[This was published in June 2016, but I believe analysis continues to be relevant]
In light of the news that David French may be running as an independent in order to weaken Trump, many conservative voters are now asking,
Does it matter?
Should I get on board?
Shouldn’t I support the candidate who is second worst?
What about the Supreme Court?
What about practicality?
What about the next four years?
What if Hillary wins?
To all this I would pose a very important question back in your direction: “What if Donald Trump wins?”
That’s a question we really need to ask. It’s the question #NeverTrump asked and answered months ago.
#NeverTrump means the willingness to lose rather than to win with Trump. What could cause a person to take that view? I want to humbly ask you a serious question: What if the Never-Trumpers know something most people don’t know?
Look at the character of those who say #NeverTrump. Among the group I see many thoughtful conservatives. I see respected leaders of faith. Whereas, among the “Trump” crowd mostly I see politicians who I never trusted or even agreed with.
There is more going on than meets the eye. There is a set of implicit principles behind #NeverTrump. Today I’m going to make them explicit.
Let me start by saying there is more at stake in this election than a question of who will be president for four years. Sure, it may be worse or better if the next president were Trump or Clinton… But right now I’m not talking about that question—because there are some other questions that come first.
Something deeper merits our attention. I’m going to talk about the conditions required for any political ideology to win out in the long term. There are some approaches to ideology and cultural leadership that (though they may seem in the short run to be the better) will in the long run end up short-circuiting an entire process and an entire movement.
As we choose how to vote this election (and the next, and so on) we who value individual rights, liberty, and the Constitution should keep in mind several strategic points, without which our efforts would be wasted. These are points any ideological movement needs in order to be victorious.
I have three strategic points in mind.* We ignore these points only at our own peril.
1. “In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.”
The Republican Party is a mix of conservatives and faux-conservatives.
(When I speak of conservatism, I mean a set of principles including limited government, free markets, individual freedom, rule of law, and strong national defense. For an authoritative source on defining conservatism and understanding how politicians line up with it, see the Conservative Review.)
Remember that when someone such as Senator Ted Cruz broke form and publicly (and quite correctly) called his fellow Senator, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar, this single action had an effect on the direction of the party for a time. It is one of the strongest factors in why Ted Cruz was able to get as far as he did in a primary election with the odds so stacked against him.
Ted Cruz refused to compromise with irrationality. In the face of a big lie, Cruz called foul. While the conservative voters and lovers of liberty saw Cruz’s action as heroic, a majority of commentators and officials said Cruz had shot himself in the foot. The commonly accepted story was that, by being so strident, Cruz had made too many enemies. Thus he would never be able to unite the party.
Ed Stetzer even wrote an article on what he named as Ted Cruz’s “Interpersonal Failures.” The impression I get from most commentators, ranging from Ed Stetzer to Chris Matthews is that a man like Ted Cruz, unwilling to surrender to those holding different principles, would have been a failure or a disaster for American politics. The view seems to be that party unity and camaraderie should not be sacrificed, least of all for the purpose of making a point or of crystalizing public opinion against certain members of one’s own party.
What alternative might they suggest? Be silent in the face of deception and betrayal? Apparently. Those who mock the naiveté of such principled men do likely believe that collaboration and “teamwork” between the rational and the irrational is possible. They may even believe it to be the only way forward in desperate times. But likely they have not considered the effect such a policy must have over the long term. Eventually the policy of unlimited compromise (moral compromise) must breed conditions in which the only remaining options are surrender, or still more compromise.
Naturally, Mitch McConnell hates Cruz. Naturally, John Boehner called Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh.” That was to be expected. But such men cannot stop a man like Ted Cruz. What stopped Cruz was the overarching idea, accepted by nearly all conservative intellectuals, that compromise with men of different (and questionable) principles is a necessary thing, and thus that the greatest threat to conservatism is a man like Cruz. Truly.
If that is the dominant way of thinking within a movement, then that movement is on its deathbed. That is a mindset committed to the compromise between good and evil. In such conditions, the more evil or irrational must win. Such were the conditions, and such was the outcome.
If those in the conservative movement had but understood the first principle, the McConnells and Boehners would not have lasted. To understand what the “GOP Establishment” is and why it is hated but not expelled, we need only note that the first principle is true, and that people have ignored it.
What should we expect will happen to a Republican party led by a Mitch McConnell? That brings us to a second principle:
2. “In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.”
This principle plays out in the battle between the Republican party and the Democratic Party. Over and over we have seen the Republicans lose to the Democrats in presidential elections and in battles within Congress. Why is this so?
