A Plea to Never Trump Conservatives to Think Twice, Maybe More.
Many conservative Republicans, like myself, are struggling with their presidential vote choice. Along with a majority of Americans, our views of each of the candidates are, on balance, unfavorable–to put it printably. For conservative Republicans and many independent moderates, the case against Hillary Clinton does not require much of a review. After a quarter century in the political spotlight, most conservatives believe she has only a passing acquaintance with the truth. Most of us find her coldly arrogant (see e-mail scandal), corrupt (see Wall Street speech payments and Clinton “Foundation” shenanigans), conniving, and demagogic (see one policy flip-flop after another). While governing as far to the left as focus groups will allow, she offers a third Obama term–and we know how the first two have gone. Poll after poll declares about 70 percent of Americans think we are “on the wrong track.” This is not the time for a status quo president. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.
Many Republicans regard Donald Trump as insufferably ignorant and unreflective, unprincipled, and prone to obnoxious, boorish, and nasty personal insults. They see in Trump an egotistical blow-hard who should not remotely be the party’s standard-bearer. I agree. From this evaluation, many conservative Republican leaders conclude and publicly declare that they cannot and will not support or vote for Donald Trump for president. I understand the revulsion; but disagree, at least in part, with that decision.
Republicans have two real choices. After setting aside the preposterous idea of voting for Clinton, they can either support Trump or take a walk. Not supporting a candidate who has so few redeeming qualities is quite understandable, but not voting seems–to revive an old 70s term–like a “cop out.” Really, the two candidates are equally awful? Mocking a disabled news reporter is equal to lying about the Benghazi terrorist attack to the public and the victims’ families? Being nasty to John McCain and a Muslim-American Gold Star father is equal to shaking down Wall Street with the cover of some canned speeches for over $20 million? Rebuking a jackass is worth turning the Supreme Court into a rubber-stamp for liberal activism for the next generation? You really want to help do that?
Although some might take it as Clintonian parsing, there is a third way. Thinking Republicans should NOT SUPPORT Donald Trump, but they should reluctantly VOTE for him. On what matters most, and that is public policy, Trump is not nearly as bad as Clinton. Shout that Donald Trump is an idiot from the roof tops and into any microphone thrown in front of you–but then declare a vote for him.
The distinction between supporting and voting for a candidate is not a gimmick. There is a real difference. Support implies a positive assessment. A vote is a choice. I suspect the overwhelming majority of Republicans disgusted by Trump are even more appalled by the prospect of a Clinton presidency. So declaring a distinction between their support and their votes is the right and honest thing for them to do.
It may also be the best course for future GOP unity. If Trump loses the election, as seems likely, internal GOP warfare will grow even worse if the loss can be plausibly blamed on the establishment sitting the election out. Republicans need to unify. Trump should do his part for this, but the rest of us should go as far as we can. We don’t have to support our candidate to vote for him. We can even openly denounce him. But by nominating Hillary Clinton, Democrats have made it possible for us to vote for a candidate we don’t and can’t support.
James E. Campbell writes this as a concerned citizen. His day job is as a Professor of Political Science at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. He is the author of Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America.