On Tuesday, the New York Times published James K. Glassman’s opinion, “Save the Republican Party: Vote for Clinton.” Glassman, a thoughtful and respected Republican who served in the George W. Bush administration, argues that Republicans who are opposed to Mr. Trump should vote for Mrs. Clinton instead of taking the timid and harmful option of sitting out the election or supporting a third-party candidate.
In Glassman’s view Mr. Trump is clearly a worse choice than Mrs. Clinton. He argues that Mr. Trump is temperamentally unfit for the presidency and his policy formulations “mock the principles of liberty and respect for the individual that have been the foundation of the Republican Party since Abraham Lincoln.” If Trump wins, he argues, the GOP will atrophy and die within a few years. Therefore, the matter of how Republicans should cast their votes is a matter of simple math: a vote for Mrs. Clinton helps her win but saves the Republican Party, while an abstention helps Mr. Trump win but destroys the GOP.
In response to Glassman, I argue that Republicans should not vote for Mrs. Clinton. I write as a conservative evangelical Republican who has always voted for the Republican nominee for president, but who thinks we should consider voting third-party or writing in a candidate. The 2016 election is not a matter of simple math and Americans should be more concerned about saving the nation than they are saving the Republican Party.
First, it is not clear which candidate is less bad than the other.
Glassman is wrong to say that Mrs. Clinton is clearly superior. Mrs. Clinton is a bad candidate, and she is bad in predictable ways. She keeps secrets from the American people and her governing ideology and policy stances are averse to a conservative Christian vision of the good life. But Mr. Trump’s badness is less predictable. He’s the highest variable candidate in modern political history. If the pragmatic side of his persona wins the day, and if he allows his advisors to curb the negative inclinations of his temperament, he would be better than Mrs. Clinton. However, if the hard-line nationalist side of his persona wins the day, and if he continues to be volatile, retaliatory, and unwilling to listen to his advisors, he would be worse than Mrs. Clinton.
Second, we have little or nothing to lose by voting for an alternative candidate.
The 2016 election cycle is different from recent elections. The two major-party nominees are equally unacceptable, albeit in their own unique manners. Mr. Trump has run a campaign characterized by ethno-nationalistic aggression, admiration of authoritarians like Vladimir Putin, intimations of coming restrictions on free speech, demeaning and degrading speech toward opponents, an uninformed and potentially dangerous approach to foreign policy, and questionable commitments to the social and economic agenda of the GOP. Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly broken the trust of the American people, used her White House leverage to serve her Foundation’s best interests, and carved out a leftist social and economic agenda that will hurt nobody moreso than the poor and the religious.
In recent election cycles, it would have been unwise for a conservative evangelical Republican to write in a candidate or vote third-party. Doing so en masse could have taken an election’s outcome in a direction they didn’t desire or intend by tipping the vote toward the least desirable candidate. However, I am arguing that the two major nominees are unacceptable in a roughly equal way. The “lesser of two evils” argument doesn’t apply.
Third, we stand to benefit from voting for an alternative candidate.
Not only do we have nothing to lose, but we stand to benefit from voting for an alternative candidate who best embodies our convictions. Some evangelicals will do this because they feel conscience-bound not to vote for the major-party nominees. Other evangelicals will write in a candidate as an act of protest, in the hopes of fostering long-term change. Although we may lose short-term influence by dissociating from a major party, we regain our voice by making a statement about the unacceptability of the major nominees and about our long-term vision for American society.
Unfortunately, the 2016 election cycle has cost Americans our credibility. How do Americans, and especially conservative evangelicals, recover? Not by voting for a candidate we suspect might be less bad than the other, but by voting third-party or writing in a candidate who best embodies our vision for the faithful and wise governance of American society. In so doing, we have the opportunity to regain our voice rather than having it purchased or controlled by the power-brokers of either major political party.