Our vote for president is the most “personal” vote we Americans get to cast. We’re far more likely to base our choice for the U.S. House or the Senate on issues — such as health care costs, immigration or the environment — than we are our presidential choice. In a presidential campaign, we voters are beneficiaries or victims of an information overload. We learn about each White House nominee — often from her or his siblings — whether Mom liked her best or whether the other kids in the family agreed he was a “teacher’s pet” and, even worse, a sneaky “goody two-shoes.” We form opinions on whether the nominee is capable of laughing at himself, someone we would personally like and, more importantly, trust in a personal crisis.
But Democrats looking to 2020 appear unaware of this “personal” determinant in our presidential decisions. Many of them are instead, it seems, in search of some Democratic version of Donald Trump — a candidate who can go toe-to-toe, insult-to-insult with the bellicose Republican incumbent. Nothing could be more disastrous for Democrats’ victory prospects than to find and nominate their own practitioner of scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners politics.
That is exactly what American voters are not looking for in the White House. Think about it: Here is an incumbent president running for reelection at a time of historic American economic prosperity. The U.S. unemployment rate is the lowest in 50 years (since the nation’s economy was fueled by the Vietnam War). The unemployment rate for Asian Americans just reached a new historic low. The unemployment rate for adult men and adult women is an identically low 3.3 percent. Average hourly wages have grown 3.1 percent over the last year. Yet, in spite of those politically positive numbers, Trump has never once — in any day of his presidency — been rated favorably by a majority of his fellow Americans.
It turns out that it’s not just the economy, stupid. Americans’ vote for president remains deeply personal. When the respected Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll asked voters how they would “rate Donald Trump on the following qualities,” the results were enough to make every Republican precinct captain terminally nervous. By better than 2-to-1 (58 percent to 28 percent), 2019 voters do not see the Republican president as “being honest and trustworthy, or “having high personal and ethical standards” (58 percent negative, 24 percent positive). In the Gallup poll, barely 1 out of 3 Americans (35 percent) saw Trump “as someone they admire.” In the trusted Pew poll, only 13 percent found that President Trump’s comments often leave them “inspired,” and 45 percent reported they were never “inspired.” Are you “proud” when you hear Trump speak? Sixteen percent say they often are, but 47 percent answer “never.”
The ancient Greek historian Herodotus gave Americans and Democrats the wisest political advice some 25 centuries ago when he told us that “character is destiny.” Americans are living in boom times.
They give the man in the White House high marks for his economic stewardship. But what American voters are desperately seeking in 2020 is a national leader who can earn and keep our trust, whose word we can believe, whom we can admire, whom we can look to — especially for our children and grandchildren — as an example of decency and integrity, someone we can occasionally even be inspired by and whom we can actually like. Forget the 13-point federal program for free nasal hair removal and instead let us see your character.