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I’m not telling you whom to vote for. I’m not predicting who will win their party’s nomination. I’m not giving you a primer on which issues to consider as you vote in a caucus or primary (several months from now) or as you vote (over a year from now) in the presidential election. Before you think through any of that, keep these ten things in mind.

1. We’re not electing a king. It always amazes me how many Americans, even those who ostensibly believe in checks and balances and limited government, are eager to believe the wildest promises our politicians make. More than that, we almost demand that they make them. But really, is the president responsible for creating jobs, restoring the family, and defeating every bad guy? Even if we want him or her to do those things, we aren’t voting for Dictator of the United States. The president doesn’t make the laws. He (or she) shouldn’t have vast control over the economy. He (or she) cannot unilaterally fix the environment or schools or roads, let alone your marriage or your sense of being underappreciated in life. Let’s be realistic.

2. Elections matter. Lest you think the first point was too cynical, I believe elections do make a difference. Sometimes a big difference. Besides signing (or vetoing) legislation and besides being the Commander in Chief, the president has a huge bully pulpit. Surely, Obama’s evolution on gay marriage was not insignificant in pushing public opinion swiftly in that direction. More than that, the president appoints thousands of judges, justices, and bureaucrats who will make really important decisions for the next decades.

3. Character matters. Yes, all our leaders have clay feet. And to be sure, presidents can be decisive leaders and skilled politicians even if they are dubious individuals. But as Christians, surely we know better than to discount character. Of course, we aren’t voting for pastor of the United States. And yet, those who are not faithful with little will not be faithful with much. If you lie, cheat, bully, and break promises in your private life, why should we expect better with your public life? If at all possible, we should vote for a president whose moral compass is trustworthy and whose personal integrity is exemplary.

4. The best predictor of future performance is past performance. Politicians make promises. Lots of promises. They also morph to fit in with the electorate they need at the moment (e.g., Iowa, New Hampshire, the South, Independents, moderates). So don’t make a decision based on the best debate moment. Look at what the candidate has stood for and how they have conducted themselves over the years. No doubt, people can change and can change their minds. But who they have been is still the best indication of who they are and more accurate than who they promise to be.

5. You almost certainly will not have a beer with the next president. The candidate who passes the “I’d rather have a beer with this person” test almost always wins. We like to vote for people we’d like to hang out with. Fair enough, but 99.9% of us won’t hang out with the next president. So figure out who people are, what they believe, and how they would govern.

6. The big picture matters more than all the details. Presidents are not omniscient. Candidates even less so. Do you know everything about how to do your job before you have it? Of course not, and I bet your job is far less complicated than being President of the United States. So don’t except the candidates to know everything about everything. A thousand things will happen from 2017-2021 that no president can anticipate. Again, figure out who people are, what they believe, and how they would govern. Many of the details can’t yet be known.

7. The candidates will say something stupid. They all will. Even your favorite. How could they not? They will be on t.v. every single day from now until the inauguration (or until they drop out of the race). They will be in dozens of debates (at least the Republicans will), give hundreds of speeches and interviews, and meet thousands of people. All of this with a camera in their face at all times (well, for most of them). It’s really amazing they don’t make more mistakes than they do. Let’s discern between an honest slip up, gotcha questions, and actual revealing comments.

8. The media will do very little to help you understand the issues and what each candidate believes. I thought the first debate was one of the best I’ve seen in terms of specific, hard-hitting questions. But overall, no matter the network, the media is going to overwhelmingly report on the horse race not the difference between the horses. It’s a big reality t.v. drama where Iowans vote losers off the island. Getting to substance is your responsibility. The media won’t do it for you.

