Perhaps the most absurd argument in an election season overrun with absurdity is the claim that those who reject both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are doing so simply to “feel good about themselves.” In other words, it’s an act of empty moral grandstanding, a decision to essentially opt out of the election and leave the dirty work to other, more responsible citizens — you know, the ones who realize that either Trump or Clinton will win and are making the terrible, messy choice between two unfit candidates.
To the contrary, rejecting Trump and Clinton is the practical decision, one with beneficial real-world consequences, in this election and in elections to come. Margins matter, mandates matter, and — most of all — ideas matter. If Trump wins, racking up votes at a rate that matches or exceeds that of far more conservative, far more credible pro-life candidates such as George Bush, John McCain (yes, he was more conservative), or Mitt Romney, does any reasonable person believe the takeaway from the election will be the triumph of economic and social conservatism — much less the triumph of Reagan Republicanism?
No, the conclusion will be that the GOP has fundamentally changed — for this election cycle and at least the next. It will prove that it can win with candidates who are indifferent, at best, to conservative social values. It will prove that it can win with candidates who are in favor of ever-greater government intervention in national and international markets. It will prove that it believes that international retreat advances American national interests. Because, make no mistake, a triumph for Trump will be a triumph for “Trumpism” — the made-up “nationalist” ideology that bears far more resemblance to that of old-school southern Democrats than anything recognizably Republican.
In other words, a vote for Trump is a vote to send conservatism into exile, largely walled-off from both political parties, with the best hope for conservatives to beg for scraps at Trump’s table — now and in 2020. It is vitally important that Trump underperform versus truly conservative candidates. Conservative senators should receive a greater share of the vote than Trump. Conservative members of the House should swamp Trump’s share in their districts. Your vote is the only concrete way that you can send the message that the GOP should remain a party of conservative ideas, a party that demands that its candidates believe and advocate a set of basic conservative values — not because we adopt our own version of conservative political correctness but because those values are best equipped to foster human flourishing, cultural virtue, and national prosperity.
Indeed, the power of margins and mandates is exactly why no conservative should vote for Hillary, even if you believe that Trump is a threat to the republic. If Hillary wins tomorrow, less than three seconds after the networks call the election, the entire institutional and cultural Left will begin to make the argument that she has a mandate. They will quickly discard the notion that the election was about stopping Trump, and they’ll stampede to a narrative that declares Hillary’s win as the latest triumph of progressive America. Every vote for her is a vote against so-called Republican “obstructionism.” If she is to win the Oval Office, as much as possible she needs to limp into that office — a person politically damaged from Day One.
Then, of course, there is the power of ideas. I’m under no illusions that millions of Americans will read this piece. I’m under no illusions that even the sum-total power of American punditry can swing an election. There are too many competing voices, and — frankly — too few Americans who truly pay attention to political debates for pundits to have an impact on all but the closest races. But I do know who does read National Review — leaders do. If you’re reading this, you’re a leader. You might be a House or Senate staffer, a college professor, an entrepreneur, a campus activist, or perhaps one of the most politically engaged people at your church.
You’re the conservative movement’s force-multipliers. People listen to what you have to say, they sometimes consult you before voting, and you have more opportunities than most to put conservative ideas into practice. I can understand why tens of millions of Americans will pull the lever for Donald Trump. They rightly believe Hillary is corrupt. They know she was a terrible secretary of state. They know she flip-flops on everything but abortion rights. When it comes to Trump, by contrast, millions of people wrongly think he’s conservative. They actively disbelieve the worst reports about him — conditioned by years of hysterical Democratic rhetoric to tune out mainstream-media rhetoric. They believe that — whatever his flaws — he’s for them. He’s with them. Given those presumptions, a vote for Trump is obviously correct.
A vote for Trump in 2016 is a vote against Cruz or Sasse or Rubio in 2020.
But you know better. You know that Trump’s not actually a man of the people. He’s a man of the person, himself. You know that he’s been on every side of virtually every issue in this campaign, and you know that he is dangerously ignorant, fundamentally corrupt, and dangerously authoritarian. You know that most of the worst mainstream-media reports about him are true, and that in the battle over character, there is little daylight between Trump and Bill or Hillary Clinton. You know he’s conning your friends, your family, and your neighbors — people you love.
I can’t look a single person in the eye — in my church or in my community — and tell him that I voted for the man who conned him. It would be like knowingly promoting a pyramid scheme to friends or knowingly selling them a broken car. When the truth emerges — and the truth will emerge — how can you then lead? How can they trust your judgment? You had all the information you needed to tell you that Trump cared not for life or liberty, knew nothing about national security, was dangerously ignorant and impulsive in his domestic policy, and lied constantly and habitually to advance his own self-interest, and you tried to put him in the Oval Office anyway? This is the man that Hillary wanted to run against. He is the Hillary’ campaign’s favorite opponent. He is the Clintons’ longtime friend, donor, and fellow liberal.
#related#The election of 2016 is lost. An unfit candidate is going to become president. How many more elections do you want to lose? A vote for Trump in 2016 is a vote against Cruz or Sasse or Rubio in 2020. A vote for Trump is a vote for a man so unfit that he may destroy the GOP not for one election cycle, but for an entire generation. In begging for four years, you may lose 20.
I’ll vote for Evan McMullin tomorrow. He shares my political and cultural values more than anyone else on the ballot. He’s not a “lesser evil.” He’s a good man. And when I vote for McMullin, I will be weakening Trump or Clinton. That’s one less vote for corruption. That’s one less vote for opportunism. If we must have an unfit president, make them weak. You can’t stop Trump or Clinton from winning, but you can reduce his or her margin and mandate. Tomorrow let that be your concrete and valuable public service.