Not really. I thought the headline would be a better grabber than that I’m “trying really hard” to figure out what’s going on with these elections.

Even though this post will be outdated after the current election season, it’s still worth it in my view to try to grapple with the strange events taking place. Here is how I see the basic breakdown of the GOP candidates – why people like and/or dislike them.

Note: Since I can’t get into the minds of vast numbers of voters, these reasons for liking or disliking candidates are my best guesses. Feel free to reply and tell me if I’m missing something or not reading voters correctly. Also, I’m just focusing here on the GOP side of the fence. I’ll leave the donkey party out of this analysis for now.

For each of these candidates I’m thinking of (a) shallow reasons for liking and disliking, as well as (b) substantive reasons for liking and disliking. The shallow reasons are those that should not carry as much weight as they tend to for people. Our culture tends toward the shallow and banal so these reasons for liking or disliking end up playing too large a role in people’s decisions. The substantive reasons for liking or disliking are the ones that I think should really matter most, or be the most consequential and decisive.

So here is the breakdown as far as I can tell:

I’ll go somewhat in order of their apparent standing in the contest, which means that first up is …


The Donald.

Shallow Reasons to Like:

  • an outsider insofar as he’s never held political office
  • very different, a change up from the norm
  • a ‘take no crap’ attitude
  • doesn’t seem to care what people think (which may seem refreshing to people after years of over-apologizing, patronizing, cowing and tiptoeing on eggshells)
  • already known through many years of pop culture and entertainment exposure (in recent years “The Apprentice”)
  • has a lot of entertaining lines in his speeches
  • represents a way for ticked off people to give a symbolic obscene gesture of protest toward the establishment

Shallow Reasons to Dislike:

  • the hair & spray-tan,
  • born into wealth
  • increased annoyance at the sound of his voice

Substantive Reasons to Like:

  • may take a tougher stance with other governments (China, Iran, Mexico or whomever) that puts the U.S. in a stronger negotiating position or protects the nation’s interests
  • may have financial experience enough to straighten out some of that whole mess (debt, trade, whatever that could entail)
  • would be less beholden to usual wealthy donors due to independent wealth (or at least he repeatedly claims to be ‘self-funded’)
  • maybe more decisive and unwavering in dropping the hammer on ISIS

Substantive Reasons to Dislike:

  • uncertainty and distrust as to what he really thinks and what he might actually do since he has held many contradictory positions;
  • obviously plays to the crowd more shamelessly than even other politicians
  • difficult to take seriously since his whole shtick can seem like a clown act at times
  • a wildcard who can’t be predicted by anyone
  • not caring what people think could lead him to act unilaterally and attempt to do whatever he pleases to the degree that he has the power or can manipulate the system
  • not being beholden to anyone could leave him very unaccountable
  • his narcissistic and arrogant disposition, aside from their raw unattractiveness, gives the impression that he does not listen to nor concern himself much with the advice of other people
  • more likely to demean or besmirch the office than any other candidate by things he regularly says
  • risk of major offense and alienation in negotiations with other governments which could lead to huge fissures in global relations and increased hostilities
  • fear of a scandal from his past or present that could erupt at any time



Shallow Reasons to Like:

  • a Hispanic name (and the implication of some sort of heritage to match) gives off a nice vibe of racial diversity in the party, with the mystique of ‘first Hispanic president,’ etc.

Shallow Reasons to Dislike:

  • the puppy dog facial expression
  • the sometimes cheesy drama of his expressions of patriotism in speeches

Substantive Reasons to Like:

  • a pretty steady record
  • not a lot of changes or suspicious transitioning in his beliefs
  • reliably conservative
  • very constitutionally oriented
  • well-studied and in pretty good command of facts and particulars relevant to the policies he suggests and issues he talks most about
  • not likely to be too easily controlled by powerful establishment forces
  • a person of conviction who sticks to his guns (2nd Ammendment pun intended)

Substantive Reasons to Dislike:

  • may be a little rigid and inflexible on some things,as in a real hard-liner when it comes to certain issues such that his conviction might seem to some like stubbornness
  • has had some important questions about nefarious campaign tactics that seemed a little shady or underhanded (although he fired a staffer he said was responsible for it)



Shallow Reasons to Like:

  • as with Cruz, his Hispanic name & heritage earn diversity points
  • has a more polished look and sound (more pleasant to listen to in many ways)

Shallow Reasons to Dislike:

  • ears the size of trash can lids

Substantive Reasons to Like:

(admittedly I don’t know all that much about Rubio but …)

  • seems like a stable person
  • has experience serving as a senator
  • the impression is that he would be mostly conservative, but also flexible and able to get along with and play nicely with others

Substantive Reasons to Dislike:

  • some knowledgeable analysts say that he would be much more of a puppet for the party establishment, which does not enjoy favorable public opinion right now
  • he has had some odd debate glitches that make you wonder: first he seemed to be stuck in a loop repeating memorized lines, then the next time out he went full Trump 2.0 with the insult-comic routine; the first was uncomfortably strange, as if he could not break out of his script, and the second, while entertaining, seemed like a forced bit of either revenge (against Trump) or desperate strategy (it’s working for Trump so I’ll get in on the act)