9. It is extremely unlikely that either party will nominate someone with no political experience. Not a wish, just a prediction I can make with almost complete certainty. Do you know how many presidents we’ve elected without a high military rank or experience in electoral politics? Two. And both of these men had previous political experience (even if they hadn’t been elected to anything): William Howard Taft was a judge and the Solicitor General before becoming President, and Herbert Hoover was the Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge. Do you know the last time either party nominated someone who had never been a governor, senator, representative, or vice president? The year was 1952 and that man had recently saved all free peoples of the world from totalitarian tyranny. So, yeah, Eisenhower is kind of the exception that proves the rule. Besides Ike, you have to go back to Wendell Willkie–the dark horse candidate who won the Republican nomination in 1940 and lost 85% of the electoral college vote to Roosevelt–to find a major nominee who had not held elected office. And Willkie, who was third on the first ballot at the Republican convention, could never pull off such an upset with the way the nominating process works today. Long story short: candidates with zero political experience are almost never nominated, and nominees without a military record or electoral experience virtually never win.

10. The system could be much worse. Sure, there is plenty to complain about. The presidential campaign seems interminably long. It takes a boatload of money to stay in the race. We are all stupider because of Twitter and the 24-hours news cycle. And even the best debates are hardly Lincoln-Douglas material. But we do get a say. We do get a vote. We basically get the presidents we deserve. I’d rather have candidates pandering for our votes than dictating the terms of our surrender. Yes, if you want to be president it helps to be rich and famous, but you also have to hang out in New Hampshire all winter and shake the hand of every farmer in Iowa. I like that. There are good reasons to be frustrated with both parties. But with only two major parties, it’s hard to completely ignore most viewpoints. You can’t build a coalition without trying to appeal to a lot of diverse groups of people. So is the system broken? I’m sure it is, but I’m also sure there are more ways than we can imagine to fix it even worse.

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25 thoughts on “Ten Things to Remember as the Presidential Campaign Season Gets Into Full Swing”

  1. Curt Day says:

    Here’s a thought, because we are currently locked into a two-party system where our choice of candidates seems to get progressively worse, why not boycott candidates from the two major parties and vote for 3rd party candidates instead? Both Conservatives and nonconservatives can do this since there are all sorts of 3rd parties from conservative ones to leftist ones. If enough people voted for 3rd party candidates, we just might gain some measure of control over the two major parties.

  2. Edwin C says:

    Curt, the key phrase is “If enough people…” I have no high hopes for enough people every voting for a 3rd party candidate as ever doing more than handing the election to one of the two major party candidates.

  3. Lonna Bruischart says:

    I would call this a perfectly unbiased article except for two sentences. Even if it’s true, they shouldn’t be in this article.

  4. Ross Riggan says:

    Great article and very realistic in our approach to this electoral season. Based upon the past, it is highly unlikely that we will see someone with no political experience on the final ballot. However, the country does seem very dissatisfied with the status quo and with the two parties, especially the Republican Party. We may see something historic in the Republican nominee in the coming months: whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen. I agree that character and previous actions are an important indicator of future performance. Sadly, that makes the current situation even harder in making the decision for who not only will do the country right, but who actually has a real chance to do the country right. We will see…

  5. Curt Day says:

    And I have no hope in either the 2 parties or in instant change. Most change comes incrementally. And even without that change, voting for either of the 2 major parties is self-defeating if neither party represents you. What happens is that you end up voting for the lesser evil and that only maintains the evil because each party only has to show that it isn’t the other party.

  6. Curt Day says:

    What do you have to lose when the election will always go to one of the two parties and neither party represents you? Also consider that most change happens incrementally.

  7. Jeff Day says:

    Yes, the president is not a dictator. However, with 3 Supreme Court Justices over 80 (and likely to retire) the next president will have the authority to dictate at least 1 (if not more) of the life-term interpreters of the American laws.

  8. Neville Briggs says:

    I am puzzled why there is any need for Reformed brothers to have great concern about voting patterns in the US presidential election. My Calvinist friend assures me that God is Sovereign and that everything that happens is determined by God’s will. Therefore I take it, that he believes that however votes are cast from issues in the minds of the voters, God’s will is sure to prevail.

