The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

An undecided voter wonders: Should Trump’s policies outweigh his personality?

Onlookers at the White House on Thursday before President Trump speaks on the last night of the Republican National Convention. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

A few hours before President Trump accepted the Republican nomination on the South Lawn of the White House, Mike Baker and his wife went on a meandering, three-hour drive near their Bloomington, Ind., home.

On the ride, they mulled the upcoming election, debating whether they could separate the president’s policies from his personality, and if it mattered.

Baker, still undecided, had watched some of both political conventions over the past two weeks, supplementing his observations with newspaper articles and socially distanced conversations with friends.

On Thursday night he tuned in, hoping for an answer.

It didn’t come.

The Fix’s Aaron Blake analyzes how the messaging of Republicans and Democrats differed at their 2020 conventions based on words they repeatedly emphasized. (Video: The Washington Post)

“There’s so many of these issues that on the surface seem like this administration has somewhat delivered,” Baker said Friday morning. “I don’t think having a proper immigration policy is a bad thing. Total lawlessness is not a good thing. There’s a lot of these things that I think have happened that I think are good long term.”

But, he said, “the personality thing, it just weighs on me. Can I feel good about myself voting for this person that’s just not the kind of person I would look up to and respect?”

A swing voter’s conundrum: She doesn’t like Trump, but she can’t stomach Biden’s position on abortion

Baker, a retired businessman in his 70s, leans conservative.

He didn’t vote in the 2016 election in part because he found Trump too acerbic. That opinion hasn’t changed; he can’t see inviting Trump over to his Bloomington home. But he thinks the president has advanced a lot of the policy goals that Baker believes in.

His internal debate reflects the argument that the campaigns have made over the past two weeks to try to persuade still-undecided voters. At the Democratic convention, Biden and many others told viewers that America can’t endure another four years of Trump. Changing the occupant of the White House, they argued, would inject competence, compassion and sanity into the nation’s highest office.

But at the Republican convention, Trump trumpeted a litany of economic and policy achievements. He vowed to have a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year, even as he blasted Biden, Democrats and demonstrators protesting police brutality.

The last night of the Republican convention featured words from President Trump's closest allies, and an acceptance speech from the president himself. (Video: The Washington Post)

Baker said he has tried to weed out the hyperbole as he attempts to make his decision.

He says he does believe Biden is an empathetic politician capable of finding common ground. But his conservative lean favors Trump’s pro-business stance.

“It’s all about the economy. If your family doesn’t have any money or a job, it doesn’t matter about your religion,” Baker said. “It doesn’t matter about your politics if you can’t put food on the table.”

He also found Biden wanting when it comes to policy specifics. “Trump is defining Biden, but I sort of need to hear Biden define Biden, or at least the Democratic Party to define Biden. It’s got to be more than [Trump] is the worst person on Earth,” he said.

That lack of definition gives credence to Republican arguments that Biden’s “not going to be running the show,” Baker said. And he worries that the policies that do come out “are not supported by Republicans.”

The Bakers still have more than 60 days, and three debates, to make up their minds. They haven’t ruled out another road trip as they mull their big question.

Trump is “not going to change,” Baker said. “His personality has gotten a lot of stuff done that a lot of folks said wouldn’t happen. If we’re sort of comfortable in general with a lot of this direction of the Trump Republican Party, then do we let his personality override our beliefs?”