Politics & Policy

Never-Trump Conservatives Should Vote for Good Republicans in 2018

Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn at CPAC 2016 (Gage Skidmore)
Democrats are moving left — it’s unwise to support them for the sake of rebuking Trump.

This fall I have the privilege of doing something I haven’t done in more than a decade — cast a ballot in a meaningful and competitive general-election campaign. Tennessee (where I live) is bright red. It has a supermajority Republican state legislature, a Republican governor, a majority-Republican House delegation (only the blue cities have Democratic representatives), and two Republican senators. For a long time, the only truly meaningful vote I cast was in the GOP primary, to determine which Republican would win the general election.

But this time it’s different. The Democrats have recruited an all-star candidate to battle Republican Marsha Blackburn for Bob Corker’s Senate seat. His name is Phil Bredesen, he’s a former two-term governor of Tennessee, and he was wildly popular, winning reelection in 2006 by almost 40 points. He was a good governor, no question. Marsha Blackburn is so Trump-friendly that she actually signed a letter nominating him for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Really? Really?) I was a Never Trumper in 2016, and I’ve strongly criticized the president countless times since his election. Unless he has a character transplant, I have no intention of voting for him for president in 2020.

But I’ll happily vote for Marsha Blackburn over Phil Bredesen.

I’m writing this piece in respectful disagreement with fellow Never Trump Republicans such as the inestimable George Will. Late last month, in a widely shared Washington Post column, he urged voters to reject the GOP in November. Here’s Will:

In today’s GOP, which is the president’s plaything, he is the mainstream. So, to vote against his party’s cowering congressional caucuses is to affirm the nation’s honor while quarantining him. A Democratic-controlled Congress would be a basket of deplorables, but there would be enough Republicans to gum up the Senate’s machinery, keeping the institution as peripheral as it has been under their control and asphyxiating mischief from a Democratic House. And to those who say, “But the judges, the judges!” the answer is: Article III institutions are not more important than those of Articles I and II combined.

I have a different strategy. Applied broadly, it’s far superior to any rule or suggestion that would compel you to vote for a person you don’t respect or policies you despise. Applied broadly, it will go farther than any single voting strategy to purge American politics of bad actors. It’s quite simply this: Vote for politicians of good character who share your political values. If they are deficient on either score, they don’t get your vote.

Note that I did not say vote for a politician of perfect character. There is no such person. Nor do their political values have to perfectly align with yours. But with your vote you should maintain basic standards of decency while also preserving fundamental fidelity to your political priorities.

It is simply a mistake to obsess over Donald Trump and to base your political decisions entirely around his presidency. Like every American president before him, he is but passing through. Treating each election as an emergency is poisoning our politics. Our national destiny hinges not so much on the outcomes of individual elections but rather on longer-term cultural trends. Taking the long view exhibits greater wisdom and understanding of the nation we love than “charging the cockpit” every time the polls open.

For example, I find it fascinating that many of the same people who told me that all of America was at stake in 2016 now are laughing that Trump has “dismantled the Obama legacy” in a grand total of 18 months of the first term of his administration. Which was it? Were 200 years of history at stake? Or was Obama so inconsequential that a few executive orders (and a congressional statute or two) could erase most of his work?

Nationally, Democrats are responding to the Trump by moving left, by moving farther from my political values. How could I possibly urge my fellow conservatives — especially my fellow Christian conservatives — to reject conservative Republicans of good character to chase a party that is running away from them? And even in states — such as Tennessee — where the Democrats have selected more moderate candidates, it’s still unwise to reject a good conservative for the sake of sending a message to Donald Trump.

Our national destiny hinges not so much on the outcomes of individual elections but rather on longer-term cultural trends.

I don’t dislike Phil Bredesen. He accomplished good things as Tennessee’s governor, but he doesn’t share my political values. He would face immense pressure to vote against originalist Supreme Court nominees. If Democrats take the Senate and Trump loses reelection, he’d be a key vote in favor of progressive judges and a host of legislative initiatives that I believe are harmful and misguided.

Marsha Blackburn, by contrast, has been a scandal-free, faithful conservative representative long before Trump rode down the escalator in 2015, and if she wins election in 2018, she’ll almost certainly be a scandal-free, faithful conservative senator well after Trump has left the presidency. As my colleague Jonah Goldberg is fond of saying, character is destiny, and I’ve seen enough of Blackburn’s character to see her likely destiny as a senator.

And I’m supposed to throw all that away because of Trump? No. He’s not that important. Conservatives, hold steady. Good conservative men and women still deserve your vote.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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