    If God’s will prevails, then in that case will voters get the president that they deserve. The Bible says somewhere that God does not necessarily treat us as we deserve. Jesus said that God sends the sun and the rain on the just and the unjust alike.

    I don’t have meanness of spirit, I wish to try and understand the truth. .

  9. Dan says:

    Neville, historically, theologically, and biblically God’s sovereignty is never an excuse for personal responsibility. Our sins are our responsibility, our evangelism is our responsibility, and our decisions are our responsibility. God’s sovereignty rules the election of our president, but he (may) accomplish his will through our actions, participation, and wisdom in voting.

  10. Dan says:

    Lonna, which sentences are you referring to?

  11. Ross Riggan says:

    The issue being raised is concerning man’s responsibility and God’s Sovereignty, both of which Scripture teaches as true realities that are not opposed to one another but work in concert with one another.

    Acts 4:24, 28-29 – “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them… They {Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and Jews} did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”

    In this passage, Scripture declares that the handing over of Jesus was done according to the will and power of the Sovereign God.

    Stephen in his defense said, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” – Acts 7:51-53

    Clearly, Stephen is accusing them of betraying and murdering Jesus. They are morally responsible.

    Peter says in his Pentecost sermon, “…this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, YOU nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” – Acts 2:23

    You can see from these passages, that the whole time God is executing His Sovereign, predetermined plan, man is being held morally responsible for committing sinful acts. It may seem a contradiction, but it is not. We have to bow to the Scriptures as speaking the truth and when there is seemingly a contradiction we must humbly chalk it up to our limited understanding. We must not decide which version we like better and teach only that to the exclusion of the other. There are a lot of things we do not understand or seem to contradict and yet they are no less true. The fact that atoms have a nucleus made up of positively charged protons and neutral neutrons and that orbiting this nucleus are negatively charged electrons is an amazing assortment of contradictions. We all know that like charges repel and unlike charges attract. This makes no sense with an atom because with all those positively charged protons stuffed together in a nucleus, you would expect it to explode. You would expect all those negatively charged electrons to collapse upon that positively charged nucleus, but they do not. As far as I know (may not be up to date on this), scientists do not know why that nucleus does not explode. But it doesn’t and just because we don’t understand why or how does not make it any less true.

    This is no less true when it comes to elections. Absolutely, God is Sovereign and whoever He has determined to win will win, but that does not absolve us of any responsibility to take action, speak the truth, and vote for those who will lead the nation in a way that is upright before God.

  12. Jerry says:

    Every election cycle I’m reminded of these words from William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, that he wrote in 1682- a full 105 years before the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (I like to think that the location of the convention was no accident, but a result of Providence, as well).

    Governments, like clocks, go from the motion men give them, and as governments are made and moved by men, so by them they are ruined too. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments. Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad; if it be ill, they will cure it. But, if men be bad, let the government be ever so good, they will endeavor to warp and spoil it to their turn.

    I know some say, “Let us have good laws, and no matter for the men that execute them”; but let them consider that, though good laws do well, good men do better, for good laws may want good men and be abolished or evaded [invaded in Franklin’s print] by ill men; but good men will never want good laws nor suffer ill ones. It is true, good laws have some awe upon ill ministers, but that is where they have not power to escape or abolish them, and the people are generally wise and good, but a loose and depraved people (which is the question) love laws and an administration like themselves.

    That, therefore, which makes a good constitution, must keep it, viz.: men of wisdom and virtue, qualities that, because they descend not with worldly inheritances, must be carefully propagated by a virtuous education of youth; for which after ages will owe more to the care and prudence of founders, and the successive magistracy, than to their parents, for their private patrimonies.

  13. Neville Briggs says:

    Well Dan, Ross. I wonder what is the responsibility of voters if the appointed president turns out to be deficient or worse.
    Can men decide to impeach or remove God’s choice.
    This was the dispute with Oliver Cromwell and Charles I, King of England. Charles claimed Divine appointment , but Cromwell and his Calvinist group destroyed the King.
    So does the responsibility of the voters reserve for them the right or even responsibility to undo their choice. Of course David refused to destroy God’s appointed King, but then David wasn’t a voter.

