I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was, after all, a Republican Party event I was speaking at…
I recently had the privilege to be the keynote speaker at the Douglas County (Colorado) Republican Party’s Lincoln Day dinner. “DougCo,” a large suburban and rural county south of Denver, is, in percentage terms, even more Republican than the famously conservative El Paso County which contains Colorado Springs, Focus on the Family, the Air Force Academy, and the enormous Fort Carson U.S. Army base.
As someone who values fundamental principles highly (and not because marijuana is legal here), I’m reasonably well known — at least to those who listen to my radio program — for my opposition to the candidacy of Donald Trump. And so I was pleasantly surprised when my request for a show of hands caused but one single arm to go up in support of Mr. Trump. (Perhaps 60 percent of the room supported Ted Cruz and almost all of the rest were for Marco Rubio.)
I continued my remarks, focusing on the tremendous anti-liberty direction our nation has taken in recent years and on the phenomenon that is the rise of Bernie Sanders. I explained that wealth redistribution is theft even if a majority of people vote on it. I pointed out that so many politicians campaign on outcomes rather than principles, and discussed the end-justifies-the-means approach that has long characterized Progressivism and which explains their explicit disdain for the Constitution.
I explained that support of exceptionally harmful economic policy cannot be forgiven simply because so many of its supporters are young; if anything the situation is a tremendous indictment of our educational systems and parenting although there are also plenty of not-so-young Americans “feeling the Bern.”
While I did not go into it in any depth during this particular talk, Spectator readers know that I believe almost all of these rational objections to a potential Sanders presidency apply equally to Donald Trump. They are two sides of an ignorant and dangerous populist coin.
And so, thinking of the one lonely Trump supporter in the room, I offered this: “While I have in the past frequently put principle over electability and voted Libertarian, this year because it’s so important to make sure Hillary Clinton does not become president and because there are several acceptable (even if imperfect) Republican candidates, I will follow William F. Buckley’s rule and vote for the most conservative electable candidate. This means I’ll vote for the Republican nominee… unless the nominee is Donald Trump.”
And around the room, angry eyes threw daggers at me.
When we got to the Q&A, the first question to me was why I would refuse to vote for Trump if that might mean ceding the presidency to Hillary. My answer was, roughly, “He will do more harm to the nation and to the GOP in the long run than Clinton will do. He will destroy what’s left of the Republican brand and he will ensure Democratic control of Congress… which will then destroy the country when Trump loses his re-election bid to a Democrat. Beyond that, he’s not a conservative, he has no principles, and, sticking with the Buckley rule, he’s the Republican least likely to beat Hillary Clinton anyway” — although I realize that last point is more of an argument for the primaries than for the general election.
The second question to me was the same as the first, and I replied, “I think I just answered that but I’ll be happy to talk to any of you about this later on in the evening.” While a few hands went down, clearly I had ruffled some party-faithful feathers despite their lack of support for Trump. The third question to me was whether knowing that the next president would likely appoint multiple Supreme Court justices would change my view. I quickly said “No, it wouldn’t” and moved along.
Later in the evening, several people approached me on the topic. One, the head of the local young Republicans — and understandably a cheerleader for the party — gently chastised me for not simply going with whomever the GOP nominates, especially given the stakes. I told him that his argument was not ridiculous and not invalid, but also not convincing.
I explained, to his obvious but unstated dismay, that that sort of thinking is the reason that I gave up my Republican Party registration nearly eight years ago. I noted that people often use the term “lesser of two evils” as a comparison between one truly awful, unacceptable choice and a mediocre but palatable-if-you-hold-your-nose choice. And I’m willing to play that game — as I did in 2012, voting for Mitt Romney.
But when the lesser of two evils really is evil, so much so that you’re not sure which one is the lesser, I simply won’t go along. That’s the situation I would find myself in if the general election ended up being a contest between Hillary Clinton (whom I expect to be the nominee, even if she is indicted) versus Trump (whom I still think will not be, though I’m far less sanguine than I used to be).
On the bright side, a majority of the people who approached me after the dinner had ended looked around carefully, checked over their shoulders, and then whispered to me some variant of “I agree with you.”
