Anyone whose DNA is even part “political junkie” can recognize the age-old conflict between pragmatism and purism that erupts among like-minded groups of people.
“How could I vote for this candidate?!” the purist will proclaim. “He supports ____” or “he voted for ____.”
“True,” the pragmatist will argue. “But he’s better than the alternative.”
The purist is often seen as either naive or self-righteous, wasting a vote on an obscure candidate with whom they agree on every issue who doesn’t stand a chance in the election, when they could have leveraged their vote to help the candidate with whom they agree most of the time defeat the candidate with whom they agree none of the time. The pragmatist, on the other hand, is labeled a sell out, a slave to the system.
The struggle is one born from the tribal nature of our partied political system trying to coexist with our principles; we are led to believe that a win for anyone on “our team,” no matter who, would be better than giving a win to the other team. But of course, after this win is secured, more often than not the voter will suffer buyer’s remorse in reflecting upon the reality of the person they helped put into power. Then again, oftentimes no amount of regret will cause that voter to believe they had any other choice.
Despite having strong political convictions and spending the last five years working in grassroots politics (often seen as the “purist” faction of the Republican Party), I would say that my nature is mostly that of a pragmatist. I enjoy living in reality, even if this deprives me of the delusional euphoria that comes with believing the perfect candidate not only exists, but can win. I believe that most Republican voters are pragmatists as well, and as such, the majority are now trying to convince themselves of the reasons for which they need to vote for Donald Trump in the general election after not supporting him in the primary. It’s an unnerving quandary to be placed in after such a contentious primary season. Some Trump-skeptics managed to make the jump immediately onto the “Trump Train.” Others still pledge never to support him. Some – a significant portion, I assume – are enjoying a grace period in their lives before November in which they allow themselves to flirt with reluctance before pragmatism forces them to vote for Trump.
I, too, remain a pragmatist. But I’m not voting for Donald Trump in November.
Let me explain.
Although I’ve been tuned into politics since I was a kid, I’ve only been of voting age for the past two presidential cycles, both of which happened to have contested Republican primary races. In 2008, I and many others lamented the nomination of John McCain, yet voted for him in the general election despite our aversions. In 2012, we repeated the same behavior with Mitt Romney. I can’t possibly imagine a candidate worse than either of those two for whom I’d be willing to settle in order to defeat the Democrats, and while in retrospect there exists an undeniable sense of shame in my choice (for obvious reasons, and for the fact that over time my distaste for both Romney and – particularly – McCain has grown), I remain convinced that the choice was justified for two main reasons: they were (at least at the time) observably a “better” option than the Democratic nominee, albeit slight; and there were no viable alternatives.
Despite widespread disgust among particularly the grassroots Republicans in 2008 and 2012, neither McCain nor Romney drew quite the ire that Donald Trump has, and for good reason. Donald Trump is a vacuous jerk with authoritarian tendencies and no limiting principle that guides his view of the role of government. In fact, it is hard to discern whether or not any political philosophy exists in his core; nationalism and economic protectionism – his most predictable stances – themselves could simply be a populist ruse to secure votes. (Which does not cast doubt on his commitment to them once in office in the pursuit of power.)
I was happy to see the #NeverTrump movement take off when Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians alike were voicing their respective disdain for the man and his policies. It was the sort of rare, delightful occasion when, for a moment, a feeling of unity emerges across the political spectrum, even if the opposition to Trump started from several different premises depending on the offended political persuasion. I was happy to observe so many Republicans call out Donald Trump for who he is: someone who probably has more in common with Bernie Sanders than the average Republican. It bewildered me that many rabid Sanders supporters on the left could so vehemently oppose Donald Trump given the similarity of many of their positions and overall political philosophy, but that lasted only as long as it took me to remember the tribal nature of politics. What I wasn’t expecting- though perhaps I should have been- was the quick turnaround many previously anti-Trump Republicans did once Trump secured the Republican nomination.
Perhaps I was naive to think that every anti-Trump Republican primary voter would commit to #NeverTrump in the event of his nomination. And while I have no measure by which to gauge just how many Republicans will remain committed to never voting for Trump once November comes, I have observed quite a few jump to Trump’s side out of fear of standing side-by-side in association with the Democrats in opposition to the Republican nominee.
While perhaps it is safe to say that more Republicans than ever (at least in recent history) have committed to or are least strongly considering not supporting the Republican nominee, tribal politics has undoubtedly set in and, once again, the election has simply become about defeating the Democratic nominee. As the majority of Republican Primary voters did not vote for Donald Trump, the main argument for his candidacy henceforth will inevitably center around the fact that he’s “not Hillary,” as was so evident at the Republican convention.
“Yeah I don’t like him, but at least he’s not Hillary. It’s always better to have a Republican.”
