Making an endorsement is a scary prospect for a political website. Frankly, it’s a scary prospect no matter the context. If I were to endorse one of the two major candidates, nearly 60 percent of the country would think I’m some combination of misinformed, uneducated, gullible, and immoral. If I endorsed one of the two next most popular candidates, that number would grow to over 90 percent.
Now, I don’t deny that I might embody one or more of those adjectives, but I do think that just because two people disagree politically doesn’t mean one of those adjectives explains why. If I ever had to sum up my ideology, it’s that one’s intelligence or morality is not measured by the extent to which they agree with you on politics. We live different lives with different experiences while trusting different media sources of varying accuracy. There is virtual certainty someone out there is smarter and more informed than you and yet disagrees with your politics.
I might not be that person, but please go easy on me anyway. Apologies in advance to any readers I disappoint. To make up for it, I’ll try to keep this under 2,000 words.
This decision wasn’t easy. You know how people make fun of undecided voters this close to an election? Those people have been making fun of PPFA.
I’ll start with the easy one. It should come as no surprise to this blog’s limited readership that I do not endorse Donald Trump. I’ve written before about how Trump put me in a tough spot this general election. I really do want to write an unbiased political blog that sets to objectively evaluate the candidates and their chances at success. I don’t think I’ve ever promoted an ideology on here; I just talk about the race.
During the Republican Primary, I was never too critical of Republican contenders Rubio, Cruz, Christie, and Kasich, each of whom I thought could become the party’s nominee. However, there were two candidates toward which I was repeatedly detracting: Dr. Ben Carson and Donald J. Trump. It’s not that I rule out the possibility that a non-politician can be a good candidate and president, but these two did not have the background or knowledge I would want in such a candidate. Unfortunately, when one of them became the nominee, I had lost the ability to write objectively about him in the general election. My frustration with Trump in the primary undermined my evaluation of him in the general. I’ve been critical of Clinton on here, but it has been with Trump that I’m more often captious.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to like about his candidacy. Frustrations with the establishment are legitimate, as is contempt toward politicians who are largely controlled by interest groups and other big donors. His term-limit proposal is something Americans of all political stripes get behind. His positions on trade and America’s role in the world have brought some Democratic positions into the Republican Party, a surprising but healthy cross-ideological positioning I’ve enjoyed and would like to see continue in both directions. (It’s such an awkward platform that if we were still in late October, this is where I’d stumble through some metaphor about his campaign resembling Frankenstein’s stitched together monster, but I missed my chance and can’t think of any turkey analogies.)
But there’s a reason I’m not endorsing him. There are, in fact, many. And there are reasons why Republican leaders that don’t need Trump voters — like all former presidents, who know the job, and the last Republican nominee — aren’t endorsing him. And there are reasons why he’s landed remarkably few official endorsements from more established publications than PPFA:
These publications, mind you, aren’t all part of the liberal media conspiracy. Trump has almost entirely alienated the conscientious editors of all print media, including those that almost never make an endorsement and those that almost exclusively endorse Republican candidates, like the Dallas Morning News, Arizona Republic, and Cincinnati Enquirer, among others. We can’t say that these conservative sources were ever duped by the liberal media in the past, and yet they’ve endorsed Hillary Clinton, citing reasons like competency, preparedness for the office, and the dangerous prospect of America withdrawing itself from the world stage. The last concern is echoed by many national security experts, including Republicans, top brass, and think tanks. (Trump counters that he’s earned some high-ranking endorsements of his own, but it’s a tiny slice of the pie and, by comparison, Romney had several times more.)
What are my reasons? I’m sure, whether you agree with them or not, you’ve heard them all before, including on this website. My biggest frustration with him is a broad one that infiltrates so many of the smaller concerns: I perceive a fundamental lack of curiosity out of him. Even when he’s made solid changes to his campaign strategy — changes that provided us stretches of a more even-tempered candidate who avoided gaffes despite the media’s highest hopes for them — the level to which he was informed never, ever changed, no matter how real the prospect of a victory became. I’ve never seen a BS artist rise to such heights. It’s often clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about beyond the first few lines. He’s been the cable news candidate — he sees the Breitbart, Alex Jones, or fake news headline and then runs with it. What he does not do is read up on it further. Indeed, as I once half-joked, he constantly resembles one of my students who did not finish the whole reading and is searching for ways to re-word the one paragraph he did.
