Bloomberg View (Opinion)
By Megan McArdle
February 29, 2016
Over the past week, as it’s begun to sink in that -- no foolin’ -- Donald Trump might really be the nominee, I began to notice a trend among family and friends who are stalwart Republicans. These are people who consistently vote, and consistently vote (R) straight down the line. And they are tortured because they cannot bring themselves to vote for the Republican nominee this year, if the Republican nominee is Trump.
“She’s beside herself,” my mother said of a near relation, who is apparently seriously considering voting for a Democrat for the first time. I wanted to understand this phenomenon better. I asked on Twitter whether this was a real thing, just as the hashtag #NeverTrump began trending. And I got an earful. So I invited lifelong Republicans who had decided that they couldn’t vote for Trump in the general, even if he got the nomination, to tell me their stories. Hundreds of e-mails poured in, and are still arriving. They're informative.
What surprised me? First, the sheer number of people who sat down and composed lengthy e-mails on a weekend.
Second, the passion they showed. These people are not quietly concerned about Trump. They are appalled, repulsed, afraid and dismayed that their party could have let this happen. They wrote in the strongest possible language, and many were adamant that they would not stay home on Election Day, but in fact would vote for Hillary Clinton in the general and perhaps leave the Republican Party for good.
Third was the sheer breadth. I got everything from college students to Midwestern farmers to military intelligence officers to former officials in Republican administrations, one of whom said he would “tattoo #NeverTrump” on a rather delicate part of his anatomy if it would keep Donald J. Trump from becoming the nominee. They were from all segments of the party -- urban professionals, yes, but also stalwart evangelicals, neoconservatives, libertarians, Tea Partiers, the whole patchwork of ideological groups of which the Republican coalition is made.
Fourth was what they didn’t say. Some people talked about economic liberty issues, like taxes, or Obamacare, but that was a minority. “Lack of substance” was another minor issue -- often present, but never alone.
The main arguments were his authoritarianism, his lack of any principle besides the further aggrandizement of one Donald J. Trump, his racism and misogyny, and his erratic behavior, which led a whole lot of people to write that they were afraid to have him anywhere within a thousand miles of the nuclear launch codes.
I spent Sunday chopping e-mails up into quotes and organizing them by theme. They are excerpted below, with minor edits for clarity, and the whole collection is here (anonymized, with any specific identifiers stripped out). You can see for yourself what people are saying about their decision. Maybe you'll see some themes I did not. Please join the conversation in a comment below.
Meanwhile, here is what I learned from asking #NeverTrump folks what they’re thinking.
They’re party stalwarts.
That’s not surprising: I specified lifelong Republicans, not swing voters. Most of the people were just that. Oh, maybe they had a youthful fling with a Democrat or two, but they married the GOP, and they’ve been reliably pulling that lever for the bulk of their adult lives. Some have done much more than that: served in Republican administrations, worked for Republican campaigns, donated and volunteered for their party.
“I’ve been involved in politics for almost as long as I can remember.… Throughout the years, I had the opportunity to meet and campaign for a number of candidates…. I’m the first to admit that they all had flaws, and some were less conservative than I, but I never met or worked for one who wasn’t a patriot. Yes, we disagreed, but never did I feel that these disagreements were personal or that they conveyed a lack of respect for our fellow Americans. Far from it. That changed with Donald Trump.”
A former conservative columnist for his college paper wrote: “I voted for a Republican congressional candidate who was later convicted of using taxpayer money to buy sex toys. I voted for a Republican congressman who was on his deathbed. I voted for W even though I was mad at him over the Iraq war. I voted for McCain even though I thought his health-care and cap-and-trade plans would be disastrous. I voted for Romney even though I disliked his Mormonism and his creation of Romneycare. But I can’t bring myself to vote for Trump.”
“I'm more than a voter, I'm also a donor and volunteer. I've written $2,000 checks for four Republicans (John McCain+ 3 others) and volunteered for those same campaigns. I'm proud of helping to elect Hawaii’s only Republican Governor Linda Lingle.”
Voted in all levels of elections since 1995 in several starts. Voted in EVERY SINGLE election. Even obscure ones. While deployed in Iraq, didn't matter. From city council, county commissioner, state representative, all the way up the chain, always voted straight Republican. Of the original 17 Republican candidates from July 2015, I'd vote for any of the other 16. Just #NEVERTRUMP.”
“Despite living in a blue state and knowing that each and every presidential election, the polls would close at 8 p.m. and the networks would immediately call Massachusetts for whoever the Democratic candidate was, I have voted for the Republican candidate. I have been a loyal member of this party, even serving a brief period as a city committee member in my town. Despite all this, there is no way I would ever vote for Donald Trump.”
