So, what now?
After Donald Trump’s commanding win in Indiana last night, Ted Cruz has suspended his campaign and there is essentially no doubt left that Trump will be the Republican nominee. According to polling, a substantial portion of the Republican base says they won’t vote for him, but the “party unity” drumbeat is already beginning, with the spectre of President Hillary Clinton to add urgency to the appeal. Particularly with Supreme Court nominations at stake, it will be terribly tempting to give in and check the box for Trump, hoping against hope that the unpredictable showman will end up being at least a bit less bad than the pathologically dishonest liberal. However, despite the pull of a grudging, desperate “anyone but Hillary” vote, there is every reason, both moral and strategic, to remain #NeverTrump through November 8.
The Moral Case For #NeverTrump
I get the logic of voting for the least-bad candidate. That’s why I reluctantly voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and reluctantly voted for John McCain in 2008. But in some contests the least-bad candidate is still too bad to support in good conscience. In an election between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who would you vote for? A strategic vote against the other guy is still a vote for someone to lead your country and your fellow citizens; you’re still helping to put someone into office. In a small way, you are responsible for whatever that leader does in the office you chose them for.
Donald Trump is the only politician who can out-lie Hillary Clinton. He has a boundless ego and the self-control of a toddler. He bragged on a national debate stage that he would force military officers to commit war crimes. He offered to pay the legal bills of anyone who assaulted protesters at his rallies. Just yesterday, he suggested that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination on the basis of an insane National Enquirer story, while simultaneously declaring, “I think it’s a disgrace that he’s allowed to say [that Christians should support Cruz over Trump].” A disgrace that Rafael Cruz is allowed to say that. That’s a casual call for censorship, if you’re keeping score at home. Trump is proudly personally immoral, is almost certainly pro-choice, and has no interest in public morality. If Trump was running on the Democratic ticket, every Republican in the country would be on the warpath. Does having an R next to his name change who he is?
It is true that Donald Trump might be a better president than Hillary Clinton, particularly if he was “captured” by the right group of conservative advisors. (His total lack of political knowledge means that he is going to be captured by someone if he gets to Washington.) I could also see him trying to unilaterally suspend the First Amendment or declaring war on China because they sent him a nasty Tweet. I genuinely have no idea what a Donald Trump presidency would look like. I just know that I cannot in good conscience cast a vote which would make me personally responsible for it.
But, as we will hear repeatedly for the next six months, isn’t Trump still better than the alternative? Isn’t there a place for strategic voting for the sake of the country, particularly with one or more Supreme Court nominations at stake? Well…
The Strategic Case for #NeverTrump
When it comes to strategic voting, the absolutely essential thing to remember–so easy to forget amid a hard-fought election–is that history will continue past 2016. In fact, we will have another presidential election in 2020. And it would be very, very nice if the United States still had a meaningfully conservative party then; a party which stood, even if imperfectly, for limited government, inalienable rights, the sanctity of life and marriage, and the free market.
In some ways, Trump’s poisonous combination of celebrity, salesmanship, and luck is a one-off thing. There will never be another Donald Trump. But lessons will be learned from his candidacy, and the most important lesson that can be learned, for the sake of the Republican party and the United States, is that Trump’s path is a losing path.
In a Trumpian Republican party, the political right represents insular nationalism, Nietzschean strength, and amoral traditionalism in place of morality and rule of law. It would be a new model for America but would feel very normal to a European. In Europe, voters typically get to pick between left-wing socialists, moderate slightly-less-socialists, and ugly right-wing nationalist groups like Britain’s UKIP. American-style conservatives who stand for individual rights and limited government are nowhere to be found.
If Trump wins, or comes close to winning, he will set a course for right-wing candidates for decades to come, and the United States will be close to losing a distinctive political tradition which has made her a great nation for two hundred years. The only way to prevent such an outcome is for him to suffer a devastating loss, as Republican voters tell future candidates and party leaders this is not our candidate, not our choice, and not our path.
Can Hillary Clinton do much damage in four years? Yes. Can she appoint activist Supreme Court justices who will shape policy for decades to come? Yes. Elections have consequences. But we have to play the long game. There will be more Supreme Court justices to appoint in 2020 and beyond, and the most important battle right now is the one to ensure there is a genuinely conservative party in existence then to appoint them. Whether that party is the Republican party or some new one that emerges from the 2016 election remains to be seen, but the key battle today is to keep Trumpism from squeezing constitutional conservatism out of reconstituted Republican party. At this point, delivering the GOP nominee a stinging defeat in the general election appears to be the only gambit left.
On November 8, don’t stay home. Go to the polls and vote for conservative candidates down-ballot. With Trump at the top, they are going to need it. At the top of the ballot vote third-party, or vote for no one; but for the sake of your conscience, for the sake of the Republican party, and for the sake of the country, #NeverTrump.