For Republicans, the 2016 election is an acid test that burns like acid. Donald Trump is so wrong for America that months ago I decided to squelch my ideological instincts and vote for Hillary Clinton. But as Trump further deteriorates and his prospects grow, members of our party must take extraordinary, even painful measures to avert national catastrophe.
I won’t vote for any Republican who won’t criticize Trump.
Let’s take one example: earlier this month Eric Greitens, the talented conservative running for governor of my home state of Missouri, delivered a passionate speech standing behind a “Trump Pence” podium and in front of a large red “Make America Great” sign at a Republican rally. Sorry, but at that moment Greitens lost my vote. I’m not supporting his Democrat opponent, but until Greitens articulates serious and specific concerns about Trump, he is demonstrating a lack of three essential qualities to public leadership:
Judgment. By supporting a Trump presidency, a candidate like Greitens shows he’s a terrible judge of character. A state’s governor must discern proper temperament and character in choosing judges and administrative officials. A man who looks at Trump and sees a potential president should not be trusted with a stack of resumes.
Independence. The best elected officials consider their constituents first; loyalty to party and ideology comes second. Republican candidates need to withstand potential political repercussions and criticize our party’s nominee, lest he become the nation’s president. Could Republicans who campaign for our defective nominee stand up to interest groups, party bosses, and media scolds once in office, if the needs of the people demand it? I wonder.
Courage. Republican senators, for example, could more easily repudiate Trump if most of their colleagues did the same. Instead, at least 43 out of 54 Republican senators have endorsed him. That includes Sen. Roy Blunt, running for re-election in Missouri, who’s also not getting my vote. Public office requires fearless and bold action, perhaps especially when it’s not popular.
I believe – at least I want to believe – that most Republican candidates backing Trump really do see problems with his character and temperament. Many will be relieved if he loses. But that’s not good enough. To earn my vote, I need to know now that candidates “get it” regarding Trump.
The problems with this nominee are not restricted to platform planks and campaign gambits. Donald Trump’s vision for America threatens our constitutional democracy. Last week, he suggested we might arresting journalists who “incite violence,” a dangerous expansion of the exceptions to free speech for immediate dangers to the peace.
Worse, he twice joked with his supporters about assassinating his opponent, all but daring them to.
The peaceful transfer of power is at the center of our country’s stability and therefore prosperity. For thousands of years, the rule in history was that tomorrow’s ruler comes to power by killing today’s ruler. America changed that by instituting and stabilizing the idea that to change leaders, we vote – and the losers signal the legitimacy of the winners. You don’t joke about that.
There’s only one presidential nominee in history who might actually call Kim Jong Un a “loser,” refuse to apologize, and spark a war. And it’s not Hillary Clinton.
Look, the price of earning my vote is not endorsing Hillary. I’d be perfectly happy backing a candidate who says any of the following:
- We have two terrible candidates this year. Donald Trump does not have the temperament or values to be president, but he’ll pick better judges, so I’ll reluctantly vote for him.
- I’m keeping my vote a secret, because whatever I do I won’t be proud. What a sad, sad choice Americans are forced to make this year.
- I’m leaving it blank. I don’t think either candidate has demonstrated a sense of respect for American values, and I refuse to vote for a president I expect to fail.
But they have to signal they understand how deeply flawed Trump is.
Every four years, friends tell me “This is the most important election of our lifetimes,” and every four years I tell them “You say that every four years.” Well, this time it’s true. Certain definitional stances – voting for 1964 Civil Rights Act, denouncing McCarthy, authorizing the war in Iraq – never go away. In 30 years, people will ask Republicans, “Where were you when Donald Trump ran for president? What did you do?”
Well, the election is more than a month away. That’s time enough for our party’s leaders to find answers their descendants can be proud of.
David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst at The Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.