They understand that refusing to vote for Trump means that a Democrat will probably win.
Most were quite clear that they were effectively casting, at the very least, a half vote for Clinton or Bernie Sanders. They are not only at peace with that; many expressed an affirmative preference for Clinton over Trump, even though most of them also noted that they hate Clinton.
“I don't think I could ever vote for her, but given a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as president, I would much rather see Clinton. And I say that even though I consider her utterly unprincipled.”
“I think a Donald Trump nomination would destroy the conservative cause. I think Hillary Clinton in the White House would be a disaster, but is far preferable to Trump. What a sad moment for the GOP.”
“I abhor the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency, but I have to choose the lesser of two evils. Conservatism survived FDR; we'll survive Clinton. Will we survive the transformation of the GOP into an ethnic nationalist party?”
Many will actually consider voting for a Democrat, rather than just staying home.
This is not just base demotivation: a lot of people, perhaps half or more, said they would consider voting for Clinton or Sanders if Trump was close to winning. A few said they’d volunteer or give money to them if necessary.
“I agree with Donald Trump on virtually nothing and don't consider him a Republican. Not only won't I vote for him in a general election, but I'll vote for either Hillary or Sanders and will do so without a tad of guilt of voting for a Democrat. For that matter, if the election looks close, I'll even consider following Trump's example and donating money to Hillary. … As Americans, I think we have a moral obligation to choose between the lesser of two evils … or as Churchill said: ‘If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.’ ”
“I assume Clinton would crush Trump in a landslide, but if it is actually close, I will not vote third party. I will instead get blackout drunk, hold my nose, and vote for Hillary.”
“I would not only vote for the Democrat if Trump wins the GOP nomination, I would volunteer for the Democratic candidate.”
“I could not ever have fathomed a situation where I would vote for a Democrat president, especially not HRC. However, the impossible has happened … he has forced me to consider voting for a Clinton.”
They understand that a Democratic win means that the Supreme Court will flip liberal, and probably stay that way for a while.
Hugh Hewitt, a lawyer and a talk-radio host, has made the case that Republicans should rally behind Trump just because of the importance of the Supreme Court. A lot of people noted this argument, and said they understood it. A few mentioned him by name. But they said that Trump's other drawbacks were simply too great to tolerate, even for the sake of the Supreme Court. Lawyers and abortion opponents were particularly likely to say that the Supreme Court was their top issue, and as horrified as they were by the prospect of a liberal court, they still couldn’t vote for Trump.
A former Republican Justice Department official wrote “I fully understand the disaster (from my political/philosophical perspective) of an HRC presidency, particularly on the court (but also in many other areas). But I'll not vote for prez, or vote third party, before voting for Trump.”
Others echoed this sentiment:
“As an attorney, I did not think I would find an issue more important to me than the Supreme Court, but this is it. I could not live with myself if I voted for Donald Trump, nor will I put myself in the position of having to explain such a vote, even if it means the court is lost for a generation. Being in the wilderness, politically speaking, is preferable to being complicit in any way in the election of Donald Trump, and with it the destruction of the party I have supported my entire adult life.”
“I get why Hugh Hewitt says Republicans must support the GOP nominee even it is Trump because of the Supreme Court. But Trump's demagoguery, sexism, and disdain for knowledge and substance are anathema to me. He's radioactive to me. It overwhelms Hugh's narrow/tactical argument about the Supreme Court. Voting for Trump would feel like stabbing myself -- or someone or something (my country) I care about”
“I won't vote for him. Ever. Hillary can have the White House. She can nominate 3 Scotus candidates. And I hate that idea more than almost anything. But Trump can't be trusted. With anything. I will not fall in line. I will not ever vote for him. Ever.”
“Despite the vacancy on the Supreme Court I will not vote for president in this election if Trump is the GOP candidate. He is a buffoon, has no class & is not conservative. If Hillary is elected I think the republic will survive. If Trump is elected I have my doubts that it will.”
They think the GOP is better off losing the election than winning it with Trump at the helm.
Yes, they really do understand their party will lose. And they think that’s better for the party than having it taken over by Trump.
“It would be better for the Republicans to go down in flames, thus ending the Trumpian moment, rather than hoping for scraps from his table.”
“I'm concerned Trump's nomination would split the GOP apart (like the Grand Canyon) and his inevitable, massive loss could destroy the GOP (then no more Supreme Court appointments, ever?). … Better to lose one election or third party or something, even at the risk of the Supreme Court, and live to fight another day, than tolerate radioactive Trump -- and through the contact, become radioactive ourselves and implode into oblivion.”
