The Civic Negligence of Third-Party Voting

Note: the following article is partially adapted from a piece I wrote in 2016 about the last presidential election, and is meant as a companion to my case for reelecting Donald Trump; please read that as well for my complete argument on how to view the 2020 presidential election.

What’s a voter to do when both major-party candidates for president are unappealing? For a vocal minority, the answer is to either vote for a third-party candidate or write in a name. Such choices are usually accompanied by platitudes about “sending a message” or casting a vote that “reflects my values.”

In the vast, overwhelming majority of cases, the third-party candidate will not become president, and in the vast, overwhelming majority of cases, the third-party voter knows it. He generally justifies his conscious decision to cast a vote that will not affect the outcome1—to forego the opportunity to help bring about a more positive outcome or prevent a more negative one—as a symbolic gesture, or a personal statement.

I submit that, in the vast, overwhelming majority of cases, this is grievously irresponsible for one simple reason: your vote affects other people. The ballot box isn’t a personal survey; elections have direct short- and long-term consequences for the freedom, safety, health, and prosperity of more than 330 million Americans other than yourself.

How you vote isn’t about you, your reputation, or your self-image. It’s not about symbolism, messaging, how any of the candidates make you feel, or even what any of the candidates “deserve.” It’s about what happens to millions of your countrymen—whether their personal freedoms expand or contract. How many innocent children they have to let be legally killed before birth. How much money is taken out of their paychecks. Whether job opportunities are allowed to grow or are suppressed. What kind of schools they can send their children to. How safe their communities are. What the government does with their money. How many dangers of the world spill over into their country. And even whether they’ll retain any means of reversing their government’s direction in the following elections.

To whatever extent voters should weigh notions of a candidate’s “fitness,” character, style, or temperament, morally they must give greater weight to the real-world consequences that candidate would have for the well-being of the American people. Further, voters cannot weigh those consequences in a vacuum, but in comparison to the consequences of the alternative winning instead.

Simply put: every American has a clear, overriding moral obligation to choose the viable candidate whose election would spare his or her countrymen the greatest amount of net harm.

But what if both candidates would be equally harmful? First, that might be theoretically possible, but if a third-party/write-in voter genuinely believes it, then he would have to justify his decision by making a case to that effect, and leave the my-vote-is-all-about-me platitudes behind.2

Second, moving from theory to reality, it’s plainly false that both choices before us in this election—Donald Trump and Joe Biden—would be equally harmful. Readers can click here to read my full case for that contention; here I’ll simply note that there are vast, clear policy differences between a mismanaged center-right executive branch and a unified hard-left one…among them the fact that (for reasons explained in the piece linked above) a Biden victory carries the very real danger of the nation our children inherit being transformed into one of single-party rule, one in which our constitutional order has been gutted beyond repair.

It is not hyperbole to say that the modern Democrat Party is opposed to every major principle of the American Founding. A Democrat takeover of the executive branch poses a clear, potentially existential (in the sense of permanently losing the freedoms and safeguards that make America America) threat to the country. Voting for Jo Jorgensen (the kind of person who supports the legal power to have one’s child executed in the womb, by the way) won’t do a thing to prevent that, or to advance any of the non-evil causes she and her fans claim to value. Nor will writing in a name in protest. Only by voting for Trump—distasteful though he is—do we stand even a chance of preventing it. (For those understandably unenthused about the incumbent, think of a Trump vote as a vote to keep the seat reserved for four years so a constitutional saboteur can’t occupy it, buying us time to hopefully work on finding someone better for 2024.)3

Of course, many reject the premise that their vote holds that much influence. While technically true in the sense that national elections never literally come down to a single vote, it’s also painfully obtuse—votes add up, particularly in light of the Electoral College, under which a few thousand votes in a few states can make the difference for the whole country.

The only circumstance in which it would be at least defensible to vote for a third-party presidential candidate would be if a voter of one party lives in a state absolutely dominated by the other, like Republicans living in California. It’s safe to say Biden will take the Golden State no matter how they vote.

