Monday, May 9, 2016

A Different Question, A Different Answer, A Different Vote

People come to the #NeverTrump movement for a lot of different reasons. From what I can tell, it is not a monolithic group. Once anyone who has trended Republican declares that he or she will not be voting for the Donald, that person is going to face a lot of questions, some of which reveal the agonizing choice that #NeverTrump represents.

  1. What's going to happen to the country if I vote against Donald Trump? Nobody knows where the polling will stand as we approach November. I think Donald Trump will by then be so far behind Hillary Clinton that it will not much matter how I vote, but I'm prepared to stick by my determination not to vote for Donald Trump even if my one vote were to decide the presidency.

    And yet, I realize that a Clinton presidency would be an unmitigated disaster for the nation. Clinton would immediately appoint an Associate Justice to the Supreme Court, and make no mistake, when we see whom she nominates, we'll then long for the opportunity to confirm Merrick Garland. With her nominee, the Court will trample on religious liberty, will let everything into your daughter's bathroom, will nullify the Second Amendment, will use cases like some Citizens-United-redux to tip the playing field of elections toward Democrats, and will shoot down any restrictions whatsoever against abortion-on-demand at any stage of development.

    Would a Clinton presidency be good for America? No. A Clinton presidency would be bad for America. And if this is the most important question to you, you'll probably wind up voting for Donald Trump.

    I say this in spite of the fact that all of the available evidence strongly indicates that Trump is not pro-life, is not pro-family, is not pro-real-marriage, is not pro-common-sense-bathrooms, not-pro-religious-liberty, not-pro-Israel. Donald Trump has given no reason to anyone for confidence that his government would be better for America than Clinton's would be, but he contradicts himself frequently enough to leave some hope that he might accidentally land on a good policy or two, whereas Hillary Clinton would be consistently bad.

    I'll admit it: There is a chance that my refusal to vote for Trump might make the difference between President Trump and President Hillary, and there's a chance that the nation could turn out for the worse because of that. If I were asking that question first and foremost (as folks like Mike Huckabee seem to be doing), perhaps I could wind up voting for Trump. And on Facebook, in blog posts, in personal conversations, on the phone, and even standing in line at Wal-Mart, people are asking this question, and pressing it hard.

    But that's not the question I'm asking.

  2. What's going to happen to the Republican Party if I vote against Donald Trump? I don't have to go into lengthy detail here, because I've just written a blog post speculating about the aftermath of a supposed implosion of the GOP. The Republican Party is under strains that it has never seen in my lifetime. People like me who refuse to fall in line behind Donald Trump are the proximate cause of those strains. This situation could lead to the removal of the Convention Chairman. It could lead to an open and ugly break between every living GOP former-President and the new GOP under Donald Trump.

    I think it is far from a foregone conclusion that the GOP is in mortal danger from the conflict of Trump-vs-NeverTrump, but I'm willing to concede that my kind of hardline stand could, if shared by a lot of people, spell the end of the Party of Lincoln. If I were asking that question (as people like Reince Priebus seem to be doing), perhaps I could wind up voting for Trump. And I hear a lot of people asking this question, wondering what will become of the GOP after this year.

    But that's not the question I'm asking.

  3. What's going to happen to my testimony for Christ if I vote FOR Donald Trump?

    That's the question I'm asking. How does it affect the church? How does it affect my testimony? How does it make what I preach more or less credible to a listening world?

    I think that we face precisely the same sort of moment that Billy Graham faced when he became publicly associated with Richard Nixon (here's how that turned out), that W. A. Criswell faced when in 1956 he addressed the South Carolina legislature against racial integration (Criswell later regretted and turned from that mistake), that Richard Furman faced when he tried to justify racism-motivated slavery from the Bible. There are moments that offer us momentary adulation and support from the culture at the cost of our morality, but the other shoe always eventually drops, and then that hideous thing that you once-upon-a-time did becomes the reason why people don't listen to you.

    But it reaches beyond you. Billy Graham is still respected. W. A. Criswell died a hero of the church. But the very thing thrown up into the face of the church by antagonists every time we declare the gospel these days is the way that Christians compromised their consciences during the Civil Rights movement in order to go along with the culture. It somehow affected every other church and every other preacher as much or more than it affected them personally. Robert Jeffress's and Jerry Falwell Jr's careers will probably be fine after this all is over, but I fear that the impression that Evangelicals lined up behind such a hateful thing as the Trump campaign will inflict lingering damage upon all of our efforts.