“I fully feel that even a single four-year term by either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would be disastrous to the fundamentals and principles this nation was founded on. But a Donald Trump administration would be equally, if not more, disastrous. The difference is that with Donald Trump, conservatives and the Republican Party would be shackled to the mess created, bound at least by association to whatever tyranny he imposes, whatever disastrous policy he enacts on a whim, and whatever hateful, bigoted rhetoric follows in his wake by the alarming number of his followers I would never have imagined still exist in America today.”
* * *
Why are they so adamant? People cited a lot of issues, and they often overlap. I divided them into broad baskets, but they’re not exclusive. People frequently talked about “character” issues like his bullying manner in the same sentence as his misogyny and racism. The following are the major issues:
They question his character and judgment.
“It’s not just that he’s vain, conceited and a braggart. Or that he’s prone to petty put downs, schoolyard taunts, cruel mockery and just plain rudeness. It is that he embodies virtually everything I strive to teach my young sons not to be and not to emulate.
That being wealthy makes one morally superior.
That material wealth is a measure of a man’s true worth.
That boasting about sexual conquests is something to be admired or cheered.
That every challenge to your ideas should be met not with a sound argument about the idea, but with smears, insults and put downs about the person uttering the disagreement.
That legitimate challenges to your ideas should be met with threats of financial ruin or lawsuits.
That the force of government should be wielded by the wealthy against the weak.
That your failures or lack of success must always be attributed not to your lack of intelligence or initiative, but to someone else getting something that’s rightfully yours.”
Another writer, who understood why people are angry at the policy establishment and Washington elites more generally, added “I personally am not willing to sacrifice my country and more specifically the dignity of the office that represents it, just to make a point.”
“It's not just that I don't think he's conservative. It's that as president I think he'd be quite capable of doing anything, except governing reasonably well.”
“It may be true that the country I love and fought for has gone over the cliff and is willing to elect a narcissistic con-man as president, but I will never, under any circumstances, put my name to its death warrant.”
More specifically, here’s what they don’t like:
They think he's a racist, or panders to racists.
You’d be surprised to hear it, if you just read liberal columnists talking about how the Republican Party is all white identity politics and pandering to rich people, but this showed up over … and over … and over. Libertarians complained about it. Evangelicals complained about it. Born-and-bred Southern Republicans complained about it. People who said they favored much tighter immigration restrictions complained about it. And at least half of these e-mails were written before he went on Jake Tapper’s show and refused to disavow David Duke and the KKK.
“I am a loyal party man, but I will not be taken hostage by a racist xenophobe. If it comes down to Trump vs. Clinton I will vote my conscience.”
“Trump's embrace of identity politics is a betrayal of a party that stood for judging individuals on the basis of their merit.”
“He has mocked a great war hero like John McCain as well as those with a physical handicap. He is also a racist that brings out the worst in people. David Duke the former grand wizard of the KKK has endorsed him and white supremacist supporters are making robo-calls that are extremely racist. … We need a leader that will unite us not one that brings out the worst elements of our society. The brave men and women of this country fought the Nazis during WW II to protect our rights and now there are those that are ready to back a man who is akin to Hitler himself.”
“My grandfather and great-grandfather were white Republicans in Alabama in an era when that simple fact would get the Klan on your lawn. They despised George Wallace. I see more than a little of old Jumpin’ George (as we called him when I was in grade school), and his remarkable ability to pander to the lowest common denominator, in Trump.”
They think he's misogynistic.
It wasn’t just his references to Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle. It was everything. One person wrote “My mom's story is what I really want to share. She is a Pentecostal Sunday school teacher who hates his amorality. She can't stand his attacks on McCain because of her respect for military (her brother was Marine/served in Iraq). But more than anything, the air of misogyny he puffs out every time he speaks brings back to her mind all of the dismissive men she has toiled under and been passed over during her career.”
Evangelicals, men and women both, hit this note particularly hard. “He has bragged numerous times about having sexual affairs with married women. He is on his third marriage, to a woman who made a career out of objectifying her own body. … His pandering attempt to sell himself as a Christian is disgraceful and demeaning.”
“I refuse to be a member of a party where Donald Trump -- an opponent of limited government, a misogynist who proclaims to be a Christian in one breath but openly brags about having sex with married women in the next, a person who surrounds himself solely with yes-men -- is the nominee.”
“I despise the way he talks about and treats women and minorities and really anyone who dares oppose him. He claims to be a Christian but is clearly ignorant of the teachings of Christ.”