Even so, while at least such voters won’t harm the electoral outcome, there’s still another consideration to keep in mind. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 in electoral votes, but lost the popular vote (thanks mostly to, again, California), which gave the Left a useful propaganda point they’ve relentlessly deployed ever since. Even if you don’t care about how that affects Trump or the GOP politically, you should certainly care about how it’s used to undermine the Electoral College, one of the pillars of our system of government.4

Large swaths of our culture have been conditioned to internalize a conception of voting that, at its core, is narcissistic. But the truth is that voting is a service, and a hugely consequential one at that (which is why the Founders believed in placing conditions on who could exercise it). As such, those who chose to participate are assuming an awesome responsibility. Ultimately, the only truly moral way to exercise that responsibility is to vote as if your vote will be the one to tip the balance between the top two competitors, whoever they may be.


Footnotes:

1. The idea that a third-party vote doesn’t affect the outcome assumes that the voter doesn’t have a consistent pattern of voting for either party. But that isn’t the case if he is a longtime voter for one of the parties. If someone normally votes Republican but chooses to make an exception for Trump, it obviously helps Biden by reducing the number of votes the Republican nominee would have otherwise gotten (and vice versa).


2. I acknowledge that third-party and write-in votes may be more defensible at the state or local levels, where there may be lower stakes and greater variation among Republicans and Democrats. That said, such decisions should still be made on the basis of the relative outcomes, not on the use of the ballot box as a vehicle for self-expression.


3. None of this is to deny the many severe defects of Trump and the Republican Party. Whether the GOP is beyond reforming is a very open question, and the desire to burn it down so something better can take its place is entirely understandable. But reforming and replacing a major political party are difficult tasks, and there is no evidence that third-party presidential voting brings us any closer to accomplishing either of them. It’s worth noting that when the GOP replaced the Whig Party in the 1850s, it was channelling powerful preexisting discontent with its predecessor, not driving that discontent. As dysfunctional as the modern GOP currently is, one need only look at Trump’s approval rating within the GOP to see that today’s inter-party discontent is still nowhere near that level. (Also, the Libertarian Party is an impotent pack of amoral fools who don’t deserve to become one of the two major parties. But that’s another conversation.)

4. For voters who are also public figures, such as political activists or commentators, there’s one more reason you should vote for the better major-party candidate even if the opposite party dominates your state: setting a good example for members of your audience who live in states where their votes still can make a difference.

Mitt Romney and #NeverTrump’s Selective Regard for Presidential Character

As has been abundantly covered by now, freshman Senator Mitt Romney rang in the new year with a Washington Post op-ed lambasting Donald Trump’s character—you know, for the five people still unaware that Romney considers the “very not smart” Trump a “fraud” guilty of “dishonesty,” “greed,” and “bullying.”

He had a few valid criticisms and a lot of shameless pandering to the Left (pledging to condemn “racist” or “sexist” presidential statements, for instance, tacitly endorses the smear that Trump is not merely flawed, but bigoted). But while much has already been said of Romney’s reasoning and motives, the sympathetic reviews—and the broader debate on the subject—reveal much more we’ve yet to discuss.

David French insists Romney was merely “say[ing] things that are true and stak[ing] out a future” for a Trump-free conservatism and GOP. Jim Geraghty muses that after watching Romney, John McCain, and George W. Bush, many conservatives decided “good character was no advantage in politics and possibly a liability.”

A few days before Romney, Jonah Goldberg wrote his own (but far from his first) declaration of Trump’s low character. He claims “most of the angry responses” he gets about it “are clearly rooted in the fact that they do not wish to be reminded,” and chides those who “assume that I am referencing the president’s style” rather than substance.

I grant that Trump’s character is abysmal, and must confess to finding most of his defenses unpersuasive on this particular point. But that’s an utterly banal observation, and #NeverTrumpers are disastrously wrong about everything preceding and inferred from it.

First, it’s one thing to (rationally and truthfully) criticize Trump offenses as they happen, and quite another to periodically repackage general diatribes about obvious propositions that have already been beaten to death. The former is about accountability; the latter is about you. How many of these pieces bring new information to the debate? What’s their purpose beyond signaling fealty to the #NeverTrump tribe? (Which is hardly necessary in Romney’s case, given his diligence in renewing his membership every few months.)

