It is wrong to think of a vote not cast for Leading Contender A as a de facto vote cast for Leading Contender B.
Conservative Matthew Franck is not voting for either presidential candidate in 2016 and he explains why he does not feel the need to “vote as if the weight of the world were on my shoulders alone.” That idea “is really an invitation to a kind of consequentialism in the ethics of voting,” he says. He goes on to explain why he thinks “it is wrong to think of a vote not cast for Leading Contender A as a de facto vote cast for Leading Contender B.”
Two of Franck’s friends share the convictions of many of mine, choosing to vote for a candidate who they do not like at all. One is voting for Clinton, “preferring an enemy he can imagine fighting and partly constraining…to a ‘leader’ who may grievously wound the party, the conservative cause, and the country itself.” The other “is inclined to hold his nose and vote for Trump, believing that abstention or a ‘thrown away’ vote on a third alternative with no chance to win would be morally indistinguishable from a vote for Clinton.”
From Franke’s essay:
My fond regard for these two good and thoughtful friends, lifelong conservatives both, is not diminished by our disagreements. And I do disagree with both of them. For my part, my conscience is more important to me than the outcome of this presidential election. I cannot in good conscience vote for either Clinton or Trump. What matters for me is that I cannot bring myself to intend, to will the victory of either of these ludicrously unacceptable presidential candidates. And that is what a vote for one of them would be—an act of willing that Clinton or Trump be president, carry out her or his stated policy aims, and bring his or her fundamentally bad character to the highest office in the land.
We conservatives are not in an ordinary political situation. In past elections, some of us might not have had our first or even our second choice among Republican candidates on the November ballot for president.
…This time is different (emphasis added). “Not making the perfect the enemy of the good” is not the right adage for calculating what to do in our present predicament. Nor is “choose the lesser of two evils” the right way to think. That way of thinking really only works when at least one of the choices is in fact not really evil.
..Now, however, we really do have two evils to choose between—or to decline choosing. Neither Trump nor Clinton has a single redeeming characteristic that recommends him or her to the presidency of the United States—at least none that is not decisively outweighed by some other damning characteristic.
Clinton’s much vaunted “experience” is a career record of ghastly misjudgments in foreign policy, paired with a consistently authoritarian and illiberal “progressivism” in domestic policy, seemingly intent on unraveling the social fabric that makes a decent society. And there is no need to rehearse her and her husband’s history of dishonesty, corruption, and irresponsibility, capped most recently by her obvious breach of the statutes protecting national security secrets.
As for Trump, was there ever a candidate more obviously unqualified for high public office, as measured by his dearth of relevant knowledge and experience, his willfulness and self-absorption, his compulsive lying and inconsistency, his manipulative using of other people, his smash-mouth rhetoric and low character? For anyone professing conservative principles, the first problem with Trump is that he is not one of us, has never been one of us, shows no sign or capacity of becoming one of us, and hardly cares to pretend to be one of us. Even “what about the Supreme Court?” has no grip on my conscience when I try to imagine Donald Trump in the Oval Office. I cannot trust him to choose judicial nominees wisely, and there are other things whose cumulative weight is greater even than this variable.
We haven’t even the consolation of thinking of Trump as a certain kind of Republican who is not actually conservative but who at least recognizes our vocabulary when he hears it. No, Trump would not know a conservative principle if it kicked him in the shins. This is a nominee who, in my estimation, cannot earn my vote even as a “lesser evil” or an “at least he’s not Hillary” candidate. I waver between believing that his defeat would be the worst thing to happen to our country and believing that his victory would be.
After a lifetime of studying politics, I have finally, thanks to the electoral annus horribilis of 2016, arrived at an ethic of voting that I can defend against all rival ethics. It is simply this: Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character. Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences. The country will go whither it will go, when all the votes are counted. What should matter the most to you is whither you will go, on and after this November’s election day.