They think he lacks substance on policy.
“Oftentimes when asked about a issue, he talks about polls and his standing in the race rather than explain his position. He's clearly more concerned with running the race rather than what he'll do in office.”
“What our party, and I believe our nation, needs is someone who can demonstrate the true nature of conservatism and can communicate that to the American people; Donald Trump does neither of these. He can't effectively explain ANY conservative position: when he has to it's a 10-second soundblip: 'We're gonna build a wall,' 'I read my Bible every day,' 'No one's gonna take your guns,' and so on. When pressed on any conservative position he is unable to get beyond these short sound bites. How do you bring nonparty members to our side if you can't explain WHY you believe what you believe?”
“I don't know if Mr. Trump is genuinely unintelligent or merely plays that character, but either way, it's who he is in form if not also function. … And how will this man react in a crisis should Austin become the next Paris or 2017 the next 2011? This man who does so little debate prep he can't offer any specifics other than to promise he'll be surrounded by the best people; people he can't name because he apparently hasn't even considered yet. A vote for Donald Trump is a vote to place our country and its national security in the hands of ... who exactly? Surely not just recipients of his nepotism, right?”
They see him as an unprincipled con man.
So many people touched on this in some way. “Unprincipled,” “amoral,” “self-promoting,” “Con man." They think that he’s using the Republican Party for his own purposes, and that in the end, like most marks, the voters will be left with less than they had before. One missive summed up most of these threads of argument:
“I will never vote for Donald Trump. I do not for an instant believe he is a conservative. I don't know if he is a liberal either. ... He is a chameleon that changes color as needed, adapting to whatever environment he is in in order to benefit himself. He has never, once, sacrificed his own wealth or power in order to further the common good; it is always about enriching himself or making himself more powerful.”
A small fraction of the other, similar complaints:
“At the very least I know Clinton will do what she thinks is best for this country. I cannot say the same about Trump.”
“He has no moral compass and no abiding principles save for self-promotion.”
“My wife thinks he's a horrible racist. I think he's a salesman who doesn't believe a word of the conservative beliefs he's spouting.”
“He is an amoral, corrupt, grifting, vulgar, adolescent authoritarian bully; void of any substance.”
And when it came to how he’d govern:
Lots of people cited individual issues, from abortion and religious liberty, to guns, to economic liberty. His flip-flopping on Planned Parenthood came in for a lot of criticism, both because of what it said about his character, and because of what it signals for abortion opponents if he won the presidency. But overwhelmingly, a handful of “big picture” problems predominated.
He's seen as authoritarian.
When talk turned to how he’d govern, this was Issue No. 1. My correspondents genuinely feared that his idea of governing lay somewhere between third-world dictator and outright fascist. Many expressed hope that American institutions would stop the worst of his impulses. But they weren’t willing to gamble.
“I am convinced that Donald Trump is the antithesis of everything that the Founders stood for. I do not believe that such an egomaniac would acquiesce when Congress refused to pass his preferred laws. I fear he would ignore Supreme Court decisions, and pack the court with judges who disregard the Constitution's original intent and disfavor limited government -- like his sister, a sitting federal judge.”
“A Trump presidency would mean a huge congressional win for Democrats in two years. After that, Donald Trump as president would lead to executive overreach on steroids. He would not follow the Constitution, and that's bad for the country.”
“My gut says Trump is an egotistical maniac who would love nothing more than to be a dictator and truly believes he has some mythical abilities and intelligence that other people don't have that will enable him to do whatever he wants. I am scared more of his personality as a president and what he would try to do to and in the office of president than I am of the policies of HRC as a candidate.”
“I have seen and lived through Peron and other demagogues (Cristina Kirchner the most recent). They foster envy and hatred. Undermine the foundations of healthy society in countless ways. Trump is one of them.”
“A man prone to this type of petty insults and overreactions, who mocks the physically disabled and threatens to use our legal process (and presumably the power of the presidency) to go after the press and his political opponents, is more fit for a third-world dictatorship than the United States.”
“I think he may be a fascist, and I don't say that lightly.”
They don’t trust him with foreign policy.
This was another huge issue for people, since this is one area where you can’t just cross your fingers and count on Congress to restrain the president. It came mostly in two flavors: Trump’s big mouth will get us into a stupid war, and someone of Trump’s demonstrated erratic behavior, enormous ego and petty vindictiveness should not be allowed anywhere near the nuclear launch codes. Many people, of course, worried about both.
Said a former member of the military: “As an intel analyst in Afghanistan, I attended meetings with high-ranking … officials regarding security, US-AFG relations, and ousting of the Taliban. I know from this experience that knowing when to keep your mouth shut is of paramount importance when it comes to foreign policy. Loose lips show weakness.”