Second, the idea that it’s some unprecedented crisis or compromise to accept such a president—that voting for Trump is too high a price to defend 320 million Americans from a leftist administration—should be alien to any self-respecting student of the Founding or of human nature.

Given the option, of course a more upstanding president would be preferable. But while the Founders knew America needed a moral citizenry, they didn’t expect moral leaders to be the norm. That’s why we need a Constitution in the first place; it’s how checks and balances were expected to work—the Founders counted on officeholders’ ambition, not their altruism, being “made to counteract ambition.” The work of good government doesn’t indefinitely pause just because neither choice on the ballot is pure enough for our liking, and the difference between four years with an administration of flawed allies versus one full of enemies is bigger than any one person.

Finally, all of the above rests on the comforting-yet-poisonous fiction that Trump represents a moral decline from his Republican predecessors.

Never mind that Bush abandoned an innocent subordinate to a malicious prosecution, swore on a Bible to uphold the Constitution then signed a law he admitted might violate it, and considers a probable rapist his “brother from another mother.” Never mind McCain’s own marital history and Trumpian mean streak, his attack on Vietnam veterans who spoke out against John Kerry, or his judgment that Americans should’ve kept suffering under Obamacare just because Democrats weren’t given a chance to sabotage repeal. Never mind that expediency seems to change more than a few of Romney’s values.

Speaking of which, Mitt, perhaps someone who entered politics as a defender of abortion should consider a little humility on the subject of other Republicans’ character…

In 2016, a few months before writing that Trump’s “low character is disqualifying,” Kevin Williamson argued that Marco Rubio’s blatant lying about the contents of the Gang of 8 amnesty bill shouldn’t dissuade voters, because while others “demand that a president” be a “moral mascot for the country […] I just want to know what I can use him for.”

I don’t recall anyone at National Review, Weekly Standard (RIP), or Commentary challenging Williamson’s transactional case for ignoring Rubio’s dishonesty.

To Trump’s character critics, none of the above threatens membership in the pantheon of “good Republicans,” nor do countless other acts of deceit, promise-breaking, or moral compromise by these and other better-mannered leaders. That’s why the “#NeverTrump fixates on style” charge sticks—it’s not that there aren’t substantive Trump critiques, it’s that they’ve never minded poor character before as long as it came in sufficiently-civil wrapping.

To say that voters dropped character in 2016 ignores two simple truths: that Trump’s low character was still higher than Hillary Clinton’s, and that the GOP had already been defining character down for years. Many of us held no illusions that our pre-Trump votes were for good men either; we were backing the only options we had to advance conservatism and protect the country from leftism.

If those most troubled by Trump’s character really want a more principled future for conservatism, perhaps reflecting on how their own approach to immoral leaders—who generally didn’t even honor their ends of the bargain—helped pave the road to 2016 would be a bit more productive than “Isn’t Trump Awful, Nineteenth Edition.”

Awful #NeverTrump Arguments, Part 1: Steve Deace

The intense disgust Donald Trump inspires in most conservatives is unquestionably valid, seeing that he’s a loathsome, unqualified buffoon who ruined the best chance we’ve had since 1984 to put a truly worthy movement conservative, Ted Cruz, in the White House. The emotional difficulty of looking past his offenses and weaknesses is understandable, and there are legitimate concerns about Trump’s fitness for office, chances against Hillary Clinton, and representation of the Republican Party.

However, it’s increasingly apparent that Trump Derangement Syndrome has so consumed most of the #NeverTrump movement that they’ve lost the ability to objectively evaluate both Trump’s weaknesses and the consequences of another Clinton presidency. Not only are opposing arguments ignored without serious consideration, many NeverTrumpers hurl indignation and condescension at any suggestion there are opposing arguments. Ugly though it sounds, it’s hard not to conclude that some have decided that the future of their country is less important than projecting their self-image as morally and ideologically purer than the rest of us.

It’s time to start calling out this arrogant negligence. The following is the first in a series of posts calling out the shoddy logic and irresponsible flippancy dominating #NeverTrump arguments. To be clear, not everyone we’ll discuss is guilty of all the sins described above, but all display a distinct lack of seriousness unworthy of the future generations who will suffer if they get their way and Hillary wins. Continue reading

New at American Clarion: Disappointment in Paul Ryan Provides Clue to America’s Current Mess

Wilfred McClay of the University of Oklahoma best summarized the root cause of conservatives’ unpleasant choice for president this fall: “when a political culture forbids respectable politicians from raising essential topics, the electorate will soon turn to ‘unrespectable’ ones” like Donald Trump.