That’s the mantra I’ve heard repeated in various forms from numerous Republicans ever since Trump secured the delegates needed for the nomination- even among those who had previously been Trump’s biggest critics. When asked how they know that Hillary will be worse than Trump, they typically reply:
“Because at least we know that Hillary is completely corrupt and evil, and that the country can’t survive 8 years of her presidency. With Trump, at least we have a chance.”
After pointing out that this didn’t exactly answer the question, the newly-converted Trump supporter will then begin repeating the same talking points used by Trump supporters of old, which they had in days prior to succumbing to tribalism passionately refuted:
“Well, he has business experience, and he’s not beholden to lobbyists and special interests.”
Also, unlike Hillary, he wants to make America great again.
But beyond the few “positive” talking points repeated ad nauseam, the argument from Trump supporters inevitably shifts to Hillary, and how bad she is. Trump supporters during the primary election were ridiculed – and rightfully so – for blindly supporting Trump because they emotionally bought into his rhetoric in the same exact manner that Obama supporters mindlessly chanted “hope” and “change” in 2008 and 2012; this time the message is the same, albeit with a hard nationalist bent.
Now that Trump has secured the nomination, I’ve seen some of the previously ardent anti-Trump primary voters completely change their tune. It’s incredible, really. People who previously attacked Trump supporters for being filled with blind emotional support now willingly psych themselves up so that they may be blinded by emotion as well, only this emotion is, sadly, driven simply by fear.
I get it. Hillary Clinton is terrible. She is a power-hungry, authoritarian psychopath who wants to destroy the economy whilst banning Christmas and stomping on the Easter Bunny. She’s practically Frank Underwood in a pantsuit.
But is she really worse than Donald Trump?
Maybe. Maybe not. But if she is, it will most likely only be in the short run.
As I state above, my first qualification for voting for the Republican nominee is that they have to be an observably better choice than the Democratic nominee. This cannot be based on the simple assumption that party affiliation will naturally guide the nominee’s policies once in office, but instead on an observable personal constitution within the nominee that will guide their policies in a predictable manner with which I mostly agree. There has been countless documentation of Trump’s lack of credentials for being the nominee of the major party that at least tries to give lip service to the ideas of liberty. So instead of providing a comprehensive list of examples, I’ll try my best to summarize:
Donald Trump never expresses any concern for limiting the size and scope of government. He, like the Democrats, believes the state is the solution to the problems of society. He blames the failures of the government not on the nature of government itself, but on the people currently running the government. Similar to how he views his buildings, he thinks he can make the government bigger and better. He’s against the free market, and seemingly has no idea that central planning fails because the government can’t determine market values. His economic policies are bound to hurt both consumers and producers. He expresses no interest in the Constitution, checks and balances, or states’ rights. And as for civil liberties… RIP.
The same could be said of Hillary Clinton. But what distinguishes Trump from Clinton the most is that he is an egomaniacal narcissist who is utterly convinced of his abilities and blames his failures on others. Say what you will about Hillary Clinton; she’s probably the epitome of the modern Machiavellian politician. But whereas Clinton employs a cunning political strategy to reach her goals, Trump charges forward with brazen intimidation.
If you think that Trump’s nature is better than Clinton’s in this regard, you need to ask yourself if you’ll still feel that way once you and Trump disagree on a matter.
Unfortunately, I’ve observed that rather than challenge the candidate on their team on any issue, voters are too willing to back their candidate no matter what, often changing their opinion after excuses have been exhausted. This is why electoral politics inevitably devolves into a negative shouting match: each side finds themselves preferring to deflect rather than defend.
Holocaust survivor and famed psychiatrist Viktor Frankl says in his book Man’s Search For Meaning that “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Donald Trump is the Republican nominee. This situation cannot be changed. But what can be controlled is our response to the situation, and it is in this response that I would argue that a Trump presidency might be even more disastrous than a Clinton presidency.
I received a call the other day from a grassroots activist affiliated with many tea party and Eagle Forum groups whom I’ve long known to be an ardent supporter of limited government. She had called the office of the Super PAC I had previously worked at which supported Ted Cruz because her biggest concern was that Cruz supporters would refuse to support Trump in the general election, resulting in Clinton winning the presidency. But what I found curious was that, during her discourse, her reasoning shifted from a cry to stopping Hillary from winning the White House to a manifesto on why the Republican Party and the grassroots need to change their values to align more with Trumpism. This lady whom I had known to be more of a purist in her convictions was now advocating a rejection of free market principles for the sake of made-in-America-style economic protectionism and a disregard of state’s rights. “It’s what appeals to the people, and if the Republican Party is going to survive, that’s what we need to emphasize,” she told me.
