When we go about the process of deciding for whom to vote in different elections we naturally consider where the candidates seeking our vote stand on the issues that matter most to us. Some people focus on social issues, some on economic issues, some on diplomatic issues, and some, no doubt, on other issues.
But The Curmudgeon has long thought that we’re voting for more than a candidate’s positions on issues: we’re also voting for someone who is going to exercise judgment on our behalf. Often, that judgment will be exercised on matters on which the candidates expressed no views or that weren’t even issues when they were running for office.
Sometimes this is a matter of an issue not rising to the level where candidates are even talking about it. In the current presidential campaign, for example, we don’t hear much from the candidates about, say, public education or policy in Central America or, to be a little silly, whether cursive should still be taught in elementary school (a controversial issue, believe it or not, in some communities), because either they don’t care about those issues or their pollsters tell them people aren’t interested in hearing about those issues or simply because there are more important issues to discuss.
But what about the issues that don’t arise on the campaign trail because they’re not even seen as issues? Consider, for example, two things during the presidency of George W. Bush: his administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina and its response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. No one ever campaigns on their ability to respond to natural disasters and no one ever asked candidate Bush whether he intended to appoint as head of FEMA a professional in that field or to make a political appointment. Similarly, candidate Bush declared himself uninterested in “nation-building” but President Bush had no choice and found himself doing exactly that after September 11 and the wars that followed. Similarly, no one sought information to help them understand how Jimmy Carter might react to the taking of hostages by Iran or to the continuation of an energy crisis that seemed to have abated before he was elected, but there he was, dealing with those very issues for much of his one sad term in office.
And that’s why, in addition to voting for a set of views on issues, The Curmudgeon also finds himself attempting to gauge candidates’ judgment: how will he or she do on the kinds of issues that none of us are thinking about today? When that crisis arises, will that person make the right decisions? Or is this someone I don’t understand well enough even to sense what his or her judgment might be like in a time of crisis involving an issue he or she has never discussed in public?
The Curmudgeon has long thought about this; yes, he knows, he has too much time on his hands. He knows there are some public officials he doesn’t care for at all whom he believes he can trust under some circumstances. One thing he believes is that the more we know about candidates, the better prepared we will be to develop this leap of faith opinion about their judgment.
The Curmudgeon started thinking about this again recently in the context of the Pennsylvania race for the U.S. Senate between the incumbent, Republican Pat Toomey, and Democratic challenger Katie McGinty. When Toomey was elected six years ago he was one of the most conservative members of the Senate. The rise of the Tea Party, though, has made him seem almost moderate in comparison. Today he’s one of those Republicans whom Democrats consider “reasonable” – a term jackass liberals use for Republicans who normally disagree with them but are occasionally willing to work them on individual issues, as if that willingness to see things their way is a barometer of “reasonableness.”
Toomey is in a tough fight to retain his seat: he has a credible but unremarkable opponent in what has become the most expensive Senate race in the country. His own views and accomplishments aside, moreover, he has a major challenge to overcome: the presence of Donald Trump at the top of his party’s ticket.
For voters, a reasonable question to ask, and to use in considering whether they want to return Toomey to Washington, is the candidate’s views on Trump. Does Toomey like Trump and want us to vote for him? Does he not like Trump and suggest that he will sit out that race? (It’s not fair to expect incumbent Republicans, even those who dislike Trump, to announce that they will vote for Hillary Clinton, so The Curmudgeon won’t even go there.)
And herein lies the rub, and the tie-in to the discussion about judgment: Toomey won’t say.
After the October 9 presidential debate, Toomey shared some of his views in a news release:
Sadly, last night’s debate again showed the shortcomings of both presidential candidates. I have not endorsed Donald Trump and I have repeatedly spoken out against his flawed policies, and his outrageous comments, including his indefensible and appalling comments about women.”
And the following day, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) refused to rule out supporting Donald Trump for president Tuesday, despite mounting political pressure and high-profile defections from other GOP lawmakers.
Toomey said definitively he would not vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton — calling her “one of the most flawed nominees in the history of the republic,” — but left open the possibility that he might eventually support Trump, his party’s nominee.
Locked in one of the country’s toughest Senate races, Toomey has not endorsed Trump and reiterated Tuesday that he has “serious reservations, serious concerns,” about the New Yorker. But when asked if he could rule out backing Trump, Toomey said, “I remain unpersuaded.”
Clearly, Toomey has reservations about Trump – something The Curmudgeon appreciates in light of his own dim view of The Donald (and of Toomey). But Toomey is on the fence about his true feelings and has suggested that he may not share any further views on Trump at all before the election.
Which again brings us back to our original premise: that we need to be able to evaluate candidates for public office based on the kind of judgment we might expect them to exercise if elected and not just on their views on specific issues. In this regard, Toomey is making it very difficult for voters to take his measure on questions of judgment – and not just people like The Curmudgeon who don’t like Trump. Trump supporters also deserve to know whether someone asking for their vote supports their boy because again, that is something that can contribute to their own assessment of the Pennsylvania Senate candidate.
To The Curmudgeon, knowing what Toomey really thinks about voting for Trump is an excellent window into the kind of judgment Toomey would exercise if re-elected. Toomey should open that window for those whose vote he seeks; they deserve it.
Or maybe, in choosing the course he is taking, he already has.