Unfortunately, the punditry remains slow to recognize this, and nothing symbolizes its cognitive dissonance more than the reactions to House Speaker Paul Ryan supporting Trump despite Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel. The past few weeks have been filled with fears and lamentations over the threat to Ryan’s standing as, Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes puts it, “the intellectual leader of the conservative movement in the GOP.”

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg sums up the sentiment in writing that it’s “more difficult for me to write than it should be” that Ryan’s “a disappointment”:

[P]hilosophically and temperamentally, I’ve long felt that Ryan is my kind of politician, and that judgment didn’t change after getting to know him (which is rare, given how most politicians are all too human). His vision for government’s role and the kind of party the GOP should be has always resonated with me, even if I didn’t agree with him on every policy or vote.

It should tell you all you need to know about the sorry state of the Right that disappointment in Ryan took this long for so many.

Read the rest at American Clarion.

National Disgrace Marco Rubio Wants to Inflict Himself on America Again

The one silver lining to this disaster of an election was supposed to be that at least we’d be getting rid of Marco Rubio. Unfortunately, Rubio has just decided he wants to stay in the Senate after all.

If the Right really held honor at a premium, the very possibility would have been met with such a unanimous hail of incredulity and disgust that Rubio never would have considered it (then again, if that were the case his presidential ambitions never would have gotten past a momentary delusion of grandeur).

Rubio ran for Senate claiming to be an anti-amnesty candidate, then when he got there he repeatedly lied to the country on behalf of the Gang of 8 amnesty bill. That left the GOP base even more distrustful they could trust anybody in elected office, giving Donald Trump his opening to gain a real foothold with the electorate. Not once has Rubio taken responsibility for his dishonesty.

Then, when he ran for president, he repeatedly lied about Ted Cruz, the only plausible alternative to Trump. Finally, he ensured Trump’s victory by helping to split the conservative vote and screw over Cruz’s delegate prospects long after it was clear he wasn’t going to become the nominee…and yet, after all he did to both Cruz and the country, Rubio has the gall to ask Cruz to help his new vanity campaign?

You have no honor, Mr. Rubio. The country cannot trust you. For the incalculable harm you’ve done to your country, the only way you could regain a sliver of your honor would be to acknowledge you don’t belong anywhere near public office.

New at American Clarion – Trump Won Because Conservatives Let Him

Now that we’re stuck with the ugly choice of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, we’re long overdue for a chat about just how easily this mess could have been avoided. Shocking though it may be that such a cartoonishly unqualified and un-conservative figure could sweep the Republican nomination, it was inevitable that the mistakes and blind spots that establishmentarians and conservatives allowed to fester for years would eventually blow up in our faces.

Most agree on the first cause: feckless Republican leaders, whose record of surrender has made their base desperate for someone to take a wrecking ball to Capitol Hill, and doubtful that anyone from within the party could suffice. So when Trump swept in sounding like that someone—and making immigration, the issue on which party and base are most divided, his centerpiece—of course he forged an emotional bond impervious to subsequent reviews of his record.

It’s not Trump’s fault nobody stepped in to fill that demand first—even Ted Cruz, who fought the establishment from day one, underestimated the stridency he needed to project, or how moves like his poison pill amendments to the Gang of 8 bill would backfire.

Read the rest at American Clarion.

Should You Vote for Donald Trump?

After decades of lackluster presidential nominees who embodied various diluted forms of center-right thought, this year we finally had an authentic, passionate movement conservative to rally around in Ted Cruz. Finally we had an opportunity to restore the Constitution, liberty, and prosperity; to take real steps toward ending the massacre of abortion, to shrink government rather than slow its growth, to turn the tide of America’s culture war and put the Left on the defensive for a change. Finally we had our chance to vindicate conservatism against the cancerous moderation espoused by the Republican establishment.

