What Now

After Trump clinched the nomination in Indiana, I see it as a foregone conclusion that we will have four years of Hillary Clinton and she will appoint replacements for Scalia and RBG, and very possibly a third or fourth justice, cementing a progressive majority for a generation. I also prefer this to a Trump administration. So the question is what is best for 2020. Obviously this involves a rethinking of the platform, and this time being sure that the base will agree to the new platform, but in the meantime there is an election and what should us Never Trump types do. I see two options:

A. Unite behind a write-in candidate or third party candidate
B. Quietly stay home or leave ballots empty
(We will not be discussing C, make a Faustian bargain that will be so terrific you’re not gonna believe it, you’ll get tired of how much Mephistopheles will corrupt you)

“A” has the appeal of increasing turnout for down ballot races and maintaining some salvage value for the conservative brand. It also gives us something to do other than make SMOD jokes until November.

“B” has the appeal of denying the Trumpkins a credible “stabbed in the back” narrative. Suppose for the sake of argument that there are 50 million solid Hillary voters, 30 million solid Trump voters, 10 million voters who would go for Trump in a binary race but would defect to an alternative, and 10 million #NeverTrumps. In the two-person race, there is low turnout on the right and Trump gets beat 40 to 60 — a decisive thumping that would do a lot to kill his influence in 2020. In the three-person race, Trump gets 30%, generic conservative gets 20%, and Hillary gets 50%. That is the kind of outcome that invites a stabbed in the back narrative since, as we all remember from 2000, partisans assume third parties are poaching voters, not increasing turnout (and in 2000 they were right). This kind of stabbed in the back narrative would make it much harder to reconcile and rebuild the party around a modified platform (no more pushes for comprehensive immigration reform, a more Jacksonian foreign policy, and more comfort with tax and transfer).

The other appeal of “B” is it avoids the problem that there is no “generic conservative” around whom to rally. Last night Ben Sasse had a thoughtful post declaring his insistence on voting for an independent candidate who is not named Ben Sasse (and I don’t blame him). Our founder and proprietor wants Romney to run again and I would gladly vote for him, but there is a real risk of it seeming like learning nothing, forgetting nothing.

And third parties have their own problems. For instance, the Libertarian Party front runner is putting a substantive preference for social liberalism over thin liberalism. This is simply not a position that can get votes from the kind of principled social conservatives who are the core of the Never Trump movement. Moreover (unlike Johnson’s other positions conservatives dislike, like drug legalization) “bake the cake” is not even a libertarian position. RFRA is exactly the kind of compromise that fusionism is meant to encompass in providing potential common ground which allows people with socially liberal substantive preferences and socially conservative substantive preferences to coexist in the same polity and which moreover is based on the essentially libertarian ideological principle and freedom of association, freedom of contract, and voluntary exchange. But LOLjk, it’s really about telling “u mad bro” to the prudes and bigots. I find it very telling that libertarian intellectuals at places like Cato or Reason with strongly held substantive preferences for social liberalism support RFRA out of principle, but the Libertarian Party’s front runner Gary Johnson does not. Perhaps just as 2016 has taught us that Republicans (as compared to conservatives) are much less ideological and much more tribal or moral intuitionist than we thought, it may also in a much smaller way be telling us something similar about Libertarians (as compared to libertarians).