I’ve never felt prouder to be a Minnesotan than on March 1, 2016.
Minnesota conservatives rarely get the chance to vote and make a difference. Our politics range from blue to a deep, inky navy. It can start to feel oppressive. In 2012, our house was one of just three on the entire block that wasn’t sporting a garish orange sign ordering passers-by: “Don’t Limit the Freedom To Marry.” Walking to work past rows upon rows of these Orwellian propaganda-pieces, dark thoughts would flit through my mind. “When the revolution comes, we’re definitely behind enemy lines.”
It didn’t feel that way on Super Tuesday.
My Senate District is probably the most liberal in Minnesota, but on that night, we conservatives mobilized. At our caucus I heard a volunteer joke that black helicopters must be circling overhead. More than a thousand strong, we packed the high school gym, and it quickly became obvious why most of us were here. We knew it was imperative to stop Donald Trump.
The pro-Trump speaker was greeted with scattered boos and the deafening disapproval of perhaps a few dozen applauding. An angry audience member was so upset by this reception that she raced to the middle of the floor and began shouting angrily at us. Once calm was restored, my friend James Heaney gave his Stop Trump appeal, which brought the house down. In my congressional district, Marco Rubio won almost 5,000 votes, while Trump slid into a distant third with just over 1,500. After the Jesse Ventura fiasco, Minnesotans have no desire to see this movie again.
Did I say Minnesota was “enemy territory”? I’m over it. I may have Paul Bunyan tattooed onto my arm.
I thought about this as I was reading Peter Wolfgang’s Crisis Magazine article on why it’s foolish for Catholics to support the #NeverTrump campaign. I understand his argument that, by “showing our hand” this early in an electoral season, we risk losing any leverage or negotiating power. I have great respect for Wolfgang, who has been a stalwart soldier for life for many years. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but feel that this is the sort of “wisdom of the wise” that would be better to keep to oneself and near friends. I won’t try to shame anyone into supporting #NeverTrump. But I will never vote for Donald Trump, and I don’t think others should be discouraged from taking a similar stand.
Electing Trump should be unthinkable, but it’s now become horrifyingly thinkable, mainly for three reasons. First, many media figures want it. Some probably assumed initially that Trump was little more than a joke, and they were willing to play along for the sake of ratings. Others simply want Hillary Clinton to be president. Both have been enormously complicit in helping Trump portray himself as a kind of lovable rogue who can stick it to the prigs in Washington.
Second, he got a huge head start in the campaign simply because no one could quite believe what was happening. Could there really be tens of millions out there willing to vote for a man like Trump? In hindsight, there clearly are. But because there are about fifty solid reasons why Trump should be completely unelectable, it took the chilling reality to make many people believe it.
Finally, the incidentals are working in his favor. He really hasn’t won over the whole country, or even close. His support is remarkable (given his appalling character, insane statements, and total lack of political experience), but in a normal electoral year, his ceiling should still be too low to win. Most Republican voters don’t want Trump. Nevertheless, the cards keep falling in such a way as to make his shoot-the-moon effort legitimately possible. These freaky turns of events have certainly contributed to the general sense of apocalyptic doom this year.
What should Catholics do at such an unhappy juncture? Many conservative friends have suggested to me that, strong objections notwithstanding, I should still vote for Trump in a General Election. Think about the Supreme Court. Think about the progressive left’s assault on religious freedom.
It should be noted at this point that, excruciating as it may be, these causes are almost certainly lost if Trump wins the Republican nomination (and possibly even if he doesn’t). Trump is historically unpopular among the general public. It is clear already that much of the Republican base won’t support him. Ironically, Trumpism may well go down in history as the phenomenon that precipitated a new era of Democratic dominance, a liberal Supreme Court, and likely also a massive influx of immigrants. If Trump is the Republican nominee, I will still show up on election day to support a third-party candidate and to vote for down-ticket candidates in an effort to prevent the Democrats from gaining complete, unencumbered control of the nation. I certainly will not vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. But I can’t change the fact that, in voting for Trump, I would have voted for Donald Trump.
In light of that, I simply have to ask: what can be held sacred in a nation that names Trump a fitting leader? What can be conserved of a conservatism that willingly accepts that this is our man?
We have seen how he fosters bigotry, brags about sexual exploits and makes a mockery of marriage. He claims to be pro-life, but in the next breath celebrates torture and war crimes and talks about funding Planned Parenthood. His entire candidacy seems like an obvious continuation of a life spent exploiting the desperate for his personal convenience and amusement. He stands unparalleled as the most crude, boorish and base presidential candidate in American history. If we aren’t permitted to turn away in horror, what good thing can we really hope to protect?
#NeverTrump is important for two primary reasons. First, it enables us to preserve some measure of moral authority for the conservative movement even as many of our media colleagues go chasing after this golden calf. Clear, unequivocal rejection at least leaves us the dignity of being able to assert that our party was taken from us against our will. This might prove extremely important if we are to stop our nation descending into a vicious cycle of destructive populist movements, such as once destroyed the economy and civil society of Argentina.
Secondly, #NeverTrump gives ordinary people a suitable outlet for expressing their opposition to Trump. It captures the spirit of our Minnesota caucus, in which ordinary Americans banded together to voice their opposition to such a thoroughly unsuitable candidate. This too might prove important over the longer run.
One of the more chilling (but depressingly plausible) explanations for Trumpism is that many of its acolytes know that Trump is awful, but are willing to accept this, either because they find his brutishness magnetically alluring, or because their anxiousness to punish surpasses all other desires. Some of the rest of us (who would really just like to raise our families in a peaceful, orderly society) would like to say: thanks a lot, guys. It feels great to be collateral damage in your personal war against snooty Washingtonians.
#NeverTrump enables normal people to express that sentiment. Trumpites need to hear it. They need to know that it is their fellow citizens they are hurting and offending, and that they are not the only people in America with clear-minded moral purpose.
I’m terrified at what Democrats may do over these next four years with the control that I now mostly assume they will have over our country. I will come to the polls in November to support down-ticket Republican candidates, in an effort to mitigate the damage. But Trump is a candidate of seldom-paralleled awfulness, and when people of good will respond to him with suitable moral outrage, I don’t think movement leaders should suppress that or hold it back. We should be permitted to look at him and simply say, “As the leader of our nation? No. Absolutely not.”
(Photo credit: AFP / Gaston De Cardenas)