My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:
Since I decided last week that I could not vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for President of the United States, and that voting is a responsibility that I must fulfill, that means that I will be voting for a third party candidate. Many of my conservative and Republican friends have argued against voting for a third party, but their arguments fail to convince with candidates such as these.
Some of my fellow conservatives argue that not voting for Trump is tantamount to voting for Clinton. By that argument, many of these same Wisconsin conservatives who opposed Trump in the Wisconsin primary could be said to have cast their votes for him when they voted for challengers who had little chance of success like Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, or even Scott Walker. Voting for a third party candidate cannot be logically construed to be a vote for another candidate. It is simply a vote for a different candidate who might have a lesser chance of winning.
There is also an arrogance underpinning this argument that is grating. The notion that voting for a third party candidate is the same as voting for Clinton rests on a presumption that my vote belongs to the Republican Party instead of to me. As a free American citizen, my vote is my own. If the Republican Party wants it, then they will need to nominate candidates for whom I would vote.
Another argument used against third party candidates since the conception of the two party system in America is that a vote for the third party candidate is a wasted vote because they cannot win. It is an argument vociferously advanced by adherents to both of the major parties for obvious reasons. It is also not true.
Unlike most other advanced representative governments, Americans have favored a two party system for almost our entire history. It has become a cultural norm and it has its merits. By having only two major parties, both parties must operate as “big tent” parties if they wish to gain and retain power. This pushes both political parties to the political middle resulting in a moderating effect on any radical movements. The two party system promotes a more classically conservative approach to governance that is less subject to wild fluctuations in policy that have rended governments formed from multi-party coalitions.
Third parties, however, have their place in the American political system to move the major parties off of their foundations when they become too obtuse. The Republican Party began as a third party movement of people who were frustrated that neither the Democrats nor the Whigs were sufficiently opposed to slavery. The Progressive movement of the late 19th century and early 20th century was driven by people enraged at the corruption that riddled both major political parties. In both cases, the strong third party movements served to shove both major parties into the mainstream of the American people’s will.
More recently, if to a lesser extent, Ross Perot ran as a strong independent in the presidential elections of 1992 and 1996. Although Perot did not win and never really had a chance to win, his candidacy served to force both of the major entrenched political parties to address some issues that they had been ignoring. Although Bill Clinton won both elections, he never won a majority of the popular vote.
Perot’s strong showing helped force both the Democrats and the Republicans to address the budget deficit and national debt eventually resulting in a balanced budget and several years of federal budget surpluses. I would note that the Republicans and Democrats have since returned to their utter neglect of any sense of fiscal responsibility with our tax dollars. Third parties rarely win in America, but they serve a vital function of forcing political change.
As I consider for whom to cast my ballot, I must invoke the Buckley Rule. Named for its creator William Buckley, the father of the modern conservative movement, the Buckley Rule entreats people to vote for “the rightwardmost viable candidate.” It is a simple, but oft misunderstood rule. “Rightwardmost” is easy enough. “Candidate” is easy enough. The word “viable” is often misconstrued to mean the candidate who is the most electable, but that is not how Buckley meant it. As an unmatched master of the English lexicon, if Buckley had meant “electable,” he would have said so.
By “viable,” Buckley meant, as former National Review editor Neal B. Freeman said, “someone who would bring credit to our (conservatives’) cause. Somebody who, win or lose, would conservatize the Republican Party and the country.” Buckley affirmed this definition with his own actions by running for the Mayor of New York City as a conservative independent against the incumbent Republican mayor even though he stood almost no chance of winning. In our choices this election year, the rightwardmost viable candidate for president is certainly not Donald Trump.
And so, in this election, while I will be proudly casting my vote for the candidates down the ballot who are the rightwardmost viable candidate like Ron Johnson, my vote for president will go to the independent registered write-in candidate, Evan McMullin. Of all of the choices, McMullin appears to be the rightwardmost candidate who would, win or lose, bring credit to conservatism. While I am certain that Clinton will win Wisconsin and almost certainly be our next president, I fervently hope that a strong showing by third party candidates will shove both the Democrats and Republicans to attend to the serious issues that matter to Americans.