Look to the principle for an explanation: There are two parties in conflict, and one of them is more consistent than the other. Here consistency means not the “logical consistency” of the principles of each of the parties, but rather the degree of consistency with which members of each party adhere to their own stated standards. The Democratic Party is wrong, yet it is relatively more unified than the Republican Party in its ideological commitments.
Generally, Democrats believe in entitlements, redistributions, regulations, and a paternalistic government. They advocate a welfare state (a mixed-economy of freedom and control). Though there are always exceptions, most of the Democrats in Congress actually line up with their party’s platform.
The Republican Party claims to oppose the ideas of the Democrats and to favor freedom. But look at the Liberty Scorecards of Republican Congressmen. By their voting record, half of them would be better described as Democrats, not Republicans.
The first principle explained this phenomenon. Conservatives in the Republican party consigned themselves to vote for and cooperate with those who did not share their values, thinking such a move would be practical. It was not practical. Democrats rarely make such mistakes; but conservative Republicans do.
Together, the first and second principles played out when, in late 2015, the Republican Congress passed a budget written by Democrats. How could the party of inconsistency do otherwise? In a battle between two parties of similar views, it is a matter of mathematics that the more consistent side wins.
As discouraging as our recent history may be, there is good news. Men of virtue may still act. If we have lost heart and begun to think we wasted our time in fighting this battle, that is not the case. It turns out, only, that we were fighting the battle in a way that could never lead to victory. Does that mean we should give up the battle? Not at all. We should learn from our mistakes.
It is good news to learn that one’s failures have been due to one’s own mistakes, for in that realization lies a path forward. We are not losing this battle because the Leftist Progressive Liberals are too powerful. We have been losing this battle because we have not yet learned how it can be won. And, yes, it can be won.
The way forward is found in a third principle:
3. “When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.”
I do not want to write much about Donald Trump or the travesty of how the mainstream news sources and commentators made his rise possible. But I will say that in this ugly picture we find an elegant example of the third principle.
When illiterate men and women (the minds of whom are equal parts confusion and dishonesty) dominate the national conversation in the way that we see today, it is no wonder that irrationalism takes over in politics.
As the late Andrew Breitbart wrote, “Politics is downstream from culture.” Today’s politicians were put into power by today’s Americans. Those Americans were informed by yesterday’s favorite communicators, journalists, and teachers.
Were those communicators honest? Did they clearly and openly define their basic principles, or did they hide, evade, and deceive? If anything good has come from this election and the enthronement of Donald Trump, it has been this: Conservatives have been able to watch and to take note of who is doing the enthroning.
— Cody Libolt (@CodyLibolt) June 2, 2016
We who are still conservative should not go on making any of the above mistakes.
- We should not collaborate with those of different basic principles.
- We should not think we can defeat consistent evil with inconsistent good.
- We should immediately expel from our trust and respect those communicators who pretend to speak for conservatism, yet fail to vocally name our basic principles.
If the above principles sound right, yet if they seem somewhat detached from everyday life, let’s look at one way they definitely effect the regular conservative, the one who does not write political commentary or run for office:
First, in the above principles you may know how political battles work. You may know why some battles are won and some are lost. Second, you may know that when virtue binds its strength to vice, vice wins. Third, you may know that when virtue and vice join together to take on a greater vice, the greater vice wins. Finally, you may know that you should not vote for Donald Trump.
Do not vote for what you think is the lesser of two evils. That is an invalid policy for creating political change in the long term.
If we are willing to think of the long term and to think about liberty not as a choice one makes for four years, but as an idea that is true and timeless to be upheld for all generations, then we will realize that a political movement means more than an election, and an ideology means more than a candidate.
Then we realize that the world gets worse, not better, largely because we conservatives have given away what belonged to us. We have given away our consent. The problem is with us. But that is good news; because it means that in the long term (and God willing) we have in our hands the key to victory.
Conservative voter, friend, if you believe hope is lost and the good can never win, then vote for Donald Trump. But if you believe that ideas matter, that the good is never fully defeated, and that the evil can only win if the good reduces itself to moral compromise, then vote otherwise.
Vote for a third party or a write-in. Vote for any morally decent person. That is a vote for principle. It is an investment not in this election, but in all future ones.
A vote for Trump is a break from the principles of conservatism, but it is also a break from the principles of sound political strategy. Over the long term it weakens our hand. It places virtue in the service of vice and shows that conservatives are a group willing to compromise despite almost any moral outrage. It shows that we will take whatever scrap we can from the second most evil party, because we believe it is our best option.
*The above three principles were outlined by the Russian-American author Ayn Rand. The points (and their violation) help explain much in recent American politics.
Quotes from Ayn Rand
“The Anatomy of Compromise,”
Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 145
For additional explanation of Rand’s views on the types of compromise read this.