You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
— Matthew 5:13
So, yes, the options are all bad — in the short term. But broaden your view beyond the race against Hillary, and the choice becomes easier: Will you sacrifice your integrity, your moral fiber, and your intellect for the sake of a single election cycle? A person who spends the next several months defending the indefensible, trying to make sense of the senseless, and excusing the inexcusable stands to do permanent damage to his reputation and the reputation of the movement he represents.
Matthew 5:13, of course, refers to Christians — followers of Jesus — and not to political movements. But it speaks to a deep moral truth, one especially resonant to a political and cultural movement that is stocked with people who are conservative because they are Christian.
But there is also moral capital, and it’s far more fragile than its political counterpart. Once it’s squandered, even a lifetime of good works is often not enough to rebuild moral authority. God forgives the repentant, surely, but it is still often prudent for people not to trust them. And who will trust the moral judgment of those who ultimately choose to devote weeks and months of their lives to making an aggressively ignorant serial liar the leader of the free world?
Trump is not the “best of bad options”; he is a cataclysm. If he defeats Hillary Clinton, his presidency will fail, and Republicans will suffer for a generation. If he loses, there’s a good chance he’ll turn the GOP into a shadow of its former self, a party reduced to holding only its safest seats and maintaining whatever political influence it still has through identity politics and clever gerrymandering.
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No matter what happens, bitter lessons abound. The cult of celebrity deeply harmed the conservative movement, rendering its base vulnerable to Trump’s demagoguery. Venomous rhetoric between various factions of the party made unity impossible. A phalanx of Republican politicians made promises they knew they couldn’t keep. The dysfunction is comprehensive, and it is difficult indeed to find a person with clean hands.
Will you sacrifice your integrity, your moral fiber, and your intellect for the sake of a single election cycle?
But we can start cleaning them now — with humility and resolve. The first step is to back Ted Cruz to the bitter end. Of course he’s not a perfect vehicle for the conservative movement; in many ways his own rhetoric has contributed to the present crisis. But there is a quantum difference between an informed, committed, and passionate conservative — whatever his faults — and a deceitful, Machiavellian liberal. Cruz is down to his Hail Mary pass, and conservatives should do all they can to help him succeed.
And if he fails, we should continue to clearly and consistently articulate our core convictions — and to reiterate as loudly and as often as possible all the reasons that both candidates will fail the American people. Neither Trumpism nor Clinton’s unprincipled progressivism will do anything except exacerbate America’s structural divisions, long-term security challenges, and looming fiscal crises. Partnering with either candidate is like boarding the Titanic despite knowing it will sink.Yes, the 2016 election is vital. But it’s not so vital as to throw away 2020 and beyond, doing immense damage to the integrity of a movement built to endure for decades. The Left knows all too well that nations are transformed through the “long march” rather than through a single election, and conservatives would do well to internalize the same lesson right away.
Our principles can and will endure as a major influence on American life — but only if we stand up for them with as much force and conviction as possible. Now is not the time to go weak in the knees.
— David French is an attorney, and a staff writer at National Review.