I can’t think of a U.S. election since the Civil War where neither of the main candidates has been either conservative or Republican. Until now.
Donald Trump never properly pretended to be a conservative but, until last week, he was notionally a Republican. True, he had come late and maliciously to the GOP. The party was, if you like, the victim of a hostile takeover. Still, he seemed content to use its structures and demand the support of its officers.
Not anymore. In the solipsistic stream-of-consciousness style that Trump uses on Twitter, he has lashed out at “disloyal Rs,” including “foul-mouthed Sen. John McCain” and “our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan.” Of course, the Donald was always a quasi-independent candidate, and many of those “disloyal Rs” had in fact displayed heroic restraint in overlooking his constant attacks on them.
Now though, he is, as Sarah Palin might put it, refudiating them anyway. “It’s so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to.” Seriously? There were shackles before? We were dealing with a restrained, moderate version of the Donald? God help us.
Where does this leave mainstream Republican voters? No one is even claiming to speak to or for them anymore. They are faced with two humourless, 70-year-old, artificially blond New Yorkers, both long-standing Democrat supporters, both with serious questions about their character, honesty and finances, both unfit for office. I don’t say “unfit for office” lightly. Trump and Hillary plainly see the presidency as a bauble rather than as a high and humbling office. Even if, in some parallel universe, they were the most upright, frugal and selfless of people, that sense of entitlement alone would debar them.
Many Americans, not just conservatives, will cast essentially negative ballots. The only real argument for Hillary Clinton is that she is not Donald Trump. The only real argument for Donald Trump is that he is not Hillary Clinton. Neither argument is convincing. If someone is not fit for office, it doesn’t matter that someone else may be even worse.
How to vote, then? If I were American, I’d cheerfully cast my ballot for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. No one has ever accused him of being corrupt or dishonest: On the contrary, the main argument against him is that he is painfully frank about policies which he knows to be unpopular. Sure, plenty of people, including some conservatives, dislike one aspect or another of his program. But he doesn’t lie about his emails, or misuse a corporatist foundation, or victimise people who stand in his way, or talk in a manner that you wouldn’t want your kids to hear, or accuse his opponents of unspeakable crimes, or call their supporters deplorable, or make things up as he goes along. He would not disgrace the first office of the world’s greatest republic.
It’s true that he has little chance of winning. But, to repeat, the other two are unfit for office. The Constitution provides, at least in theory, a mechanism to stop them: If no candidate wins an electoral college majority, the decision goes to Congress. Frankly, almost anyone that Congress chose would be preferable to the two egomaniacs.
In most states, Gary Johnson is the third candidate; but if the best-placed blocking candidate is Jill Stein or Evan McMullin or someone else, fine. Again, whatever their policies, they are not disqualified on grounds of character.
I realise how unrealistic all this sounds. Then again, how much difference does a single vote make in any election? The one person it truly makes a difference to is the person casting it. The philosopher Immanuel Kant taught that we should behave as if all our actions were to become universal moral principles. If you pull the lever for Trump or for Hillary you are willing them to lead the free world. You are making yourself complicit in everything that comes afterwards.
If you honestly believe that they will serve America well, vote for them in good conscience. But if you think that someone else — anyone else — can do the job better, vote with your heart. You’ll feel much better for it. The only wasted vote is a vote cast without conviction.
Dan Hannan is a British Conservative MEP.