This morning’s WSJ has an editorial arguing against a third party option for Republicans and other conservatives disaffected with the selection of Trump as the GOP nominee on the grounds that a Hillary presidency would be costly for conservatives but would, at least, be preferable to Trump in the White House. I’ll admit that as recently as last night a third party was something I’d begun to seriously consider, especially after reading a very thoughtful piece by Andrew Sullivan in a recent issue of New York magazine in which the some time left leaning pundit argues that the Trump phenomenon represents the end of democracy. He cites Plato, of all people, for first noticing that democratic forms of government tend to self-destruct as they become increasingly populist in form until they finally collapse, giving way to the rise of a “strong man,” a “beloved leader” who comes from the ranks of the rich and powerful but who speaks in the parlance of the common man and reviles his own. Sullivan has a point and Trump seems to be following that gloomy playbook to its scary end.
I’ve never not voted in a presidential election since coming of age to do so and it rankles to think I might have to sit this one out. For me Hillary is a terrible option, but Trump is equally bad. He’s temperamentally unsuited to lead this nation, lacks policy chops and is too arrogant to know the things he doesn’t know. Choosing neither Trump nor Hillary would mean I’d have no one to vote for in November so a third party option looks mighty tempting. But this assumes Trump’s loss to Hillary in the general is a foregone conclusion — which the Journal writers apparently do — and that Hillary is marginally better, given her experience and lack of Trump-like demagoguery. But what if a Trump loss to Hillary isn’t quite as foregone a conclusion as the WSJ editors believe?
Can the country’s democratic system and traditions withstand the damage of a Trump “presidency” which Andrew Sullivan describes as “an extinction-level event” should the real estate developer turned reality TV star turned politician — this pouting and posturing demagogue who summons the absolute worst angels of our nature while demonstrating neither understanding nor respect for the constitutional norms which have safeguarded us for more than two centuries — actually garner enough votes in the general election to win the White House?
The WSJ editorial writers assume he won’t, of course, and so they make a compelling case for thinking twice about the third party option:
“. . . . Some third-party activists are happy to run the risk of a Hillary victory as long they can guarantee that Mr. Trump loses. But such a motivation won’t sit well with the millions of Republicans who have voted for Mr. Trump. Those voters presumably believe the New Yorker can win in November, but if he doesn’t they need to see the consequences of their primary vote.
“The GOP would have a hard enough time recovering from a third-straight presidential loss. The last thing the party needs is an excuse for Mr. Trump and his allies to blame a defeat on a ‘stab in the back’ by other Republicans. That’s a recipe for more civil war and another fiasco in 2020. If Mr. Trump does lose, his voters need to understand that he was the architect of his own demise. Republican voters also need to see that alienating non-whites, women and young people was a losing strategy.”
But what if they’re wrong? What if the danger to the Republic that Trump’s campaign reveals (his insults, veiled calls to violence, denigration of large segments of the population and not infrequent promises to overrule laws and intimidate those constitutionally mandated to be a check on our presidents) does actually reach the White House? What if we wake up abruptly on November 9th to realize that this country has elected a president with as little respect for the U.S. Constitution as he has shown for his political opponents and for large segments of the U.S. population? What if enough Americans are so damned mad at everything that they can’t see straight anymore — or at least not straight enough to deny this domineering narcissist access to the Oval Office and America’s nuclear trigger? It’s happened before in other lands. Can we take the chance that it won’t here?