Taking Ted Cruz Seriously
What does 'vote your conscience' mean for conservatives?
At this year’s GOP convention, Ted Cruz famously urged the delegates — and all Republicans: “If you love our country, and love our children as much as you do, stand, and speak, and vote your conscience. Vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom, and to be faithful to the constitution.” Many observers saw this statement as an implied attack on Donald Trump, and Cruz was booed vigorously as a result. But let’s take Sen. Cruz seriously. In the 2016 election, what should a conservative do who loves his or her children and his or her country? What does your conscience suggest?
Some have sought to avoid the issue by saying that one vote doesn’t matter in an election as large as ours. Even if that were true, it shouldn’t matter to a person of good conscience. Your vote is important not only because of its practical outcome, but because it is how you, as a free citizen, participate in the life if your country. Simply abdicating your responsibility, and passing the buck to your fellow Americans, is not the act of a good conscience.
That’s the world you will wake up to on Nov. 9 … a world where your constitutional rights, your state and local governments, and your country’s military would all be in the hands of a single angry liberal.
Others seek to avoid the issue by saying that Hillary Clinton will win no matter what anyone says or does. But that’s plainly not true. According to Nate Silver’s “polls-plus” analysis, Donald Trump has a 33.4 percent chance of winning the election. As of today, Silver projects Trump to win almost 241 electoral votes — far more than Mitt Romney (who won 206). Furthermore, Trump has been moving up in the polls — the RealClearPolitics average shows that Trump is only 3.9 percentage points behind Hillary Clinton, a significant improvement from the gap of almost 8 percentage points he faced soon after the Democratic convention. In short, the race is very much still up for grabs, and no one can say with certainty who will win.
Others try to avoid the issue by cheering on various third-party options. But it seems clear that no third-party candidate can be elected. In 1992, Ross Perot received almost 19 percent of the popular vote — and still received no electoral votes. None of the third-party candidates running this year are even close to 19 percent in the polls — Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, is doing the best with 7.4 percent of the vote, according to the RealClearPolitics average. So unless something utterly unforeseen happens, either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.
Under these circumstances, what should a conservative of good conscience do? Obviously, if you think Trump will be the better president, you should vote for him. Millions of conservative voters have already made this choice — which explains why Trump is so close to Hillary in the polls. On the other hand, if you believe that Hillary Clinton’s election would be better for the country — either because she would make a better president or because her victory would make it easier for conservatives to govern in the future — then you should endorse Hillary Clinton. Indeed, if she’s truly the best choice for the country, you should urge others to vote for her, you should consider giving her money — you should do whatever it takes to help her win. After all, if her victory is the best outcome for the country, then you should try to make that happen.
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So far, so good. But what if you think that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would be bad presidents? I know people in this camp. Some of them are my good friends. Some of them have worked and fought for conservative causes for many years. They are good people, and they are heartbroken by the results of this campaign so far. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen and sinful world — and sometimes that forces people to choose between unpleasant options.
One way to avoid this dilemma is simply to avoid talking about politics altogether. Go do something else with your life. Preach the gospel. Work for charity. Spend time with your children. In other words, do something that has permanent value, and stop worrying so much about politics. However, you should carefully scrutinize your motives before choosing this path. Are you really doing what’s best for your conscience and your family — or are you, like Pontius Pilate, trying to wash your hands of a decision that you don’t want to make? Dropping out of politics because you believe that there are more important things in life may be admirable — if you’re really serious about it. But if you’re simply trying to avoid a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, you are not doing the right thing. Millions of people suffered and died to give you the right to help govern this country — you should not spurn that right unless you have very good reasons to do so.
OK, how should a disappointed conservative choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? The best approach would be to draw upon the concept of prudence. In other words, make a careful assessment of life under a Clinton presidency, and life under a Trump presidency. Let’s assume that the worst of what you believe about Trump is correct. Let’s ignore the fact that he repeatedly argues for lower taxes, that he has identified conservatives whom he would put on the Supreme Court, that he picked a conservative running mate, and all of the other things he has said and done indicating a preference for conservative policies. Even assuming for the sake of argument that none of those promises are valid, and that Trump would devote his entire presidency to advancing harmful policies, what would happen? In the first place, he would face unrelenting scrutiny from a press corps that hates him. Any scandal involving his administration would receive vast publicity. Any mistakes would be magnified by a hostile media. Any illegality — or alleged illegality — would be met with calls for impeachment.
But that’s not all. Trump’s attacks on globalization have angered many powerful business interests, who would gladly fund challengers to Trump’s policies — and even to his re-election. He would likely face a well-funded challenger in the 2020 GOP primaries. He would also face a skeptical court system — no one seriously believes that Supreme Court justices like John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy would be a rubber stamp for Trump, and that doesn’t even count the four liberal justices who would vote against almost anything he did. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have also shown a robust willingness to disagree with Trump when they think he’s wrong. In short, the checks and balances built into our system would significantly limit the harmful effects of a Trump administration.