So, even though he’s not totally without skills or merit, he lacks enough merit that I think he’d make a lousy president.
However! Here’s a good time to say something controversial: voting for him merely to block a Clinton presidency, if you think he’d be better at the job, is an acceptable reason to vote for him. Clinton and third party supporters want you to believe it’s necessary to vote for someone instead of against someone else, but if you buy into Republican and Trumpian rhetoric that a Clinton president leads to an apocalyptic future (Clinton, by the way, uses similar language), then you are forgiven for voting for Trump, especially if you’re in a swing state.
But that works both ways. I also don’t think that the popular argument for Clinton — that she denies Trump the White House — is illegitimate. Of course, it’s not the proudest argument to make. I understand how dispiriting it is that Clinton’s best quality is that she’s not Donald Trump, but it should nevertheless be seriously considered.
Like the arguments against Trump, the arguments against Clinton don’t need to be rehashed here, except for the big one: she’s possibly the scummiest politician in America. A modern day Nixon, she’s the ultimate insider, the quintessential backroom conniver, an incessant exploiter, an admitted two-faced grandmaster of political chess, and an obsessed seeker of power.
Of course, Nixon was, in many ways, a pretty effective president, and many people would vote for him over Trump, too. Last week, the hilarious, straight-shooting, PC-hating comedian Louis CK, in a surprisingly full-throated endorsement of Clinton, said that Clinton is exactly the kind of person we need in charge of the country. Among other arguments, he quipped that, in the White House, “We need a two-faced, conniving… crazy… somebody who’s got a million schemes.”
If you agree with Louis, or if you think a President Trump is among the more ridiculous prospects this country has ever faced, you need to vote Hillary Clinton, especially if you’re in a swing state.
But what of those people, like me, who are not in a battleground? My home state of Connecticut is almost assuredly decided, as are about 35 other states. Might my vote, and the votes of citizens in those states, be more meaningfully placed for other candidates?
The Green Party’s Jill Stein and her loyal two percent of the country (and 40 percent of my Facebook feed) insist they are the way forward for this country, and if you don’t agree with their far left progressivism, you’re just not paying attention. The best argument to make for Stein, if you’re a true blue liberal, is that she agrees with you on most or all of the issues. It’s a compelling case, to be sure. After all, isn’t that how one should determine which candidate deserves one’s vote?
Call me crazy, but I believe a vote is more complicated than that. Consider all the people you know that almost totally agree with you on the issues (we do a pretty good job surrounding ourselves with them). Would all of them make a better, more prepared president than a more qualified candidate who doesn’t agree with you on everything? I say no. The relative, friend, or neighbor who shares my ideology isn’t inherently a great candidate for the most pressure-packed job in the world. This is an argument against both Trump and Stein; neither seem to have the relevant experience, background, or relevant education to be president — just ideologies that might resemble your own.
I’ve also been slightly bothered by the Green movement this time around. (For the record, in my younger days, I was a Ralph Nader voter.) After Bernie Sanders’s exit passed the dark blue baton into the eager green hands of this third party, they promptly dropped it. In July, Stein was measured at an average of five percent nationally — a crucial threshold, as a party that earns five percent in the election qualifies for federal funding in the next one — but is now down to just two percent. The dream of five is over.
Part of that swoon is due to an aggressive, shameful courtship by a Clinton Campaign earnestly flanked by Sanders himself, but part of it also stems from ineffective recruitment techniques. So righteously intransigent are the Greens that you dare not tolerate TPP or fracking unless you want to be bludgeoned by eye rolls, memes, and accusations of having designs on the rubble that will accompany civilization’s end. The Steiners are probably, person for person, the most well read and passionate (as opposed to being one or the other, like many others) constituency in the election, but they underrate compromise, humility, and incrementalism as viable tools of discourse, recruitment, and progress. By not supporting the Democratic ticket, Sanders liberals hope that Trump/Pence leadership for 4 to 16 years does not blunt the progressive cause that has made some headway lately. That’s a risky roll of the dice.
