Saturday, November 3, 2018

How Should Conservative Trump Critics Vote?

In a few days, it will all be over. This Tuesday is Election Day and Wednesday, unless you live where there is a runoff, there will be no more political ads on television and the only signs that you’ll see are those belonging to candidates that are either too irresponsible or lacking in enough support to clean up their mess. Before that, however, we have to get through Election Day.

If you’re like me, getting through Election Day is a problem because this election resembles 2016 in a lot of disappointing ways. Even though Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton aren’t on the ballot, his influence and the memory of her defeat loom large.

Over the past two years, the Republican Party that I used to consider my political home has changed, possibly irrevocably. This wasn’t as sudden a change as some claim it to be. The roots of the GOP’s transition from a conservative party to a populist party with big government solutions was already underway when Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015. It’s an open question whether the party was ever actually a small government, fiscally conservative party, but it definitely is not one today.

A local political commercial says the Democrats aren’t the same party they used to be. That’s true, neither are the Republicans.

What has changed is the acceptance of Trumpism. In 2016, most Republicans were willing to stand up to Donald Trump and criticize him when he was wrong. I see very little of that today. Speaker Paul Ryan was one of the few sitting Republicans to criticize Trump’s notion this week that he could unilaterally amend the 14th amendment and overturn birthright citizenship with an Executive Order, an announcement reminiscent of Obama’s “pen and phone” moment. I have to wonder if Ryan would have spoken out if he weren’t retiring.

The problem is that most Republican officials understand where loyalties of the base lie. Earlier this week, a Harris poll found that 46 percent of Republican voters associate with Donald Trump while only 25 percent associate with the GOP itself. For the time being at least, the Grand Old Party is the Trump Party and Republican candidates innately understand this fact. In most primaries, the question was not whether candidates loved Donald Trump, it was which candidate could show they loved him more. Republicanism is no longer based on objective principles. It is based on Donald Trump.

For a small government, Reagan conservative like me, that presents a problem. Unlike the current iteration of the GOP, I am a pro-immigration, pro-free trade, fiscal conservative who believes that character matters and words have meaning. I no longer fit into the Republican Party.

While I applaud some of Trump’s successes, the president’s victories seem greatly overstated by his supporters and have come at a tremendous cost in terms of Republican principles, national division, damage to the conservative and Republican brand, and basic self-respect. It’s also true that most of the victories came despite Trump, not because of him, through the hard work of Republican congressional leaders like Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

Like Obama, Trump‘s abrasive personality are “my way or the highway” attitude are ill-suited for lawmaking. His singular legislative accomplishment, tax reform, was passed with a bare majority of 51 Republican votes. His Executive Orders are unlikely to outlive his presidency. Obamacare stands unrepealed and unreformed.

What to do then?

Some conservatives who I like and respect (and some I don’t) advocate voting Democrat. I don’t see how any conservative can take a look at the modern Democratic Party and say, “Let’s put that in power.” All the Democrats had to do to ensure a blue tsunami was to act sane for six months prior to the election. They could not pull it off.

I vehemently opposed Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton so why would I throw my support behind candidates they endorse? I’m not a liberal and don’t support the platform of even most moderate Democrats. If I oppose Trump because of his bad policy and bad behavior, I cannot bring myself to support the worse policy and worse behavior of the national Democrats.

My personal decision was to become a true independent. I used to be a straight-ticket Republican voter, but when I voted early this year I looked beyond the “R” after the candidate’s name. I looked at their website, their records, debates, and interviews. I contacted candidates with questions and, in the case of my Republican congressman, I received a phone call from his office assuring me that he was a Reagan conservative who favored free trade, entitlement reform, and deficit reduction. Rather than voting Democrat, I chose to evaluate all the candidates, including third parties, and voted a mixed ballot.

I wouldn’t presume to tell people to vote Democrat or Libertarian or Green. Few would listen to me if I did. My best guess, however, is that a lot of people are making their own decision to send a message to Republicans and the Trump Administration. Pew reported today that, by a 14-point margin, more voters consider their vote to be against Trump than for him. Democrats lead Republicans in party preference by an average of eight points.

I’m not a Democrat. I’m not a liberal. I’m not even a Libertarian. I am a traditional conservative and voters of my ilk are bereft in the current political environment. I hope that I will one day be able to proudly call myself a Republican once again.

Originally published on The Resurgent

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