Choosing our next President is serious business, notwithstanding the sometimes comical aspects of how we go about doing it. What follows is my own personal checklist for candidate evaluation. I offer it to you for use as you see fit. It doesn’t discuss actual issues that divide candidates; every voter must make his or her own mind up about them and their relative importance. Rather it comprises a kind of plausibility check for campaign promises. If you dislike what someone proposes, find another candidate. But if you like his or her ideas, that only matters if they have a reasonable chance of being implemented.
Listen to the campaign rhetoric by those running for President in 2016. Nowadays you could hardly do otherwise. They all ask for your vote because they will improve the national economy, defend us from threats at home and abroad, redress wrongs, and make your life easier and more comfortable. These are easy promises to make and hard ones to keep.
When you hear any of these promises, ask yourself – or better yet the candidate if the opportunity arises – these two questions. Exactly how will this be accomplished, and why should I believe the candidate can make this happen? Very few of the candidates’ claims will survive this scrutiny. Running for President is a fantastical process. Tales are spun with no regard to reality. Indeed many seem to think they have magical powers that will push aside obstacles and mesmerize opponents into following their directions. There is no harm in being aspirational. A candidate should have goals, but they should not just be dreams of a hoped-for nirvana.
Desirable and plausible plans are only realistic if they take into account the environment and circumstances in which they will be promoted and implemented. First and foremost is the fact that the President proposes but Congress disposes. Laying aside the controversial issue of executive orders, the President must convince Congress – both Houses – to take up his measures and then to pass them without totally destructive changes. For 2016, it is unlikely that the House will change hands. The Senate is up for grabs, simply based on which seats will be contested. Perhaps more to the point, neither party is likely to achieve the 60 vote majority required for absolute control in the Senate. Any candidate should accommodate these realities into his reckoning. There may be surprises but assuming one party or the other will take total control and bow to the President of their own party is just wishful thinking.
An important aspect of being able to fulfill promises is being able to persuade very independent legislators that the proposals also meet their objectives. This requires more than simply powers of suasion; it requires being willing and able to establish relationships with key legislators. Look hard at the candidates to see if they show these attributes and have relevant experience.
Finally, be on guard against promises that exceed Presidential authority. It is surprising how often candidates either are unaware of constitutional limits or, perhaps more deviously, are banking on your ignorance.