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Unfortunately, those factors will not limit Hillary Clinton. She has the Democratic Party in her pocket — her only serious primary opponent was Bernie Sanders, who is not a Democrat. Most of the members of the mainstream press are simply her puppets, and would do whatever was necessary to avoid putting her re-election at risk. Similarly, once Hillary Clinton has five liberals on the Supreme Court — and she will have five liberals on the Supreme Court — she can interpret any statute or re-write any regulation as she sees fit, and there’s nothing anyone could do about it. What if Hillary Clinton uses the IRS to go after her political enemies? The press would cover it up, and the courts would do nothing to stop her. What if she uses the FBI to spy on people she doesn’t like? The press would cover it up, and the courts would do nothing to stop her.
That’s not all. The president has extraordinary discretion to interpret U.S. law. What’s to prevent her from bringing in as many new immigrants as she wants? What’s to prevent her from using the Clean Air Act to impose her climate change policies on the country, or interpreting the tax laws in ways that punish companies she doesn’t like, or re-interpreting the Obamacare legislation however she wants, or changing any federal regulations in ways that advance her political agenda? What’s to prevent her judges from taking over many of the functions of state government — re-drawing congressional districts in manners that help the Democrats, changing the voting laws to suit their preferences, ordering the schools to comply with whatever whims they may have, managing the prisons as they see fit?
Once she has five members of the Supreme Court, the answer is literally nothing. If you complain to the press, they will ignore you. If you take her to court, you will lose. And she won’t have to worry about federal prosecutors — she will appoint the prosecutors, and she can replace them at will. And when 2020 comes around, and businesses start to get the message that it’s time to support Hillary Clinton for re-election, how many of them will have the courage to refuse? If you think she raises a lot of money now, wait until you see how much money she can raise with the awesome power of the presidency behind her.
What about your constitutional rights — the rights so dear to the hearts of many conservatives? Once Hillary Clinton has five members of the Supreme Court, as a practical matter those rights will mean exactly what she wants them to mean — no more, no less. You want to speak out in public? You will have as much right to do so as her judges will let you have. You want to practice your religion? You will be in danger if you do something her judges won’t approve. You want to invoke your Second Amendment rights? Good luck with that. What about constitutional limits on the administrative state, or the treaty power, or any other limits on executive authority? They will be just as effective as Hillary Clinton’s pet judges want. What about Congress? She may need them to appropriate money — but that can all be done once every year in a single vote, as President Obama has already figured out. Once she has that money — and the GOP will give it to her, because they won’t shut down the government — there will be no practical limit on her power.
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And I haven’t even mentioned that she would be commander-in-chief, with the world’s largest military at her disposal.
That’s the world you will wake up to on Nov. 9 if Hillary Clinton is elected president. A world where your constitutional rights, your state and local governments, and your country’s military would all be in the hands of a single angry liberal. No one will be able to help you. In fact, almost everyone in a position of real power will not want to help you — it will be in their interests to help Hillary Clinton make you suffer. What will you do then? Some of you may have the courage to engage in civil disobedience. That may be admirable, but you should be realistic about what will happen: You will be punished, and the press will try to destroy your reputation. Some of you may even fantasize about engaging in violent efforts to preserve your freedom. Again, let’s be realistic: You will not defeat the United States military.
So that’s your choice: a Donald Trump administration that would face real checks and balances, or a Hillary Clinton administration that would face almost none. Under these circumstances, it seems obvious that the prudent thing for a skeptical conservative to do is work with the Trump supporters to defeat Hillary Clinton — she is the much greater, and much more immediate, threat.
I believe that a lot of conservatives realize these facts, but are troubled with the notion that by voting for Trump, they would be personally endorsing everything he says and does. But that is simply not true. We are talking about a temporary political alliance to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House. No one seriously believes that John Adams supported slavery because he worked with slaveholders to throw the British out of Massachusetts. No one seriously believes that Churchill supported communism because he worked with Stalin to defeat Hitler. No one seriously believes that Hamilton and Madison agreed on everything because they cooperated on the Federalist Papers. There’s a reason we say that “politics makes strange bedfellows” — because political crises sometimes force people to form alliances with people they would otherwise oppose. For some conservatives, the 2016 election is plainly one of those times.
In short, when you apply the Cruz test to this election, it is clear that conservatives of good conscience can and should support Donald Trump. Indeed, failure to do so will put our entire political system — with all of the civil liberties we hold dear — at risk. I urge those conservatives who are concerned about Trump to think very, very carefully about this election, and work with the rest of us to defeat Hillary Clinton.