The Republican Party has long been the party that is only slightly better than their major party counterpart in terms of limiting government and promoting free markets. After Calvin Coolidge, whom I consider to be among the top 5 presidents, the Republican Party suffered through a fifty-year span of being controlled by advocates of big government, beginning with the election of populist Herbert Hoover. In 1964, Barry Goldwater had a chance to become a change agent for the party to return to Coolidge-style governance. But with Goldwater’s defeat, the streak of electing big-government Republicans was not broken until the election of Ronald Reagan. (Though Reagan’s best contribution to the effort to return the Republican Party to a force for limited government came through his rhetoric more than his rule.) Since Reagan, the Republican Party has returned to fielding and electing presidential candidates virtually indistinguishable from moderate Democrats. Over the past several years, resentment has begun to churn among the voting populace, making the 2016 election ripe for a change within the parties. This manifested itself among Democrats in the popular candidacy of Bernie Sanders, taking the party further to the left. But on the right, Donald Trump hijacked this resentment by proclaiming himself the embodiment of the fight against the establishment, and has now taken the party even further left than either of the Bushes or Nixon. While his attempt at hijacking was humorous in the beginning, those of us who didn’t take his candidacy seriously find his victory equal parts mind-numbing and depressing.
It is naive to think that a Trump victory in November won’t have a lasting impact on the Republican Party. People must realize that when they are voting for Trump, they aren’t just voting to stop Hillary, or even to implement Trump’s policies over the next 4 – 8 years. Rather, they are voting for Donald Trump to be the leader of the party, and for his impact to carry over far past his time in office. People considering voting for Trump must ask themselves not just if they are willing to vote for him in order to stop Hillary, but if they are willing to endorse his influence upon the party for an impact potentially lasting 50 years. In 2012, Mitt Romney was an establishment candidate who was simply delaying the change that was bound to occur in the party. Donald Trump in no way can be the sort of placeholder Mitt Romney was to delay inevitable change if he wins the presidency. He is a change agent himself, and I’m unwilling to support this type of change as its effects will likely be long lasting.
Alexander Hamilton once said, “If we must have an enemy at the head of Government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible, who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolish and bad measures.” During the George W. Bush administration, as my political philosophy was still developing as a middle and high school student, I found myself often instinctively rushing to the defense of the president’s actions when confronted by Democrats. He was on my team, after all. I’ve since changed, but the unfortunate reality is that if Donald Trump becomes President, the part of the country that identifies as Republican will be thrust into a 4 – 8 year defense of Trump while his policies wreak havoc on the economy and Constitution. If Trump manages to be elected, future candidates will seek to mimic his style as a model for electoral success. Yes, I do know what a Clinton presidency will be like for the most part. But at least Trumpism won’t come to be the alternative to Democrats’ statist policies, as Trumpism is itself statist. At least the fight will remain along familiar lines, with statism in the hands of the Democrats and a liberty movement continuing to gain momentum within the Republican Party.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not want Hillary to become the President. I have simply attempted to point out that I honestly don’t know who would be worse, her or Trump.
But is there a viable alternative?
Yes, actually. At least more so during this election than in recent history. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, has frequently been polling in double digits; this is four times higher than his 2012 run, which saw the most votes for a Libertarian nominee in the party’s history.
Trump and Clinton have the highest unfavorable ratings of any nominees for either party in the history since the question was first asked in polls. More voters by a landslide say that they could be convinced to vote for Johnson, whereas Clinton and Trump each have a ceiling they have difficulty surpassing. Johnson currently beats Trump with millenials and Clinton with independents. And while most voters know enough about both Trump and Clinton to form an opinion, a large percentage of those polled have indicated that they do not know enough about Johnson in order to form an opinion. But that all can change if Johnson continues rising past 15% in the polls, at which point he will be included in the televised Presidential debates. If this occurs – and it is likely to occur – it is hard to say that Gary Johnson won’t be a viable contender in the presidential race.
Gary Johnson is not the ideal candidate to carry the libertarian message into office, much less his vice presidential pick, Bill Weld. Johnson’s idea of libertarianism is based less on principle than it is his subjective views which happen to align with many libertarian positions. But he would be tremendously better for the country than either Trump or Clinton. Trump and Clinton firmly belong in the government-solves-all-of-our-problems camp. While many Republicans might take issues with several of Johnson’s policies, particularly on social issues, there is no question that he firmly belongs in the camp that is committed to limiting the size and scope of government over your life. In this sense, given that the Republican party is supposed to be the major party that respects limited government, Johnson has much more in common with the average Republican than Donald Trump.
Both Johnson and Weld are not fringe candidates, either. Both men are former two-term Republican governors of blue states who were very popular. Their non-purist libertarianism, in fact, might just be the key to getting their ticket some votes past the Ron Paul base. Once again, I’m a pragmatist.
“But a vote for Johnson is just a vote for Hillary!”
Actually, it’s not. Polls have shown that Johnson is pulling votes equally away from both Clinton and Trump.