Wrote someone who enlisted after 9/11: “I would point you to General Hayden's recent remarks that many in the military would have to consider disobeying orders from Trump as commander in chief. Honestly, if he were elected I would have to consider not re-enlisting; I had intended to get to 30 years. America would be the pariah of the international community instead of its linchpin.”
“I cannot be a party to entrusting the lives of our service men and women to someone who has no moral compass and a vengeful ego.”
“I sincerely don't believe he has the temperament to be commander in chief. He can be outfitted with the best advisers (establishment or otherwise) but I think his personality issues would negate any benefit. There is no bankruptcy court equivalent for military actions.”
“POTUS has power to start a nuclear war. Trump is impulsive, thin skinned, irrational and vindictive. Putting nuclear launch codes in his hands would be only thing worse than putting Hillary back in the WH.”
They believe he's a crypto-liberal.
Contra the folks who said it was all just an unprincipled scam, there were some folks who thought that somewhere under Trump’s skin, there was a liberal itching to get out.
“I don't care what Trump's voter registration says, he's not a Republican.”
“When I see Donald Trump, I see a Democrat.”
This is not exactly the reason that they won’t vote for him in the general, mostly; rather, it’s the reason they are unmoved by one of the strongest arguments for voting for him: that even if he’s terrible in all the abovementioned ways, he’d still deliver on at least a few conservative priorities. Trump, they said, would govern as a liberal -- only it would be worse, because he’d be a liberal who would hurt the Republican Party as well as the country.
“I believe he is a liberal and always has been. He is dragging the party to the left and wiping out the conservative movement in the process.”
“We'd be sending a message to ‘Washington elites’ but not the right one.”
This probably summed up the sentiment best: “The point is, Donald Trump is the repudiation of what I believe in, coming from within the party that I have worked for. His victory would be worse than Barack Obama's because Trump would have captured the opposition to progressivism within this country. There would be no vessel for conservatism within the political process.”
* * *
And then talk turned to what happens after the primary, if Trump wins the nomination. I can’t say that there were a lot of great, practical suggestions.
“Plan B: Impeach both Trump and whoever he selects as VP so that Paul Ryan can be president.”
Another looked northward: “I've always laughed at the Democrats who swore they'd move to Canada if this or that Republican was elected. But at this point I do understand the feeling.”
A third isn’t going to get mad; they’re going to get even: “Every time someone endorses Trump, I don't get angry. I just add it to the list and repeat it over and over, like Arya Stark...
But a lot of folks quite seriously said they’d leave the party.
This was what surprised me most about the whole exercise. I’d expected people to say they’d sit out the election; I didn’t expect that around a dozen would say that if Trump was the nominee, they would change their registration.
“He is not committed to the good of this country, nor to the Republican Party. If he's the Republican Party, then I am no longer a Republican. If he's nominated, I leave the party.”
“I’m a 30-year-old lifelong Republican, but I will stay home if he wins. Can’t vote for him, can’t vote for Hillary, sure can’t vote for Sanders -- can’t vote. And even beyond that, if the GOP morphs into a party of authoritarian nationalist populists, I’m out. I’m comfortable becoming the political equivalent of a cicada, hibernating for 17 years until the country is ready to elect for a constitutionalist again.”
“I, along with many others, will leave the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, of Teddy Roosevelt, of Dwight Eisenhower, and yes of Ronald Reagan. Because it will no longer be their party, and it will no longer be my party. It will be Donald Trump's party. And that, I will never support.”
And a couple of people did look on the bright side.
“The one positive to Trump is -- at least for me -- he has been like a controlled fire, burning away the hypocritical 'super conservatives' who have done nothing but demand purity, and now, if not endorsing him, constantly give him cover. Feels good to not have to defend them anymore.”
“Perhaps the only benefit of a Trump presidency is he might goose Congress to recover some of the legislative responsibility they've allowed to osmose to the presidency over the past century and a half.”
Others were ready to head for the hills.
“I like the developing WWII metaphors: ‘Vichy’ and ‘Quislings’ for the Trump enablers. Vive La Resistance!”
“If it comes down to resistance against a fascist-occupied Vichy GOP, vive La Resistance! I'll be first in line to join the Free GOP in exile”
And then there were the people who just wanted it all to be over.
“The damage that the party has allowed him to do to the Republican brand is going to be long lasting. At this point, like many, I can only hope for the sweet meteor of death to end it all.”
That may be the fastest-growing faction in the Republican Party.
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