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What can Republicans who don’t support Trump do?

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
I think America can survive either a Trump or a Clinton presidency, though neither will be pretty and neither is likely to get much accomplished.

American political parties are uneasy coalitions of candidates, officeholders, interest groups and voters. They are not unified. They are remarkably diverse and somewhat fluid. Putting together a winning coalition requires compromise. This doesn’t always work.

J. Scott Johnson

Many people haven’t noticed how diverse the Republican Party has become and how different its collection of voting blocs looks from those of the 1970s, ’80s and even the ’90s. Many continue to talk as if there is only one base for the Republican Party — a claim that is demonstrably false, as evidenced by Trump’s present success. 

The presumptive Republican nominee won a plurality of many early contests and eventually shoved all competitors from his path. Trump found a faction of voters that had been ignored by American politics. They are a similar set of voters to those on the left supporting Bernie Sanders: anti-establishment, left behind by the post 2008 recovery. 

While some Republicans have endorsed Hillary Clinton, most of them simply prefer to remain Republicans. They cannot be shamed into joining the Democrats or leaving their party. Some are even fervid Trump supporters. Others may publicly proclaim their support for the nominee, but their tepid activities and lack of financial support will eventually undercut Trump’s ability to win. 

Not the first time

Republicans have done this before. Ted Cruz-style conservatives thought John McCain was too moderate. They supported him, but didn’t come out in droves to get him elected. Evangelicals supported Mitt Romney, but some couldn’t get past his Mormon faith and didn’t come out in droves to get him elected. This year Mormons seem unlikely to come out in droves for Trump. The uneasy coalitions of factions in the Republican Party don’t always agree with conviction, and its internal divisions have cost them some big wins.

This election is different. A Republican coalition partner has practically succeeded in nominating someone temperamentally unsuited for the presidency. These voters did so out of deep-seated frustration with the behavior of their other coalition partners’ refusal to get things done. They did so out of frustration with an American political system that seemed to benefit insiders more than the greater good. And they did so as a way of being heard, loudly and clearly, that they were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. (Apologies to Howard Beale, in “Network” from 1976.)  I see their frustration. I understand their pain. But that doesn’t mean we should vote for an unsuitable candidate or stay home.

I do not support Hillary Clinton for president. I would have much preferred that Elizabeth Dole or Condoleezza Rice had become the first woman president. I will not be shamed into voting for Clinton. And while I understand that only the Republican or the Democratic nominees have a real chance at winning, by voting for a third party’s nominee whose ideas are closer to my beliefs I hope that enough other voters do the same to change the direction of both parties in the future. 

An institutional presidency

I think America can survive either a Trump or a Clinton presidency, though neither will be pretty and neither is likely to get much accomplished. Minnesota survived Jesse Ventura as governor. The American presidency is an institutional presidency. While one person can put his or her mark on it, our system is designed to be slow and deliberate, which is usually a very good thing. But the two major parties are deadlocked in a dead zone that clearly is not working for many Americans.

Voting for a third party now is the only way to encourage movement. Voting is a form of communication. When enough people reject the choices they are offered by the two major parties and communicate that dissatisfaction in the voting booth, the party that listens the most closely will win the future.

Until Americans signal with their votes the directions in which they want the parties to go, we will continue to get more of the same old establishment. By 2020, I hope that is no longer the case.

J. Scott Johnson, Ph.D., is a professor of political science at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. The information, views, and opinions expressed do not represent official information or the views and opinions of his employer. ​ 

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 07/08/2016 - 11:13 am.

    Condi Rice?!?

    For Pete’s sake she was absolutely asleep at the switch for 9/11. She had no clue, despite intelligence reports that a responsible leader would have heeded. Rice failed to keep Americans safe from terrorism.

    Next to Rice, HRC looks very qualified, and that’s really saying something since I’ll never vote for Hillary.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/08/2016 - 12:15 pm.

    “I think America can survive either a Trump or a Clinton presidency, though neither will be pretty and neither is likely to get much accomplished. Minnesota survived Jesse Ventura as governor.”

    That’s an interesting claim. I wonder what the basis is for it. I suspect that America would not survive a Trump presidency, that Washington’s weakened state of political dysfunction would collapse under the weight of Trump’s contempt for our institutions. But that’s just me.

  3. Submitted by Brian Simon on 07/08/2016 - 02:16 pm.

    Welcome to the club

    For many of us, both major parties rarely offer what we’re looking for. So we’re perpetually left with these options:

    1) “lesser of 2 evils”
    2) throw-away 3rd party vote, or
    3) don’t vote

    Frankly, the Johnson-Weld campaign is looking pretty interesting.

  4. Submitted by James Schnepf on 07/08/2016 - 02:28 pm.

    Right idea, wrong election

    This is an idea that looks like it has merit but I am not convinced it will be successful nor would it be wise. There is precedence in the 1992 election where Perot’s focus on fiscal responsibility resonated and both parties took notice of his success. The Republicans came out with the Contract with America as a consequence and the Clinton recognizing the public sentiment actually generated a couple of years with little or no deficit. And even though Perot, didn’t win (thank goodness) I attribute the focus on fiscal responsibility to Perot’s success in 1992 (though it didn’t affect his other issue – NAFTA).
    But Nader hardly moved the needle on issues in 2000 but the result was a Bush win which I, along with many others, consider a disaster for the country. While Johnson may well be the best candidate of this election, he has no chance of winning and I find it hard to see that a protest vote for him would make a difference. I suspect that many of the Republicans who might vote for him would strongly disagree with a significant subset of his stands on the issues (legalize marijuana, embrace immigration, switch to a consumption tax, raise the retirement age to 70+). There is no clear issue that will resonate and there would be no clear direction for either major party to move as result. The libertarian wing of the Republican Party is small.
    Secondly, the election of Trump would be a disaster. He is not only “temperamentally unsuited for the presidency,” but has shown an astonishing ignorance of government, a willingness to break any rules that he doesn’t like, and a frightening penchant to use racial bias to his advantage. As President, he has the power to do far greater damage than any governor of Minnesota; the analogy to Ventura is not appropriate.
    There have been elections where a protest vote for a third party candidate made a difference and there may well be more in the future. But this is not one of them.

  5. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 07/08/2016 - 08:31 pm.

    President in crisis?

    No matter what you think about Obama, he is careful, not reckless in a crisis. He has shown an impressive ability to endure abuse and keep his cool. We will have crises, and that is when a Oredident needs to stand up and calm the situation. With Trump, not only do you have a person with an incredibly thin skin, but someone who cannot handle any opposition without anger and personal vendettas. With George W. Bush, part of the reason for Iraq was retaliation against Saddam, who tried to assassinate his Dad. That is almost understanding. What Trump gets upset about and how often is un Presidental – and how it is always about him, never about anyone else. Hillary is no Obama in terms of eloquence, but the ability to not get unhinged by a crisis – a strength.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/09/2016 - 07:08 am.

    For many of us, both major parties rarely offer what we’re looking for.

    What are you looking for that neither major party provides? There are times when I am at odds with my party, The Democratic Party, but for the most part I agree with what they stand for, if less often how they go about it. I often think the Republican Party doesn’t represent it’s members well, but that could very well be my partisanship showing. I do think Trump won the nomination of the other party, in the final analysis, because he did and does offer what many Republicans are looking for, and I don’t think that is all true of many of the other candidates he defeated.

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