    So, this is the entire rationale behind my decision not to vote for Trump. I think it hurts the credibility of my testimony for me to be a vocal supporter of a demonstrably evil man whose campaign platform consists mainly of his evilness. It's just really hard for me to see any possible way that supporting Donald Trump furthers the cause of the gospel.

    And because Southern Baptists have generally voted Republican since the days of Ronald Reagan, if we're not vocally opposed to Donald Trump, we'll be counted as Trump supporters by default. For evangelicals to make it unavoidably clear that we are not supporting Donald Trump is something that, in my estimation, will make us more credible henceforth as we tell people about Jesus.

    I'm not saying that nobody else could add it all up differently and come to a different conclusion about the effect upon our testimonies. I'm trying to follow my conscience as best as I can. I guess I'm just trying to explain why appeals to the good of the nation or the good of the party do not persuade me.

I've been asked more times than I can count how #NeverTrump will affect the country. I've been asked more times than I can count how #NeverTrump will affect the GOP. I'm still waiting to be asked how it will affect the churches and my testimony. Apparently, that's not so much at the front of everyone's mind right now.

But shouldn't it be?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

If This Were the End of the Republican Party, Could That Be a Good Thing?

Is the Republican Party dead?

Those who say so are overreaching. The Republican Party still dominates the landscape at the level of the several states. Thirty-one governors are Republican, compared to eighteen Democrats and one Independent. A whopping sixty-eight out of ninety-eight partisan state legislative chambers (remember, most states have two, a senate and a house) are Republican, with Republicans controlling both the governor's mansion and the capitol in twenty-three states. In state government, Republicans have never been stronger.

So, of course, the GOP is not dead. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't call hospice.

Perhaps the worst thing that could happen to the Republican Party would be for Donald Trump actually to win election. As a hypothetical, Donald Trump is one thing. As President of the United States? The odds are significant that the President Trump experience turns out to be so bad that we raise a generation of former Republicans whose passions are as intense as the former Democrats whom Jimmy Carter handed over to the GOP in the late 1970s. We do not have to speculate whether a national politician can be bad enough to eviscerate a party at the state and local level; I've watched it happen in my own lifetime.

"How can you fail to vote for Donald Trump and hand the election to Hillary?" some ask. I retort, "How can you vote for Donald Trump and hand the next five elections to the Democrats."

But even if Trump should lose, there's a widespread sense that the GOP has crossed some sort of a continental divide. For my part, I can say that my relationship with the party has certainly changed in a number of ways.

  1. Who Are These People? For all of my lifetime I've listened to the shrill complaints of Democrats who have alleged time and again that the GOP is the party of various forms of hatred: misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, etc. To my horror and chagrin, I've learned that they weren't entirely wrong. With Donald Trump, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, and hatred aren't Democrat insults, they're planks in his platform. Yes, he'll moderate his tone in the general election to some degree, perhaps, but nothing Donald Trump can say or unsay in the next few months can ever change the fact that hordes of voters in Republican primaries across the country cast their ballots explicitly for and on the basis of every ugly insult that Democrats have ever made against the GOP.

    Emotions are high in this moment. Those emotions will fade over time, but even when the tide of electioneering emotion has ebbed, there will remain for me (and for a lot of other people, I think) the certain and dispassionate knowledge that most Republican primary voters in this nation are something that I am not. The occasional day arrives when I'm not angry at President Obama. The United States killed Osama bin Laden during his presidency. The United States secured the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini from an Iranian prison during his presidency. On rare occasions, I'm happy with something that President Obama has done. Nevertheless, even in those moments when I'm happy with President Obama rather than disappointed with him, I still always know regardless of my present emotional state that he and I are not the same thing politically. I now know precisely the same thing (and feel precisely the same way) about the Republican electorate.

    Henceforth, even when Republicans do something good, I'll respond by saying, "Isn't that nice what they did over there?" rather than "Isn't that nice what we did over here?"

  2. Thanks for the Memories…I think. In this, the most post-GOP moment I've ever known, I find myself looking around our dorm room to see what I can pack up in boxes to take with me from our sojourn as roommates. There's a thing or two. Ronald Reagan gave us the end of the Cold War. I'm just barely old enough to remember knowing that Russian nuclear ICBMs were aimed within thirty miles of my home. Yes, Vladimir Putin is still out there, but there is no equivalent to the Cold War in the world today. The GOP gave us that.


    Republicans in Georgia and Missouri just killed religious liberty bills authored to protect basic liberties that every American enjoyed for 240 years until just months ago. Republican SCOTUS appointees gave us the Smith decision (eviscerating religious liberty and setting up this mess), the Obamacare decision, the Obergefell decision, and every other act and scene in the cautionary tale that is the present state of American jurisprudence.

