For several months they have been coming forward and declaring their intention to run for the highest office in the country. Hillary Clinton has had few challengers as she has been considered a shoe in for 2016 since she lost the primary to Barak Obama in 2008. However the republican side has become so congested with hopefuls that the first debate had to be split into a junior varsity “happy hour” debate, followed by a second prime time one for those who made the top ten in the polls, some of them by a very small percentage.
The candidates are as different as snowflakes–from their gender to their ethnicities, ages, backgrounds, credentials, and positions on various issues, even from the other hopefuls within their own party. One way to look at it is that voters are being given a real choice this time around, instead of being asked to choose between ivory and off white, they have a whole rainbow available to them. So everyone should be excited about the upcoming election season, right? Unfortunately not, and the question is why not, and what is it that voters are looking for?
They clearly want someone who is different from what they have feel they have always gotten. The rhetoric and campaign promises have too often resulted in shifting attitudes, priorities, and an inability to bring about significant change. Voters often feel betrayed, then disillusioned, then the apathy sets in. Therefore, the perfect candidate will make promises that resonate with a majority of constituents and then have the strength, conviction, smarts, and political and managerial muscle to get the job done.
Does this description fit any of the present candidates? Depending on who you ask, yes, no, or somewhat would be the answer. Looking at who is in the lead offers some clues. Hillary is seen as strong, intelligent, experienced, and liberal enough to appeal to many young and minority voters. However, her negatives are posing a big problem for her. She is wired to past administrations, policies, and practices. She also has a trust issue with voters due to “emailgate,” and the Benghazi disaster when she was Secretary of State. Trust and performance matter and she has a failing grade for both on her record.
Then there is the Republican front runner, Donald trump. Now what could voters possibly see in him, you ask? He is an outsider who has never held office, and a successful businessman who has made millions. What The Donald wants, The Donald usually gets, at least according to him. He tells voters he will fix the jobs problem, heal the economy and seal the border to protect our security and interests—three top issues for many Americans. He is politically incorrect, and makes no apologies which can be confused with courage and strength, another plus for many people who feel the Presidency has been weakened by Obama’s focus on diplomacy and resolving differences through a process powered by negotiation and demonstrating restraint and respect.
Bernie Sanders is another “tell it like it is” kind of candidate—a man of the people who wants the government to fix the ills that impact its most vulnerable citizens. He is a no-nonsense liberal, who has been consistent in what he says he believes in, and what he has voted for as the US Senator from Vermont. His appeal is very strong among the young, and those who are fed up with the establishment.
Dr. Ben Carson is a candidate who rose from poverty through academic excellence to the elite ranks of the country’s top neurosurgeons. As an articulate and soft-spoken Black republican he has gained a large following among even the most conservative voters. He is a political outsider who brings a message that resonates with those who believe hard work and academic success is the answer to poverty, joblessness, and the hopelessness that plagues the have-nots.
Marco Rubio is young, Latino, experienced, and articulate. He is connected to the establishment but brings a young voice and one that speaks for a group who often feel left out. He also appeals to many establishment voters given where he stands on various social issues. He often appears moderate, with a slight swing to the right or left, depending on the issue.
Carly Fiorina, a woman and political outsider with an impressive business resume, has started to gain a lot of attention due to her performance at the happy hour debate. She is very poised, articulate on the issues, and comes across as a confident and strong leader. She has spoken harshly about the record of other candidates, but avoids personal attacks–a winning strategy for voters who are tired of argumentum ad hominem.
Lastly there is Bush. He has name recognition, a great fund raising capacity, lots of establishment support…and name recognition. Being a bush works for and against him. For some, he is a safe and familiar choice, for others he would be the latest sequel in the series Bush Reigns Again. He has solid experience as the Governor of Florida, and has a good grasp of the important issues and can articulate his positions well, at least most of the time.
If we look at the traits of these (at least for now) voter favorites—we see a few that come up consistently. Strength, experience, but not necessarily in government, trustworthy, have the right values and would represent their interests, and really get the people they want to lead. This last one is hard to define or even pinpoint, but it is critical. People are looking for someone who strikes an emotional chord in them, who believes in what they believe in and who holds dear what they most value. They need to feel that this person has shared some of the same struggles and challenges and that they can trust them to offer a hand up to them, instead of turning away when they reach the top. It’s a feeling we all get when listening to or in the presence of someone. It’s hard to articulate, but we know it when we see it. But do any of these candidates have what it takes? So far, the vote is undecided.