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We Get the Candidates We Deserve

The candidates who appear on the ballot, reflect the wishes and desires of voters, as their actual votes show.

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The Establishment Still Doesn’t Get Trump

The 2024 presidential race matchup is nearly set – and it’s giving us a major case of déjà vu. How did we get to a Donald Trump-Joe Biden rematch? After all, most Americans view neither Trump nor Biden favorably, and the idea of another face-off between the two candidates turns off many voters. A quick Google search yields lots of op-eds arguing that we deserve better candidates.

But do we really deserve better? I think we get exactly the candidates we deserve.

Voters often send mixed messages, holding views that contradict one another. We say we don’t like our candidates and that political polarization is a big problem. Yet large numbers of Republicans and Democrats see the other side as the enemy. In fact, we increasingly fear that there may be a need to resort to political violence to save America. It’s not surprising, then, that we don’t see a shift in the types of candidates we’re getting.

Our ballot box behavior adds to the confusion. Voters sometimes tell pollsters one thing and then vote a different way. Fewer than half of Republicans say they’d be willing to vote for a candidate charged with a felony, and yet Trump scored solid victories in the Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada GOP presidential contests, securing the backing of majorities of voters and caucus-goers. Trump faces dozens of felony counts – and not only has it not hurt him at the polls (currently, he leads in a rematch with Biden both nationally and in the swing states), but he’s used it to fundraise for his campaign.

You’ll find similar incongruities across the political aisle. Around seven in 10 Democrats say they believe 81-year-old Biden is too old to be president. But like Trump, he keeps racking up overwhelming primary wins – even winning New Hampshire’s Democratic primary as a write-in candidate. If Democrats are truly concerned about Biden’s advanced years, they’re not showing it when they vote.


There are several reasons political watchers throw out as justifications for why we’re not getting higher-caliber candidates – flawed party nominating processes or lopsided name recognition, for example. But in some ways, our political process is more open than ever. Thanks to social media, we have more exposure to political candidates than ever before. For the cost of running an X account, candidates and campaign staff can communicate directly to voters without needing to run what they say through the filter of media or political party apparatus, or having to engage with other candidates on a debate stage.

But more democracy in our elections isn’t an unmitigated positive. Rather, it tends to insert greater extremism into the political process. Recent trends in campaign finance offer a great example of this: As parties have become weaker, the number of small donors to political campaigns has exploded while the dollar amount of the average individual donation has shrunk. On the face of it, this seems to be exactly what many on the progressive left dream of. But in practice, small donors are more ideologically strident than the average American, which has driven incumbents and challengers alike toward political extremes.

In the 2022 election cycle, the five House or Senate candidates who raised the highest percentage of their campaign funding from small donors were Bernie Sanders, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Matt Gaetz, and Jim Jordan – none of whom are even close to moderate, either in their politics or temperament. With these kinds of fundraising numbers, more candidates will likely run to the extremes: Squeaky wheels get grease, and more extreme candidates get bigger pieces of the small donor pie.

As Americans, we do havechoices. While many will say that we deserve better candidates, I have to disagree. Far from being imposed on us by outside forces, our candidates are really a reflection of who we are – they indicate whom we’re willing to accept as our champions and representatives.

To put it another way, we get what we give: When we vote in ways that contradict what we say, and when we accept and even invite greater extremism into our politics, we shouldn’t be surprised that we get exactly what we have coming to us.


This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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Jennifer Tiedemann is editor-in-chief of Discourse Magazine.

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