As all you locals know, Anson Burlingame is a man with whom I have spent considerable time and effort debating on this blog and in the Joplin Globe and on his own (now retired) blog. I would characterize him as a conservative with a libertarian streak. Recently I, and others, have been interacting with him over the “Trump Dilemma”: should a conservative opposed to Trump vote for a third party (Anson’s tentative position) or swallow hard and vote for Hillary Clinton in order to make a vote against Trump doubly effective?
The following is my latest, and perhaps last, attempt to convince him to take the latter course:
Sorry this is so long. But passions are high.
Nobody is trying to lecture you. We are trying to reason with you. You love your country and you have served it honorably. We love our country, too. And we want to keep loving it. How, we ask, can you (or anyone) turn it over (or risk turning it over by not voting for Trump’s only viable rival) to someone so temperamentally unqualified and imbalanced, so ignorant and bigoted, so self-serving and demonstrably corrupt?
If you think I am going to spend any time, any time whatsoever, trying to convince you that Hillary’s policy proposals (domestically, especially) are something you, as a conservative, could accept, you’re mistaken. That wouldn’t do one bit of good and we both know that. She is a Democrat with left-of-center views. You’re not. You have right-of-center views. There isn’t much of a match there. And besides that, I realize how much Hillary has been demonized in the conservative press and, alas, in the “mainstream” press. That is tough to overcome in a few blog posts. Thus, my appeal is directed elsewhere.
There is one thing that we all can see with our own eyes: Trump is truly an existential threat to the America we have known. That’s not election year hyperbole. You can see it and I can see it and all but the willfully blind can see it. He doesn’t make much of an effort to hide his instability and ignorance. He merely uses bluster to bully his way through. There isn’t an inch of depth to anything he says. He doesn’t understand our history. He has no clue about the military. He has no conception of how world relations work. He doesn’t know the difference between Shia and Sunni or, for that matter, the difference between a nuclear triad and a triathlon. Our allies fear he will win and wreck what is right with the world. Our enemies, particularly Russia and ISIS, want him to win. Think about that. And then think about it again.
Once-respected Republicans in the national security and intelligence business have overwhelmingly voiced their fear of a Trump presidency. They have said he is a dangerous man. Many of them have said that although they disagree with Hillary Clinton on a number of things, that they have to overlook those disagreements because the stakes are so damned high. That is all I am trying to say here. Sure, you would have a lot of problems with a Clinton presidency, no doubt about that. But at least you will know there will be another election to follow (and potentially correct the previous result) because with Hillary Clinton you have good reason to believe the world won’t go completely to hell in between. We have no reason, absolutely no reason, to believe such a thing under a “President Trump.”
Finally, I have tried to think of the reverse situation, one in which you would be asking me to vote against my ideological or partisan or other preferences in order to stop a Trump-like Democrat from taking office. I confess I can’t think of any potential candidate on my side who would fit. Not one. I have, though, come up with a man from recent history that I will use as a type of candidate I can honestly tell you I would vote against, if he were around today and had received the Democratic nomination. That man is George Wallace.
I hesitate to use Wallace (Democrats rejected him three times as their presidential candidate) because although he was a segregationist and populist (before he repented later in life of his racism and ran, again, as a Democrat in the 1972 primaries), he wasn’t a totally ignorant fool like Trump. He knew how government worked, and if he had become president during his days as a segregationist, there isn’t any reason that I know of to have feared his starting a nuclear holocaust (accidentally or on purpose) or some other such thing.
Having said all that about Wallace and stipulated that he wasn’t in Trump’s league in terms of an existential risk to the country, I will use him to stand in for a candidate that might set up a “Trump Dilemma” for Democrats like me. If a Wallace-like segregationist were, God forbid, to ever get the Democratic Party nomination, I can assure you that if the polls showed him with even a slight chance of becoming president, I would not vote third party. I’d vote for the candidate with the best chance of beating him. That candidate would, by default, have to be a Republican. And so long as that Republican opposed the bigotry and racist politics of my Wallace-like figure—and showed at least a minimum understanding of how the world works—he or she would have my vote—even if I otherwise stood in ideological opposition to such a candidate. You have my word on that, even as I appreciate the cognitive dissonance of it all. Merely electing such a racist demagogue to high office would do more damage to the country than, say, another tax cut for billionaires.
That lands me here: I, in fact, have voted for Republicans for president. I now vote for Democrats, but it isn’t inconceivable to me that someday I would, depending on how the political parties conduct themselves, vote for a Republican again. And that is the key, Anson. It depends on how the parties conduct themselves. Just look at what has happened to the Republican Party under Trump and ask yourself if that is the proper conduct. Of course it isn’t. And then ask yourself: what is the best way to send a message to the offending political party?
I sent a message to the GOP in 2004, when I voted for my first Democrat, John Kerry. My message was simple: the Republican Party no longer represented my interests and I refused to vote for a guaranteed-to-lose third party that would have only helped the GOP stay in power. I wanted my vote to essentially count twice by not only withholding it from the Republicans, but by giving to the Democrats. It turned out Bush stayed in power anyway. But my conscience was clear, especially when the economy collapsed in 2008. No one could blame my vote for that.
Again, there is no lecturing here, Anson. I am just trying to, as I said, appeal to reason and common sense. In the end, you and I cast just one vote each. Neither is likely to affect the outcome in the slightest. My efforts to convince you not to vote for a third party and thereby theoretically enhance Trump’s chances to win are somewhat personal. We have gone at each other, mostly with civility, for more than 7 1/2 years. I continue to believe that I have not misjudged you, in terms of your understanding of and appreciation for what is at stake here, when it comes to Trump and the national and world threat he represents—and when it comes to “throwing away” your vote (I think those were your words). My plea is not to throw away that vote. Make it count. At least to those of us who have known and argued with you over the years, mostly with what I won’t hesitate to call mutual respect.
Maybe in the end it will turn out my judgment is faulty. If so, that’s on me not on you. You are who you are and obviously not subject to my judgments or expectations. Both of us are responsible for our own choices, in this case our own history-making votes. I can at least say that my old sparring partner will not actually vote directly for Trump—a prediction I confidently made to someone earlier this year. That may not be enough to stop Trump in this third-party-heavy race (where Johnson and Stein are polling too high for my comfort), but it does say something good about you in that you refuse to follow most conservatives and Republicans into a very dark place.
As far as the larger picture, the collective electorate, I am hoping that there are a lot of Anson Burlingame conservatives out there who, in the end, will do the best thing for the country and hold their noses, if they have to, and vote against a dangerous demagogue by voting for Hillary Clinton.