Who Do You Trust?

That was the name of a TV show back in the 50s & 60s, whose main claim to fame is launching the national career of a young star named Johnny Carson.  Carson would go on to actually be a guy who people trusted enough to invite into their homes almost every night for 30 years.

It’s also the name of the game when electing a President, to a degree we often don’t like to admit to ourselves.  We don’t govern the country by plebescite, and even if we did, a President would still be required to make a large number of major decisions for which he will only later be held accountable.  Part of the reason we put so much emphasis on intangibles is that we need to be able to trust the man (or woman) making those decisions.

Some of this does come down to philosophy.  There’s a principle in Jewish law that if you give someone a gold coin, but you tell them it’s a silver coin, they’re only responsible for taking care of it like a silver coin.  Why?  Because what’s important to you may not be important to them.  If you want something treated like a gold coin, you need to make sure that the person you’re giving it to values it that way.  It’s the reason that we demand that kosher supervisors keep kosher themselves.

In the same way, people who are passionate about a particular issue will want proof that a candidate is as sincerely intense (or intensely sincere) about it as they are.  If you really care about guns, then a comment like Ben Carson’s about not needing semi-automatics in a big city is a disqualifier.

If you really care about small government, then you want someone you can trust to be making the small decisions that reduce the power of the executive, and who’ll take on entitlement reform.  You want someone who invests his staff, from the cabinet on down, with that same zeal, and who is always guiding the budget, rule-making, and legislative processes in that direction.  You can’t measure that on a day-to-day basis.  You have a business to run, a job to do.  You need to trust that it matter to him (or her), and that what you don’t see is also going in the right direction.

It’s the main reason that – for President – I prefer governors to senators, and politicians to newbies.   What do they care enough about to keep, and what do they consider to be disposable?  Governors have to make decisions and run organizations, while senators have to run their mouths and cast votes.  Newbies may have opinions, serious opinion even, but they haven’t been tested in the crucible of tradeoffs and compromise that our system is built on.

And as difficult as things in Austin or Madison or Tallahassee or Columbus might be, they’re nothing like DC.   If you want real change – not just a return to normalcy that ratifies the wreckage of the last 8 years, but a real effort, against colossal pressures, to undo the damage wrought by this administration in virtually every area of our public life, then you need to trust that that person will be disciplined and energetic, as well as persuasive.

That sort of trust, as well as the 3 AM Phone Call-kind of trust, needs to be projected.  And as a voter, it requires judgment about character, discipline, and energy, as well as political philosophy and how deeply they’ve thought about the issues at hand.

Here’s what I think I know about the candidates so far.  The one guy I could trust on all counts just dropped out.  So much for Perry.  Trump has shown me that I can’t trust him.  Rubio and Fiorina have earned the right to convince me.  Fourteen months away from the election, six months away from our state caucus, that’s about all I’ll commit to for them.  I remain wary of Cruz, who I think would make a dynamite Supreme Court Justice, but who politically, seems to always have more of an angle than a plan.  Paul has shown me that I can trust him on foreign policy – to pretty much always be wrong.  Walker has pretty much shaken my trust in his instincts, at least in primaries, and will need to work to get it back.  Carson, I’d love to have over for a meal – I could trust him with my best china and most delicate stemware, as well as to provide entertaining, charming conversation.  And Kasich and Bush, I think I could trust to be solid men who wouldn’t do a lick to roll back Obamacare or reimpose sanctions on Iran.

One last word about Fiorina, since she’s the one non-professional I’m considering.  The reason she’s earned to right to persuade me is that she says most of the right things, is quick on her feet, but also projects being in control.  She also knows how to use her gender to advantage without beating you over the head with it, which I think is part of the reason she’d do well in the general – women don’t like Hillary; women do like Carly.  That said, there’s  danger there that she becomes the Republican gender-based version of the Democratic race-based Barack Obama: we get so swept up in the idea of electing a woman that we forget that we’re electing a real person we need to trust to make the right decisions.  We need to be sure of what we’re getting, and not let smoke get in our eyes.

Of course, people can also vote against not trusting someone.  I know people who bit their fingernails before voting for Nixon in 1972, hoping they did the right thing, and who did the same thing in 1976 with someone who made trust an explicit campaign theme, which would indicate some insecurity on the subject.  Many uneasily trusted Ronald Reagan in 1980, when the incumbent asked openly if we could “trust” him with his finger on the button.  By 1992, many had decided they couldn’t trust George H.W. Bush, and by 1996, decided they could trust Clinton politically, if not personally.  In 2012, Obama had lost the trust of many American Jews, and by 2015, I personally can’t see how he’s retained the trust of any.  (Whether or not that creates an electoral opportunity for the 2016 Republican nominee is also a matter of trust, something last night’s Ann Coulter tweets did nothing to help.)

In the end, trust is part of the reason that people get very testy when you criticize their chosen candidate: you’re not just discussing a person, you’re criticizing their own judgment, as well, and a personal bond the candidate has forged with them.  Which is why it shouldn’t be easily earned or easily given.

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