The great divide

Character is valued, but policy Is now priority

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People say they value integrity in their elected officials. Voting trends, however, indicate increasing interest in effectiveness.

That’s probably why “values voters” like Family Research Council President Tony Perkins are willing to give President Donald Trump a “mulligan” on his personal foibles.

Consider how Alabama voters chose Doug Jones over the very flawed and scandal-plagued Roy Moore in last year’s special Senate election by less than 2 percent. Despite allegations of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls during the height of the #metoo movement, Moore almost won because he was the conservative candidate in a traditionally conservative and religious state.

A poll by JMC Analytics, conducted just after the first allegations against Moore came out, gave him 71 percent support among Alabama’s evangelical voters. After more allegations surfaced, his support dropped only by 6 percentage points.

Alabama is full of Southern Baptists, whose leadership declared in 1998: “We urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

So what happened?

They considered the alternative. Within four months, the newly elected Jones has already been denounced by the Alabama state Senate for voting against a proposed ban on abortions after five months of pregnancy. His first Senate speech called for greater restrictions on guns. Values voters undoubtedly held their noses as they voted for Moore over Jones.

Evangelical Christians may desire candidates with moral character, but they ultimately want someone who will fight for them. A 2015 poll by the Barna Group, a Christian-oriented research organization, found evangelicals placed policy positions over character by a margin of 58 percent to 46 percent. The economy was as important to them as abortion.

More important, values voters want someone fighting for them. A 2016 Barna poll found 87 percent of evangelicals “frustrated” with the government. A 2015 poll by LifeWay Research found 82 percent of evangelicals feared increasing anti-Christian intolerance.

President Trump may not embody values they cherish in themselves, but he has repeatedly vowed to protect their religious liberty and proclaimed his administration “will always stand up for the right of all Americans to pray to God and to follow his teachings.”

It’s a far cry from his predecessor, who complained about “bitter” people “cling(ing] to guns or religion.” Or being lumped into Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” for their moral beliefs.

In our increasingly polarized political environment, character is becoming a want instead of a need.

My wife and I differ on fundamental criteria for selecting a presidential candidate. It personifies the divide between personality and process. She wants someone better than she sees herself. Her support for Mitt Romney skyrocketed in 2012 after hearing testimonials about him rolling up his sleeves to work the floor at companies Bain Capital invested in and helping a dying child compose a will. Alternatively, I’ve always wanted a president to hire people I’ve worked with during my Washington tenure. It’s not my scheme to get on the White House Christmas card list, but an assurance that people I trust are setting policy.

Neither of us supported Trump in the primaries, but we did in the general election. We’ve been happy with his administration. President Trump met my standard, with many of my colleagues becoming high-ranking members of his team (while remaining absent from the Christmas card list). My wife is happy with her raise and bonus at work, among other things.

It’s not just me. The Heritage Foundation is happy the president embraced 64 percent of its policy priorities during his first year in office — a feat outpacing the Reagan administration.

Heritage, my wife and I, and evangelical voters will weather Stormy Daniels to benefit from tax reform, deregulation and more effective immigration policy.

After lackluster governance and stagnation by likable leaders, Americans are trying out a dynamic new one. President Harry S. Truman said: “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

Character is nice, but getting things done — now, more than ever — is key.

David W. Almasi is the vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a free-market think tank in Washington. He wrote this for

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