As the presidential campaign of Donald Trump continues to take on water, recriminations have begun in earnest. Sean Hannity recently threw down a gauntlet, declaring that he would blame Republicans who do not support Trump for the candidate’s imminent loss. His was a moral claim. He was placing responsibility for Trump’s electoral success, not upon the candidate or his supporters, but upon those unconvinced that he deserves support. It was audacious and morally backwards. Voters don’t owe a candidate anything. When that’s your argument, when you lay blame on the voters for the state of your campaign, you deserve to lose.
That argument was furthered Wednesday by our own Michael Walsh. He called the “never Trump” conviction “moral cowardice.”
Michael starts by supposing that all the criticisms of Trump are true:
For the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that Donald Trump is what the small but obsessive, increasingly deracinated, band of “never Trumpers” says he is. He’s not a “movement conservative” – true. He’s often crass and vulgar – true. His quasi-grammatical flights of oratorical fancy often get him into trouble –also true…
Okay. Therefore… what?
Therefore everything. Therefore many will not support him. That’s what.
We don’t get to dismiss conscience as if it doesn’t matter. Conscience is the only thing that applies to political support. We don’t get to sweep it aside as if there’s some superior consideration. There isn’t, and there never will be.
But Michael goes on to pretend that there is. The superior consideration he offers is the imminent election of Hillary Clinton. Michael presents a compelling case that Hillary is a horrible human being who will be a terrible president. Okay, I’m convinced. She’s horrible. I won’t vote for her. Now what? You’ve done nothing to sell me on Trump.
Michael presents the presumptuous claim that those who will not vote for Trump “would rather see… the country consigned to at least four more destructive years of Democrat rule than vote for the brash New Yorker.” That is factually incorrect. At issue is not what I or any other “never Trumper” would rather see. At issue is what we do see.
I would rather see a viable candidate who I could conscientiously support against Hillary. That candidate does not exist. I therefore have no option which I can support. That circumstance was presented to me by the party, and places no obligation upon me to violate my conscience in support a man who fails to meet my minimal standards for public service. It would be immoral for me to set those standards aside. You can make the lesser evil argument all you want, but the ultimate arbitrator of that distinction is the individual voter. You don’t get to make that choice for me. If, in my mind, Donald Trump is too evil to be considered a palatable alternative to Hillary, there exists no moral case for supporting him.
Yet Michael tries. He builds his case on a contrived sense of duty, as if your vote should be determined by someone other than you.
The time for opposition was during the primaries. But now, for better or worse, the issue is settled. Increasingly sounding like leftists, the “never Trumpers” appeal to a higher morality to justify their electoral sabotage, but the fact is their stance is profoundly immoral; sore losers, they demand a rules change after the game is over, and refuse to accept the results.
Clearly the issue hasn’t been settled. If it had, we wouldn’t be engaged in this debate. These posts wouldn’t be written. The issue has not been settled, because the issue is not who won the primaries. The issue is whether the candidate who won then deserves my support now. That has not been settled, and no one other than me will settle it. So please dispense with these impotent appeals to authority.
It is not “electoral sabotage” for me to vote as I choose. It’s my vote. It doesn’t belong to you. It doesn’t belong to the Republican Party. And it sure as hell doesn’t belong to Donald Trump. There is nothing to “sabotage.” There is something for Trump and his team to build. It’s called support. The burden of that construction falls upon Trump. He is owed precisely nothing.
In his final point, Michael compares abstaining from a vote in the presidential race to sitting on the sidelines. To this I offer two points. First, not voting is a form of political expression. It is a statement. Not voting is an action in abstinencia. By not voting, you express that no one earned your support. That’s honest and wholly legitimate. Second, by Michael’s own admission, much of the “never Trump” contingent consists of people who have been fighting in the arena for years and continue to do so. Refusal to betray that work in support of a charlatan hardly constitutes sitting on the sidelines. A builder cannot be accurately thought of as lazy for refusing to engage in arson.
This tactic of berating people into dutiful support of the lesser evil will not work. Indeed, it encapsulates everything wrong with party politics. It doesn’t matter who the candidate is, whether it’s Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, or Donald Trump. Whoever wins the primaries can take nothing further for granted. You cannot command others to vote for you. It’s wholly illegitimate and immoral to try. Yet that’s what it has come down to in defense of Trump, because there is no other argument. You can’t sell people on his value, so you have to appeal to a false sense of duty. There is no duty here. My vote will not be commandeered. Earn it, or don’t, and own the result.