [x] neither of the above.

But presidents don’t need to be popular, and usually aren’t. JFK’s popularity was a big thing in its time because popular presidents are rare.

There are three important considerations in choosing a president and popularity isn’t one of them: Character, competence, and policy, in that order.

But many voters reverse the order, putting policies first, with less emphasis on competence, and caring little about character. This explains why so many slimy politicians of marginal ability have made it to the White House in our nation’s history.

As a side note, although presidential elections aren’t popularity contests, prejudice plays a role, which is why only two Catholics, one black, and no woman or Jew has been elected. Hillary Clinton recently complained female voters “deserted her in the last days of the [2016] campaign because she was not perfect” (see story here), but that wasn’t why she lost. She won the popular vote; the electoral college did her in.

Clinton wasn’t burdened with her husband’s or Trump’s character flaws, but they got in and she didn’t, which proves my point about voter priorities.

Her experience and competence may have helped her in the popular vote, but Trump won the 2016 election (and his party’s 2020 and 2024 nominations) despite his incompetence. This article argues competence is “unimportant” in elections. It’s hard to argue otherwise, and I think it’s likely to be unimportant in November 2024.

The November 2024 election presents voters with stark differences of character, competence, and policies. But Republican voters don’t care about character or competence; they’re motivated by Trump’s policies. Biden voters are repulsed by Trump, but also motivated by policies.

News media play up voter concerns about inflation; but Barrons, a financial weekly, says while the election “matters” for abortion rights, border control, and climate transition, it “just isn’t that important for the economy” (page 62 of 5/27/2024 print edition). But they’re talking about how the outcome will affect the country, not what motivates voters. Barrons didn’t even mention character, competence, age, or physical and mental decline.

Biden and Trump both stumble and have senior moments. Polls show most voters think they’re too old. But in the 2022 Senate elections, Pennsylvania voters elected a candidate who was recovering from a stroke and could barely speak. So that’s not it.

It’s obvious people vote for policies more than candidates. Voters won’t much care if the next four years are a Weekend At Bernies if they get the policies they want, or don’t get the policies they don’t want. Media handwringing over the candidates misses the forest for the trees. Voter angst about the candidates won’t decide the election.

Instead, people should worry about a loser being elected again. Electoral college historian Lucius Wilmerding (profile here) wrote in his 1958 book (which goes into great detail about why the Founding Fathers didn’t opt for direct popular election of presidents) that he didn’t think such a thing was possible. He didn’t live to see popular vote losers win the 2000 and 2016 elections, and it could happen again.

With the electoral college hanging over our heads, the real problem isn’t the choice between Biden or Trump; it’s whether we’ll even get to make the choice.

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