And that leaves the Libertarians’ Gary Johnson and just 300 more words to fulfill my promise. Unlike Stein, he has a fighting chance at five percent nationally. Like Stein, he peaked months ago, reaching about nine percent, and he has since fallen to 4.8, right on the cusp.
In August’s quasi-endorsement of Johnson (I just wanted him in the debates), I noted some of his attractive qualities. Unlike the three other candidates, he has actually governed — a Republican governor reelected by double-digits in a diverse, purple state no less. He balanced budgets, cut unnecessary spending, left with a 1.1 billion dollar surplus, and could have had a third term were it not for the state’s term limits. Unlike both major parties, each of which promote freedom of choice and state’s rights about half the time, Johnson is for both almost always. Whether you agree with the Libertarian platform or not, it’s ideologically consistent. Plus, if you really think it’s time to shake up Washington, don’t vote for one of the wealthy, major party nominees — vote for the third party candidate who never stepped foot in a Washington fundraiser.
I must admit, I’ve been disappointed with his lack of foreign policy knowledge. A governor isn’t expected to know the ins and outs of Syria as well as a man who claims to know more than the generals or a former U.S. Senator and State Secretary, but one running for president should. However, Trump has shown no more knowledge than Johnson in that area, while Clinton’s superior knowledge is weighed down by myriad other concerns.
I also don’t agree with everything he says and have sizable policy disagreements. Remember, though, that I have this weird belief that the candidate with whom one agrees most isn’t necessarily most deserving of one’s vote. I have broader, dare I say more transcendent, characteristics that I look for. Two, in particular, work in Johnson and the Libertarian’s favor.
First, I’d love a more viable third party that would force the two major parties to worry about losing supporters to them. The Libertarian ticket has a chance at five percent of the national vote, which would earn them federal funding in 2020. They might accept it, bolstering their recruitment efforts through events and advertising. Even more interesting, however, is if the Libertarians, citing their small-government philosophy, decline the federal funding. That has potential to be an even better recruitment tool: we’d have our two hypocritical and ideologically inconsistent parties continuing to block each other in their agreed upon zero sum game, and then we’d have the third option, which means what it says. If you live in a non-swing state, your vote won’t do anything for Trump or Clinton tangling at 45 percent or so, but it can be much more meaningfully place trying to get Johnson from 4.8 percent to 5.
Similarly, as I also wrote about in August, I love that the Libertarians allow for the idea that Republicans are sometimes right, as the Democrats are. I don’t like the suggestion by both major parties that members of the opposition are more frequently wrong or immoral. It’s an implicit (and sometimes explicit) denouncement of a hundred million Americans and the representatives they elect. As I said when I started today’s lengthy column over two thousand words ago (yes, I failed), such a position contradicts my guiding principle. Gary Johnson and the Libertarians, regardless of the extent to which I agree with their platform, is the clearest reminder that we are not a country with only two ways to approach politics.
Therefore, to paraphrase Hamilton: if you were to ask me who I promote…
Johnson has my vote.
Before I go, I want to leave with a couple parting points.
Clinton supporters want you to think a vote for Johnson or Stein is a vote for Trump. Trump supporters want you to think a vote for Johnson or Stein is a vote for Clinton. PPFA wants you to think about how absurd the combination of those assertions are. A Johnson/Stein voter is not casting three ballots. (And if they were, wouldn’t those extra two votes negate each other?) Vote for who you want, despite the desperation of the two parties. After all, two parties is just one step away from one party.
That being said, I must admit that if I were in a swing state, I really don’t know if I’d be endorsing Johnson. It is an important election. I can’t fault anyone in a battleground state for responsibly choosing between the two candidates who might actually end up working in the Oval Office. If you think Clinton must be stopped and Trump won’t be as bad, or vice versa, vote that way. In essence, today’s endorsement targets despondent voters in the 35 or so states where we basically know the result. (It is not lost on PPFA that if everyone in a decided state took my advice and voted third party, all of a sudden the Trump and Clinton vote in that state would be pretty close. I assure you, however, that PPFA doubts its ability to swing so much as a conference table, to say nothing of a state.)
Two columns left: my final electoral projection on Monday, then an election night preview on Tuesday. I hope to see you then.