On Saturday, at the always fabulous Leadership Program of the Rockies Annual Retreat* — my 11th consecutive since I went through the Program myself — a speaker asked the assembled, perhaps 400 people whom I assume are almost all Republican but are more focused on freedom and conservatism than on the GOP itself, who in the room would not vote for Donald Trump under any circumstances. More than a third of the hands in the room (or, more precisely, one hand from at least a third of the people) went up, including mine. This matches polling data and did not surprise me.
Later that morning, when another speaker asked, “How many of you rank immigration as the most important issue in this election,” only a single-digit number of hands went up — again, in a room of a few hundred active and passionate conservatives and libertarians. The speaker, conservative 23-year-old Tomi Lahren, expressed surprise, a perfect representation of why Trump supporters (of whom Ms. Lahren is not one despite her question) don’t recognize Trump’s electoral ceiling just as others, including me, have underestimated his floor.
In short, more people than I would have predicted buy Trump’s ludicrous economic populism and blatant Know-Nothing-ness and xenophobia. More people than I would have predicted are willing to support a man who campaigns by insult because they think he seems “strong” while ignoring the fact that his website addresses only a small fraction of the major issues facing this country — notably leaving out entitlement reform, likely the single biggest economic challenge of the next conservative president, as well as any aspect of terrorism and national security.
More people than I would have predicted are swayed by Mr. Trump’s deliberate appeal to ignorance (“I will know far more than you know within 24 hours after I get the job,” said The Donald to Hugh Hewitt, perhaps the single-best-informed talk show host in radio, after being unable to answer several questions about Islamic terrorism) while neglecting Trump’s disqualifying support for the use of eminent domain to redistribute private property to other private property owners.
How can any conservative in good conscience support a man who said with remarkable haughtiness that if a person’s home is where a company wants to build a factory, you can take it or “you can say, ‘Well, no, let the man have his house,’” the latter option clearly not being an option for the sneering Trump?
If you support Donald Trump, you cannot honestly ever call yourself a conservative again even if you can point to one or two conservative talking points that Trump parrots without conviction. A true conservative cannot and must not support an obvious statist and the worst sort of cronyist rent-seeker.
All the more surprising is that Republican loyalists so easily give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt regarding actually being a Republican when he has not been so for much, perhaps most, of his adult life, including as recently as 2012.
If party affiliation is more important than the most important characteristics we normally look for in a president, shouldn’t that “willful suspension of disbelief” be reserved for people who have demonstrated a long allegiance to the party? I get it when Republicans decided they could support John McCain or Mitt Romney even though neither is my idea of a principled conservative. But Donald J. Trump? Give me a break.
I’m not a “party trumps person” voter, but even if I were under “normal” circumstances, the maxim could never apply to a fake-conservative fake-Republican crony-statist whose entire pitch is “If you hate economic freedom and think immigration is a more important issue than terrorism or the collapse of our federal budget under the weight of entitlement spending, vote for me.” For those Republicans and so-called conservatives who do support him, are you sure you’ll want to explain your vote for Donald Trump to your children?
I want to vote for a Republican in 2016 despite that each of the candidates has substantial flaws. But when it comes to Donald Trump, party simply cannot trump person.
* A quick LPR Retreat note: The Friday night keynote speaker, radio talk show host Mark Levin, was better and less angry than I expected him to be, though he’s becoming something of a one-note tune lately as he pushes a “convention of the states” to amend the Constitution. He all but endorsed Ted Cruz, continuing a welcome change to what I had perceived as early support of Donald Trump. Kennedy, currently host of an eponymous Fox Business Channel show and long ago of MTV “VJ” fame, was fabulous, funny, and unapologetically libertarian during her Saturday lunch talk; she was one of the best speakers I’ve heard at this or any other conference and I wish I were half as witty as she is. The audience, including me, greatly appreciated how happy she seemed to be there, including her using her iPhone to video the audience from the podium as she concluded her remarks. I impudently asked when I might appear on her show; she politely answered “I don’t know.” I probably won’t give up. I must also mention the incredible and inspirational story about and remarks by SSGT Sal Giunta, the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. I encourage you to buy his book…