Shallow Reasons to Like:

  • yet again, ethnicity – like droves of mindless Obama voters in the past, you could vote for Carson simply as a pat on your own back for supporting a black candidate, as if to rack up some diversity points (Carson would be the first to tell you that is not the reason he would want a person’s vote).
  • outsider, not a career politician

Shallow Reasons to Dislike:

  • too nice, too soft spoken, won’t play hardball or play dirty
  • unique or odd doctrinal distinctions of his Christian denomination (Seventh Day Adventist)

[*Note: interestingly, his ‘nice guy’ element could be seen as a reason to like or dislike, depending on the person and context. Also, his personal likability could be seen as a shallow reason to like him, even though I ended up making it a substantive one because I am connecting it to his character].

Substantive Reasons to Like:

  • the most likable figure in the race, and maybe the most decent person overall
  • intelligent (I’m certainly no brain surgeon, but he was)
  • strikes you as fair-minded and reasonable
  • brings a demeanor that is stabilizing and would suit the office well
  • seems like the least likely to have a secret past or potential scandal

Substantive Reasons to Dislike:

  • a career in specialized medicine does not necessarily provide the background preparation for the demands of the office of president
  • has at times seemed unsure about particulars of foreign policy (or at least in some early debates)
  • may lack toughness in terms of taking difficult stands or defending political ground; may not have the ‘stomach’ for the ugly side of politics



Shallow Reasons to Like:

(I’m not sure on this one. Someone may need to help me out.)

Shallow Reasons to Dislike:

  • didn’t necessarily come off well on camera during debates (a little fidgety and not a terribly smooth or polished guy)
  • has been in politics a long time in different capacities

Substantive Reasons to Like:

  • has a record of accomplishments as a governor of an important state (as he reminded voters very often and rightly so)
  • does not appear to be interested in the sideshows or in getting too much in the mud
  • would carry himself well and be a respectable figure
  • has a lot of knowledge and connections that might help him forge good teams or alliances

Substantive Reasons to Dislike:

  • he seems to be less conservative than the others and more moderate, which is a legitimate knock if you are coming from a principally conservative point of view (but which obviously is not if you are in fact a moderate)
  • it is possible that he would compromise too much and fail to hold his ground (i.e., he would give away too much in making political negotiations across the aisle).


I’m stopping there because any other GOP contenders that may still be in it seem too far down the viability ladder to merit analysis at this point. I realize that Carson has just given indication that he may be ending his campaign but as I wrote this he was still a mostly viable candidate.

As I said before, I more than welcome any corrections or constructive feedback on this analysis. I’m thinking out loud here, and there are some questions I still have, like “Who are the large numbers of professing evangelicals voting for Trump?” Since I hardly know any, they represent an enormous swath of people who are mysterious to me in many ways. I can only guess at their motivation since I have not heard it clearly and cogently stated.

I should disclose that I do not take democracy as a sure and reliable way to get good leaders. It has served pretty well, and most every alternative in the world is worse. But it was not commanded from Mt. Sinai (any more than the Constitution is a divinely inspired sacred text that should be prefaced with “Thus sayeth YHWH …”). Whatever merit our system has is instrumental and pragmatic rather than doctrinal and authoritative. And it’s far from foolproof.

Call me elitist, but if it were me I would round up a large contingent of persons I deem to be the wisest overall, and have them select ideal candidates from among whom many citizens (not all) would vote after a lot of discussion and debate (I mean ‘real’ debate, not the kind of repeated spectacle that passes for a ‘debate’ today). Voting would be a privilege not of wealth but of proven wisdom and understanding.

Yes I know I’m rehashing an idealized scenario from Plato’s Republic, but I teach philosophy so this is actually about as predictable a thing as I could write.

Oh well enough of that. Here we stand in an election cycle. We don’t get to decide a write-in candidate at this point. But the public obsession with ‘getting out the vote’ constantly demands that we do our duty as citizens, so the least we can do in that respect try to sort this out and be responsible about it, right?

I haven’t figured out these elections, but at least I’m trying. If you can assist me or correct me in some way, help a brothu out.

Clint Roberts
Clint Roberts

Clint Roberts has taught Philosophy, Religion, Ethics, Critical Thinking, Apologetics, and a few less interesting subjects over the last decade plus. He long ago attended a fine theological institution. Later his doctorate focused on famous arguments by Clive Staples Lewis. He and Wanda lived in Texas, Idaho, & Utah before coming to Oklahoma. They have six kids & several species of animal.  He teach, he preach, he roast the coffee, he grow the hot chili pepper, he milk the goat. And he ascendeth weekly unto the Free Methodist pulpit while continuing to teach at local universities.

    12 replies to "I Finally Figured Out These Elections"

    • Roger D Nunn

      Superb analysis, Clint. Spot-on! Thank you.

    • Peter

      Pretty good. But although you mentioned Cruz letting someone go over the Rubio smear, as far as I know, no one was let go over the misinformation disseminated about Carson in Iowa.