    If someone tells you that he is a Republican, what do you know about him? Do you know that he is pro-Life? You do not. Do you know that he is pro-Religious-Liberty? You do not. Do you know that he is pro-Natural-Marriage? You do not. Do you know his stance on immigration? No. The Flat Tax? No.

    Anything? No.

    The GOP comfortably contains Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump. Republican affiliation no longer means anything.

    The GOP just chose as its nominee a guy who stands for nothing more than his raw desire for power. The startling realization at this moment is how little contrast this action strikes when juxtaposed against the history and state of the national party.

  3. The ABCs of a Failing Party. This morning a significant number of Republican leaders and Christian leaders are already attempting to unify people behind presumptive nominee Donald Trump. The line of argumentation is simple and consistent: Donald Trump is not Hillary Clinton. The moment is frighteningly similar to the dying throes of the Whig Party in the 1850s. The very name of the Whig Party revealed the one thing that unified it: Opposition to "King" Andrew Jackson and the movement he represented.

    The question of slavery fractured the Whig Party because abolitionist Whigs discovered that although they still despised the Jacksonian Democrats, they despised slavery just as much. When that happened, the Whig Party died and the Republican Party was born out of its ashes, realigning voting patterns in ways that endured for more than a century. The Whig Party had nothing to offer other than "At least we're not Democrats," and therefore it died.

    Is ABC (Anyone But Clinton) any stronger of a platform for the Republican Party? Not in any way that I can see. I'm ready to vote FOR someone, not just AGAINST someone. The GOP has finally gone and done it. They've finally managed to fill in the A-blank with an "Anyone" who is utterly unacceptable to me.

    You see, in the past I've been willing to settle for candidates who were weak rather than vote for a Democrat. Now the GOP has advanced a candidate who is evil. Weak and evil are not the same thing. The ABC argument works well to convince me to vote for a weak candidate. It is utterly ineffective to convince me to vote for an evil candidate. Just as Whigs in the 1850s could not overcome their own consciences to vote pro-slavery just to oppose the Democrats, neither can I vote pro-Trumpism just to oppose the Democrats.

    I'm not alone. I cannot recall any time in my life when solidly conservative Republicans like Jason Villalba were writing things like this. The captain may not yet have called "Abandon ship!" but there sure does seem to be a crowd gathering in the vicinity of the lifeboats.

Whether the Republican Party is dead or not, I think that the time is ripe for a new coalition to emerge. I think that a sizable portion of the American populace can be found who want neither the politics of Donald Trump nor the politics of Hillary Clinton. I think it is time to ask whether the death of the Republican Party might offer more opportunities than losses. What are those opportunities?

There is an opportunity to attract to a new party people who will never vote for the Republican Party. Nominee Donald Trump makes it even less likely that Hispanics or Blacks vote for Republican candidates. Until this year this refusal of non-whites to vote for Republicans (even when those Republicans were not white!) has befuddled me. After all, the facts consistently show that Liberal policies are horrible for minorities and for everyone else. Why do people keep voting for the policies that are destroying their communities and subverting their values?

Well, mystery solved: They've apparently made the acquaintance of these people who have championed Donald Trump. They know better than to vote with them.

But what if there were a third party that championed American values? I'm talking about a pro-Constitution, pro-Bill-of-Rights, pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family, pro-immigration, pro-business, pro-law-and-order, pro-fair-taxation party. Are there Republicans who would change to support a party like that? I think so. Some would not, thankfully. I'd only be excited about such a party if it were utterly repugnant to Donald Trump and everyone who has excitedly promoted his campaign.

Are there Democrats who would change to support a party like that? I think so. And that's the key to any hope such a party would have for success. It would necessarily fracture the Republican Party and weaken its strength. To succeed, it would ALSO have to fracture the Democratic Party and weaken its strength.

The keys to success here lie in appealing to family values while highlighting liberal overreach (e.g., letting guys pee in the ladies' room), demonstrating that pro-economic-development and pro-law-and-order policies are better for minorities than are liberal giveaways (and "pro-law-and-order" must mean support for a justice system that treats people justly), and absolutely welcoming immigrant communities. By the way, if illegal immigrants posed a threat to American jobs and the American economy, we should expect to see that the worst economies in the country were in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas rather than the Midwestern Rust Belt. Instead, places like Texas are a bright spot on the American economic map.

Could that happen? Could a party like that emerge? I don't know.

But if it did, the demise of the Republican Party would be certain. And when visiting the grave, I wouldn't bring flowers; I'd bring dancing shoes.