How I Solve the Candidate Dilemma

The first Republican primary presidential debate happened last week. I gathered with other political junkies and listened to what seemed like an unending number of candidates make their initial pitch as to why they would be the best president.

This may not be that interesting to the average U.S. citizen, but in DC, this was MTV’s Real World mixed with ABC’s The Bachelor/Bachelorette. We get to watch more than a dozen strangers, self-selected to campaign for elected office, having their lives taped as they campaign against each other, and we got to find out what happens when politicians stop being polite and start over-promising and under-delivering in order to win the final vote to be President of the United States.

A lot of the candidates effectively communicated the message that they’re not just bad guys trying to get elected. I was even impressed by some of them. If I were not living in DC and personally involved in politics, I might have a hard time deciding who to support.

Here at The Body Politic, we don’t claim to have all the answers, so this isn’t a post on how to concoct a perfect formula for deciphering the candidate dilemma. In fact, this isn’t a guide at all.  This is simply a humble explanation of what guides my voyage through a sea of presidential candidates.

I should state, before going any further, that it is okay to have political preferences and positions. One of the beauties of democracy is that there is ample opportunity for differing and dissenting voices to be heard. Supporting one candidate over all others is not a bad conviction.  What I try to remember, as Rick wrote a few weeks ago, is that God’s kingdom won’t be realized through U.S. laws. Those who waited for a politically powerful messiah were sorely disappointed when Jesus arrived, and I try to remember that the United States won’t be made any holier if all the laws that my prefered candidate supported were passed.

However, being careful not to confuse political administrations with the coming kingdom could lead me straight into an opposite danger: apathy. What I take away from Jesus’ words in Matthew regarding rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s is that I should be engaged in civil matters, so long as I remember that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this earth.

With those things in mind, as someone who identifies most closely with conservative policies, the granular details of a candidate’s platform becomes of secondary importance. Having been employed by an elected Member of Congress, I know that every elected official is but a sum of their staff’s recommendations. Members of congress may set the tone in terms of what policies they will support, but they listen to their staff’s advice. So I am confident that no matter what Republican candidate gets elected, there will be a team of conservative-minded people steering him or her to the right.

So if the policies are not of most importance to me, then what is? I find that character is often overlooked when considering candidates. I understand that not every candidate will be God-fearing, or share my faith. That is okay. But, drawing again from my experience as an elected member’s staff, character makes all the difference. Humility is not highly regarded in the political arena because it is thought of as weak. But as a follower of Jesus, I try to remember as often as I can that the ruler of the universe got down on his knees and washed his own disciples’ feet. A candidate who is not about himself but about others first is the type of candidate that says to me that they have my (and your) best interest in mind.

Nevertheless, I need not fear if the candidate I support doesn’t win, because as Stephanie reminded me in her post, my well being has already been decided on the cross!

Original photo by Southern Arkansas University, used through Creative Commons 2.0 .

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  • A former staffer for Republican House Leadership, Daniel Leiva left the Hill in 2014 fed up with the apocalyptic rhetoric. Daniel was born into a family with a rich legacy of full-time ministry. His time on the Hill only deepened his desire to see the church clearly and compellingly witness to the culture around it. He worked closely with Rick Barry to launch the Center for Christian Civics and build an initial team that could set the organization up for success. Daniel currently lives in Austin, TX, with his wife.

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