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Ron Nehring

How will they govern? First, see how they behave as candidates

Voters cast ballots for people, not for lists of policy positions.  While a candidate’s positions on individual issues are important, voters look for signs of how the a person would use the power of government after the election, if he or she wins.

A candidate’s personal narrative is as influential, if not more so, than their party affiliation or the nuances of their philosophy.  Rudy Giuliani was elected Mayor not because his party or philosophy was closest to his fellow New Yorkers in that heavily Democratic city, but rather because his personal qualifications and narrative proved more compelling than those of his rivals.  The same is true of leaders including Governors Chris Christie (NJ) and Susana Martinez (NM).

The person is important.

The kind of leader a candidate proves to be on the campaign trail can provide valuable insight to how he or she will govern.  It is the candidate who ultimately sets the tone within a campaign, and sends important signals with their attitude, demeanor, whom they hire, and the kind of direction they are given.

Think of a candidate you’ve met.  Now, think of some of the people who were hired by that campaign.  Are these people you want to see trusted with the power of government?

It’s an important question.

Too often in the political world people delude themselves into thinking that how a person behaves in “politics” is separate and distinct from how they behave in “government.”  A campaign that encourages staff to push ethical limits, treats people (especially subordinates and volunteers) poorly, and employs sleazy, creepy tactics teaches people that these are the traits and behaviors that are valued and earn rewards.

Yet, what happens when these same people are part of a winning campaign, and move into government positions?  Are we to believe that those who have been trained in, and rewarded for, skirting the rules and will, when suddenly given the powers of the state, change?

The scandal involving the abuse of powers at the IRS underscores this point.  The President sets the tone.  Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, put it this way, “If he is arrogant, arrogance spreads.  If he is too partisan, too disrespecting of political adversaries, that spreads too.  Presidents always undo themselves and then blame it on the third guy in the last row in the sleepy agency across town.”

Those of us who are drawn to politics out of a passion for issues look for candidates who reflect our values and priorities because we believe electing those candidates will advance the issues that brought us to politics in the first place.

However, being right on the issues is the starting point for being a good candidate.  Not the end.  Candidates are would-be leaders, and we have the opportunity during a campaign to make a judgment as to whether they are the kind of people we should entrust with the power of the state.  Their ethics, disposition, demeanor, character, and treatment of others are as important as positions on issues.  Voters understand this.  Those in the political class need to as well.