    • Les

      Really good. I would add to the substantive reasons to dislike Rubio is his inconsistent position on immigration. This is for my wife and I a major factor, since we both emigrated here legally and through the (years long) system (I formerly of Canada, she formerly of Mexico). His support of amnesty prior to running, and apparent willingness to be open to this issue even now, is in truth destructive to the nation both in terms of economics and national security.

    • Howard Pepper

      I like the concept and structure of this article, and it has some substance (though I’m not inclined toward some of the same weighting of issues as you are… am much more progressive). If anything, I think you’ve understated the substantial reasons to dislike Trump…. Even many Republicans, across the moderate-conservative spectrum of the GOP, see him as truly detrimental (already, even if he goes no “further off the deep end”) and potentially very dangerous to national and international stability. As to Cruz: “a little rigid…”? How about “incredibly rigid…”?!

      My main contribution is this, however: If you (and any readers) are not familiar, you NEED to check out the proposals and the processes already in-proof-of-concept, operating on small scale, of Voice of the People… some key refinements of current US democracy. Go to Time WELL spent… I’m seriously behind them.

    • Marc F

      I compared to Trump to the guy who was the President impostor in the movie GI Joe: Retaliation. I think Trump would handle nuclear disarmament similarly.
      What I cannot figure out is the broad based support that he appears to be getting regardless of locale or voter demographic. I honestly felt at one time (and still do) that he was running for the sole purpose of getting Hilary Clinton elected by causing mass chaos and decisiveness within the GOP. Although I have never bothered to confirm this I heard that he has been endorsed by Pat Robertson and other evangelicals. If true, this is troubling. Although not a Catholic, I think the Pope got it right on Trump.

    • Irene

      You categorized a lot there, and I agree with most. I, like a previous commenter, would weigh some things differently though, and that difference in weighing is probably why you don’t quite understand the Trump supporters. I (a Trump supporter) put much more weight on someone being a political insider or political outsider. I think it makes a huge difference in how connected to reality someone is. ….I also noticed that you categorized the positive aspects of Trump’s personality as shallow reasons to like him, while you categorized the negative aspects of his personality as substantial reasons to dislike him.

    • Irene

      Marc F,
      Even previous to Trump, Pope Francis has demonstrated AWFUL political instincts. 🙂 (and I am a Catholic)

    • Linda

      Rather than getting involved with one candidate over another, one of my concerns is how the GOP has handled it thus far. If it is to be a democratic process then let the people have their say. The GOP trying to manipulate the process is a disgrace. I, personally, have not been for Trump but if he is the people’s choice, then so be it.

    • Clint Roberts

      You bring up something that I should try to clarify and make sure I’m being fair and consistent about, Irene. Specifically I’m referring to the distinction between personality and speaking style as “shallow” or “substantive” reason for liking/disliking. Every candidate has unique ways of talking, some I like and some annoy me. Rubio’s easy to listen to, Carson should speak up a bit louder, Cruz is OK but has a flare for the dramatic, Hilary’s voice is grating, and I have an especially enthusiastic love for Bernie’s voice and accent (partly for the selfish reason that I so very enjoy doing my expert impression of him). None of this matters in terms of sizing them up as candidates, however.

      You said that with Trump I list some of these as shallow (the “like” reasons) and others as substantive (the “dislike” reasons). The specific distinction with Trump is less the style and more the content. The style part of his speeches, which could include facial expression, tone of voice, hand gestures, etc., are shallow reasons to love or hate him. But some of the actual content of what he says – specific accusations, name-calling, ridicule, mockery, petty insults, grandiose hyperbole, shock-value one-liners, etc. – are more than benign elements of personality. They are things he’s saying and not just rhetorical ways of saying it. To me those things have more substance in terms of their impact and the making of the man.

      But maybe you simply disagree, and if so you are free to offer further explanation as to how you see the distinction if at all.

    • Norman

      The one thing that I think is missing from your analysis in general and with Trump specifically is immigration. Any of the Trump supporters that I’ve read, that is the biggest thing for them. They understand that he is a wildcard but they see immigration as the biggest issue facing the nation at this moment in time and they feel that Trump’s stance on immigration is what America needs going forward.

    • Mike

      Nice article. I especially appreciate you taking the effort to think through and talk through the distinctions between shallow and substantive reasons to like/dislike. Very helpful in trying to puzzle all this out.

      However, one thing I find deeply troubling, both in your article and in other Christian voices that have spoken out on the subject. I am an American living and ministering overseas, and my wife is neither white nor an American citizen. When we think of the possibility (likelihood?) of Trump becoming President, we wonder what place would be left for our family under his leadership. His apparent deep-seated dislike and disdain for people unlike him deeply concerns us.

      I was interested in seeing how you would categorize some of his negative attitudes and stated policies towards different groups of people, but none of them were even mentioned in your list. How would they fit in your 4-way categorization?

    • Austin

      Regarding Trump’s perceived strengths you said, “may have financial experience enough to straighten out some of that whole mess (debt, trade, whatever that could entail)”

      As an economist I can tell you, categorically, that this statement is completely false. Trump’s economics are equally as bad as Bernie Sanders’.

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