Is Johnson going to be President? Probably not. But this time around, “probably not” is a less sure bet than it has ever been in the past. And it all depends on what happens between now and November. But the truth is, Johnson has an entirely viable path to the presidency, giving voters a third option. And when faced with a situation when the only reason to vote for the Republican nominee is because he is a Republican, in the presence of a third (and better) option, this is akin to voting for party over principle.
George Washington feared party loyalty to this degree, warning the people in his farewell address that the false sense of security party loyalty creates will distract people from their principles. He said that political parties’ main goal is to gain and retain power, warning that party loyalty will lead to the rise of a despot who will take advantage of the situation “on the ruins of public liberty.” America was founded on a set of principles the people could champion before political parties came about disguising themselves as fitting into the narrative. While it could be argued that we are far from the political environment of the founding, it must be noted that even the Democrats, whose general platform is the least similar to the principles of the founding, still attempt to mask their agenda in the language of liberty. Remember when Van Jones called the Obamacare mandate conservative because it promotes “individual responsibility?” That being said, despite the strength of the principles upon which America was founded, it is undeniable that these principles’ influence is fading. Party loyalty, in my opinion, is largely to blame.
History has shown that Washington was correct in his assessment of the effect of political parties. The primary desire of a political party is not simply to gain control of the State, but to become the State. Upon gaining power, the first goal of a party tends to be punishing the opposing party or parties and using the power of government to construct a political infrastructure to protect against threats. Upon becoming king of the hill, the first objective is to maintain the hill. In liberal democracies, free speech and the rule of law have served to stifle political repression to the extent that it can. But taken to its logical extreme, a political party is foremost interested in its own survival for its own sake, letting its principles fall by the wayside if need be, in order to maintain its status as the State. One only has to look at Soviet Russia as a model for a political party showing its true nature.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not inherently against the existence of political parties. I think they are an inevitable outgrowth of political disagreement. What I’m attempting to stress is the vital need to place principle over party. The party will always take the opportunity to destroy the principle when any amount of loyalty to the party surpasses the people’s pledge to their principles which created their party. Parties should be viewed as a tool, a vehicle through which we can advance our principles, and should be regarded as completely disposable when the situation calls for it.
In other words, party loyalty is for commies.
I understand that the idea of a Clinton presidency is terrifying enough to believe that anyone other than her would be better. Trust me, I wish I could believe that. But our political world is not as simple an “us versus them” scenario as our partied system would like for us to believe. If you are one of those voters who feels compelled to vote for Trump despite not liking him, I implore you, for your own sake, to ask yourself the following leading up to November:
1) Ask yourself if your constant defense of Donald Trump is consistently rooted in how bad Hillary is rather than how good Trump is.
2) If you find this happening to you, then ask yourself if you truly believe Donald Trump’s policies will give America more freedom and less government.
3) If you discover that he won’t, it is time to embrace the horror- the next president will likely be terrible, and the Republican Party’s nominee is not on your side.
After 8 years of Obama’s statist policies, we all believed the Republican Party would’ve nominated a change agent to take the party at least back to the days of Reagan. But people, Donald Trump is not the prince that was promised.
Once again, this election is set to have huge ramifications for the future of both major parties and the country as a whole. Unfortunately, the two major candidates represent two paths that are the complete opposite of what America needs. Fortunately, we do have a third option. Gary Johnson likely won’t win. But voting for him in this election, as opposed to 2012 or any years past, is not simply a protest vote. Interest in the Libertarian Party and in Johnson’s candidacy is at a record high. In this election, your vote for the Libertarian Party is a voice loud enough to weaken the eventual Republican or Democratic president to an amount substantial enough to potentially have an impact on his/her policies in office. You have a chance this election to truly rebel against the political establishment, and for your rebellion to be noticed. Your voice in this election is loud enough to be heard, and your voice is too important to be corralled into your familiar groups in order to chant slogans in which you have no faith.
For me, this is the pragmatic position to take. Gary Johnson is not my ideal candidate and does not share all of my views, but voting for him is the best possible way I can advance the principles I believe in, even if he loses. This election has presented no other option; a vote for Hillary or Trump is inevitably a loss. And thankfully, Gary Johnson’s views are much more agreeable than any other viable candidate in a general election in recent history, which so far has been restricted to Republicans and Democrats.
If you still have a lingering fear of the accusation from Trump supporters that your vote for Johnson contributed to Hillary’s win in November, if such a situation plays out, just remember that their vote for Trump equally contributed to Hillary’s win under the same logic, only they voted for a candidate who was substantially more similar to Hillary. And besides, once this has all passed and we can reflect on the craziness of this current political environment, you can rest assured that you’ll feel much more pride in being able to say:
“At least I didn’t vote for Donald Trump to be the President.”