Donald Trump’s astonishing march to the Republican presidential nomination has left many conservatives who still value political candidates of strong character with an impossible choice: Support the GOP’s candidate for president, something many of them have done in every election, even though it would severely compromise their principles; or vote for Secretary Hillary Clinton, a concept many consider anathema.
But there is a third option, the inspiration for which is closer than conservative voters may realize.
Donald Trump. (Photo: Michael Vadon, MGNOnline)
Donald Trump’s faults are so obvious at this point that the case against him hardly needs repeating. His public comments are filled with racism and misogyny. He belittles war heroes and the disabled. He proudly states he will commit war crimes like torture and the killing of innocents. He boasts about his serial philandering. He encourages violence against those who disagree with him and has emboldened a wave of white nationalism.
He spins unhinged conspiracy theories about Ted Cruz’s father and President Barack Obama. He grows increasingly cozy with Vladimir Putin and has expressed admiration for Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and North Korea, while at the same time suggesting he won’t honor our commitments to NATO.
Meanwhile, many conservative political leaders have deserted their principles to support a man cartoonishly unfit for office.
What are principled conservative voters to do?
Birth of a party
In 1854, a small group of people met in a schoolhouse in Wisconsin. They gathered to form a new political party, a party based on respect for human dignity and unabashed support for the abolition of slavery.
They were primarily disaffected Whigs, but also northern Democrats and others who had grown disillusioned. Convinced that their previous parties no longer represented their ideals, they formed a new one-the Republican Party.
In 1856, with the country on the brink of civil war, the Republican nominee for president was John C. Fremont. As a new party, the Republicans asked like-minded citizens to vote for Fremont, even though their candidate and traditional candidate Millard Fillmore would split the anti-slavery opposition and almost certainly lose, granting the presidency to pro-slavery James Buchanan.
Certainly many felt the same pangs of doubt as today’s conservatives, wondering if their support for Fremont would lead to a Buchanan victory. And it did. But four years later, many of those same voters cast some of the most consequential votes in the history of the United States.
In 1860, they elected Abraham Lincoln and ultimately recognized the great truth of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal.
Conservative opposition to Trump is rising
A small group of committed conservatives opposed to a Trump presidency is already building. But don’t take my word for it; take theirs.
They are Christian intellectuals like Matthew Lee Anderson, founder of Mere Orthodoxy and contributor to Christianity Today. He wrote, “I have supported every Republican presidential candidate in my lifetime. And never before have I been more ready to dissolve that union.”
They are authors like Max Lucado, who stated that Trump’s “insensitivities wouldn’t even be acceptable … for a middle school student body election.”
They are writers like conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, who said, “There are certain codes that if you betray them, you suffer something much worse than a political defeat.”
They are even lonely members of the Republican Party like Sen. Mark Kirk, who said, “Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world.”
They are Ben Sasse, Lindsey Graham, Alan Noble, Thomas McKenzie, John Kasich, Mitt Romney, Bill Kristol, Erick Erickson and others. They are conservative leaders and ordinary citizens who reject Trump because of his disrespect for human dignity, his lack of humility and his disdain for knowledge.
They are in stark contrast to party leadership desperate for power at all costs, media personalities who foment the hate and fear that contributed to Trump’s rise, and old-line religious leaders who have bent the knee to an earthly savior in the hopes of grasping the last fraying threads of their dwindling political power.
What options do conservative voters have?
Does a vote for a third party or a write-in candidate mean a Clinton presidency? Most likely yes.
But Alan Noble, editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture, wrote:
“Conservative evangelicals must not concede to Trump simply to stop Clinton from being elected. In fact, the best way forward for conservative evangelicals is to refuse to submit to a Trump nomination and to focus on down ticket elections, local government and community flourishing.”
He described Trump as a “deceptive, infantile, racist demagogue with no political principles” and declared that if we “excuse those flaws in Trump, we have no right to criticize other politicians for the same ones,” concluding that “to vote for Trump is to betray the values of both conservatism and Christianity.”
Sometimes, the preservation of dignity, liberty and respect for humanity requires an irrevocable break with institutions that have been calcified by an addiction to power.
Anderson describes himself as a Republican “inducted into the party of Reagan on the eighth day.” Writing during the primary season, he encouraged readers to “vote for Bernie Sanders: You’ll have as much chance of . having your interests represented . as you will with Donald Trump. And he at least has the advantage of being a decent human being.”
The courage of a small group of people in a Wisconsin schoolhouse created the party of Lincoln. If today’s conservatives have the same courage as their political ancestors, they too have the opportunity to make a better future for the United States-and in four years gain a presidential candidate worthy of the office.
John Graeber is a writer in Chattanooga who has also contributed to Glide magazine. Follow him on Twitter @jbgraeber. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.