  14. Allan M Tiso says:

    All very good points save #9 which is mostly true but seems to say to drop your hope for a non-politician. The point implies that these non-politicos don’t have a chance and you shouldn’t vote for them.
    Some of our best and earliest presidents had no real political experience. I think that we need a president right now who has impeccable character, is intelligent and is a leader and can use the bully pulpit effectively. My view nearly perfectly cuts out all politicos in the current race (including the “Christian” ones) and leaves only the outliers.

  15. Ross Riggan says:

    The questions can be answered by a clarification of what we mean by “God’s Will”. I can look back in history and say that it was definitely God’s Sovereign will that George W. Bush serve as president for the first 8 years of this millenia. No doubt about it. It happened so it was God’s Will that it happened. This is not a commentary on whether God was pleased with George W. Bush anymore than God was pleased with Bill Clinton before him. Nor does this tell us whether it might have been God’s moral will for the citizens of the United States to have impeached any former president. Similarly, we can look back and see over the past two election cycles that it was God’s Will that Barack Obama be president because that is what happened. Whatever happens is part of God’s Sovereign Will because nothing happens outside of God’s Sovereign Will. However, this does not mean that it will never be part of God’s moral will for people to vote against or impeach any current leader. God’s willing something sovereignly to happen is not necessarily His commendation on that person or that circumstance. God does sometimes use evil for the ultimate good of His people. The idea of the divine right of kings was a faulty understanding of God’s Will and the place of government in people’s lives. Just because a man was born a prince and ascended to the throne as king did not mean that people were not following the Scripture if they resisted tyrannical rule. It was God’s Sovereign will that Hitler rise to political power in Germany during the middle of the last century. Yet, I believe, though this might be much debated, that it was God’s moral will for men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer to band together and plot Hitler’s assassination. Whether or not we take it to the extreme of assassination, the point is that just because God exercises His Sovereign will for certain figures to come to political power does not ever mean that God may desire for people to stand up against tyrannical rule. Just as God commanded that we be subject to authorities, He also commanded that we love our neighbor. Loving our neighbor (which includes our families, our children, our churches, as well as actual neighbors) may involve resisting their suffering caused by evil rulers. This will always be a wisdom issue because we can never know beyond a shadow of a doubt what God’s ultimate will is until it has happened and because God’s moral will, though most often is crystal clear, may not always be perfectly understood in every situation.

    The reference to Cromwell and the Calvinists as destroying the king is an unfair one. Not every Calvinist was against the king, and his being destroyed was not over whether he was Calvinist or not, but over treason. The English Civil War was a multi-faceted war as almost every one of them is. One of the main purposes and outcomes of the war was that the king did not have the right to rule to the exclusion of parliament, an idea that sounds very American.

  16. 11. Keep in mind that the rest of the world looks at the USG as a dangerous child, with the capacity to blow the hell out of entire countries. So, please, consider the Foreign Policy of the next guy: does he want more war? Is he going to invade another country to defend “American interests over-seas”? Will more death and destruction follow in his wake? Will he continue the rendition programs of the Bush and Obama administrations? Will more drone strikes occur and kill innocent children and women? Will he repeal the NDAA?

    Kind regards,

  17. Greg says:

    I dunno Kevin … I think we may be at a Samson or Jehu moment.

    I don’t think those guys had exemplary personal lives, but God used them to do things that needed to be done.

  18. Sue says:

    The CNN debate gave such a short amount of time for the candidates to speak and even then on trivia topics (ie “What do you think about what he said about your face?”) The following day there was an event where 10 of them accepted the opportunity to answer important questions with ample time to speak. It wasn’t televised but here’s the link for anyone interested: It was sponsored by Heritage Action.

  19. Shani Duskin says:

    What’s up it’s me Fiona, I am also visiting this web site regularly, this web page is truly nice and the users are genuinely sharing good thoughts.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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