And we blew it. Thanks to a perfect storm of primary voters letting themselves be conned by a clown and divided among a half-dozen mediocrities and vanity candidates, and too few conservative leaders willing to show leadership and make clear that Cruz was the only serious choice, instead we’re now stuck with Donald Trump as the GOP nominee for President of the United States. A choice so manifestly terrible that it seemed inconceivable a year ago. Yet here we are.

So patriots have a decision to make: hold our nose and vote for Trump to protect the country from Hillary Clinton, or stay home to protest Trump’s lack of character, competence, and conservatism? My answer has wavered back and forth over the past year, so I hope this review of all the arguments for and against will help similarly conflicted conservatives find a definitive answer.

Before diving in, let’s dismiss two unserious options out of hand: voting for Hillary Clinton (such a despicable, asinine idea that those who’ve written and published it should be ashamed of themselves), and voting for a third-party or independent candidate (no, not even that obnoxious imbecile Austin Petersen who gives Glenn Beck such a tingle up his leg). It’s simply delusional to believe the latter could actually become president, so if you’re doing it for the symbolism it’s functionally no different than staying home. If you absolutely must put down another name at the ballot box, at least choose a deserving and likely future nominee by writing in Ted Cruz.

(Caveat: if by some bizarre, infinitesimal, miraculous twist of fate a quality conservative somehow uncovers the secret path for an independent candidate to reach the White House, I of course reserve the right to take that back and revise the conclusion of this post.)

That said, let’s begin. Continue reading

New at Live Action: Donald Trump’s Amendments to GOP Platform on Abortion Would Be a Disaster

If it wasn’t already clear that Donald Trump doesn’t really understand how pro-lifers think, he’s doing a bang-up job of reinforcing the point every few weeks. As Live Action News’ Danny David covered earlier, Trump said the following on the Today Show:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: The Republican platform, every four years, has a provision that states that the right of the unborn child shall not be infringed. And it makes no exceptions for rape, for incest, for the life of the mother. Would you want to change the Republican platform to include the exceptions that you have?

TRUMP: Yes, I would. Yes, I would. Absolutely. For the three exceptions, I would.

GUTHRIE: Would you have an exception for the health of the mother?

TRUMP: I would leave it to the life of the mother, but I would absolutely have the three exceptions.

Pro-life activist Abby Johnson had some choice words in response:

Read the rest at Live Action News.

Rick Santorum Abandons His Own Principles to Endorse Marco Rubio

For a while in 2012, I enthusiastically supported Rick Santorum for president. He made some blunders that forced me to reevaluate his viability, and his blend of fiscal, social, and defense conservatism was largely obsolete this time around thanks to Ted Cruz, but I always retained a soft spot for Rick, thanks to him being a pro-life, pro-marriage champion, rock-solid on national defense, and having the strongest immigration record in the 2016 field.

Well, I’m sorry to say my respect for the man is gone for good, now that he’s decided to endorse Marco Rubio, and in doing so signaled that the values he’s spent his career fighting for aren’t so important after all.

During his latest (and hopefully final) presidential campaign, Santorum’s message was that he was the truest true conservative in the race, so much so that Cruz just wasn’t strong enough on same-sex marriage (the National Organization for Marriage disagrees) or immigration (Jeff Sessions, Tom Tancredo, and Steve King disagree) to measure up to him.

So what does he do once he drops out? Endorse the worst major candidate on both of those issues. Continue reading

Donald Trump: Amnesty Shill

Donald Trump Meets DREAMersOne of the reasons attacks on Donald Trump such as National Review’s recent symposium have been ineffective is because they don’t speak to the factors that could actually change his supporters’ minds. Among Trump fans who read conservative commentary, The Donald’s various political heresies, temperamental deficiencies, and personal failings are already priced into their decision—they aren’t prioritizing a full-spectrum conservative, they just want someone who’ll finally shut the border and get our immigration system under control once and for all, and don’t trust anyone else to do it.

So don’t waste space reiterating what they already know and don’t care about. Instead, focus the bulk of your energy dismantling the only good pro-Trump argument—his perceived strength as an immigration hawk—and publicize the truth that, beyond the tough talk about building walls and deporting rapists, he’s as wobbly and inconsistent on the issue as anyone. Continue reading