Republicans are having a lively primary season. Many of the races are hotly contested, with relatively narrow differences in viewpoint to be considered by voters. Some Republicans are hitting primary opponents pretty hard, and one winces, hoping this does not cause excessive damage for the general election. But overall, the competition is good. If you can’t take the heat in the primary, you are unlikely to be able to take the heat in the general. For the voter, though, having a roster of good candidates makes for some difficult choices. One candidate is not glaringly better than the other; the choices are narrow and nuanced. Marginal differences tilt the scale. When the difference in philosophy is narrow, candidates tend to strike out at personality issues rather than differences in substance, and that is, unfortunately, both distracting and not helpful. Here are some things to think about as you ponder your ballot choices. The goal should be to choose the most conservative candidate with the best chance of winning. If you don’t win, then you have no chance to fight for your agenda. On the other hand, we don’t want RINOs who can win but then govern like Democrats. That often is worse than electing Democrats because it is difficult to get Republicans united to oppose them. So we all need to be aware of “stealth candidates.” These are folks with little history of being a conservative or supporting the party. Often, they come from out of state with big money. Faced with two decent conservatives, choose the one most likely to be able to win. That may not be the most outspoken candidate. To win, you often need the support of the party and PACs, which can raise the kind of money necessary to win a big state contest. You also need to appeal to the independents, who often are the swing voters in closely contested general elections. There have been many leaders in the conservative movement who were once leftists but later saw the light. Ronald Reagan comes to mind. He fought the communists in Hollywood, and then toured the country for GE making speeches for most of the 1950s. He wrote columns and had a radio broadcast in the 1960s. He spoke effectively for Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964. By the time he ran for governor of California, he had been working in the conservative vineyards for over 15 years. We would not discount anyone’s conversion. However, some consistent bona fides as a conservative may help screen those who have adopted a conservative persona just for a particular race. Beware of candidates who don’t see election integrity as a critical issue. Even if a candidate is both strong philosophically and has political skills, you can’t win if the other side cheats. Many of us did not realize how important the mechanisms of elections really are until it became clear the Democrats are masters of gaming the system. No, there is no way to fix the past abuses, and dwelling on what happened is not as important as fixing the problems for the future. We have mixed feelings about Trump endorsements. Clearly, the former president has a loyal following. We would hazard a guess that maybe half of Republicans would vote simply the way he told them to. A lot of new people in the party are with us because of him. However, endorsements risk short-circuiting the process. In other words, a portion of Republican voters simply stop doing their homework because an endorsement from Trump carries that kind of weight. Many of us like Trump, and don’t want him embarrassed and attacked by the media. This instinct to protect our tribe is understandable. And while the ex-president has made some good choices, he also had significant staff turnover in his administration. Remember Anthony Scaramucci? Trump may have to decide if he is going to be king or kingmaker. He may be developing reliable allies in the party because he is going to run again. That is understandable. But he may not be the nominee. Many would like to see a younger conservative, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who does not carry Trump’s peculiar political baggage. In short, these candidates need to stand on their own, and you need to think for yourself. Endorsements can be part of the process for you, but they should not substitute for your own critical thinking. Finally, avoid voting for someone if it looks like they are running simply as a stepping stone to a higher office. We don’t begrudge ambition, and there is often a series of offices an official must hold before he gets the particular office he seeks. But we want people who will be dedicated to the office they have and not constantly looking over the horizon. We are electing people for important offices. Their first goal should be to do the best they can in that office. If they achieve that, new opportunities will open up. This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.