Choose Your Own Adventure: A 2016 Voters Guide for Disaffected Christian Conservatives

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If you are an evangelical Christian and an independent conservative, like me, you are probably incredibly torn on how to vote in the upcoming presidential election.  Even for those of you who are used to seeing your vote in terms of a “lesser of two evils,” you are struggling to identify just who or what that lesser evil is.  You are not alone and your uncertainty is completely justified.  Lacking a natural candidate, we find ourselves faced with a multitude of options and none of them seem particularly satisfying.  So in an attempt to clarify the options before us, I offer this voting guide for disaffected conservatives concerned with Christian values in the civic sphere.

I divided the options open to conservative voters into five major choices: 1) Vote for “The Nominee”; 2) Vote for “Her”; 3) Vote for “The Other Guy”; 4) “Choose Your Own Candidate”; and 5) Vote for No-One.  Skip ahead to those sections most prevalent to you, or read through them all at your leisure.

The premise of this guide is that all of these choices are morally available to us in this country, and as such we should give them due consideration.  While I’m sure some “friends” in your social network are pressuring you to make a certain decision as “the only right one,” I don’t happen to believe such a choice exists before us and there seems to be good reasons for almost all, if not all, of these five options.  Use your own discernment and make the choice that best aligns with your conscience, your faith, and your understanding of voting and citizenship.

If you already know who you want to vote for then good for you! Obviously you don’t need help making this decision so this isn’t a piece written for you.

For my fellow undecideds, if this begins to read a bit like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure storybooks where nearly every choice leads you to an untimely end, I feel you.  Yet choose one of these five we must, even if that choice is one of inaction.  I hope that this piece can be one source to help you decide in the coming months how to best utilize your freedom to vote (or not to vote) as you deem best.

A few disclosures before we start: I try to note my own biases where relevant, so for the record I am a white, highly educated, Evangelical (Anglican) Christian millennial, currently a stay at home mom, and a registered Independent who resides in the “purple” state of Virginia.  I am pro-liberty and pro-life which often leads me to support libertarian based policies on the economy, immigration, and foreign policy, with deep reservations over some libertarian perspectives on our common morality.

Prior to this election I mostly voted Republican and in the 2016 primaries I supported Rand Paul and John Kasich.  Before becoming a mom I pursued a series of degrees related to politics (international relations), history, and Christianity and travelled to many countries outside the US, especially in the Middle East.  I am, in essence, the personification of a typical #NeverTrump voter.  However, I try my best to outline which of you might find Donald Trump the best choice this year.

Our choices in 2016 – By the candidates:

1. Vote for “The Nominee” (a.k.a. Donald Trump)

Donald J. Trump likely needs no introduction at this point.  It is the pending nomination of this megalomaniac billionaire as the Republican nominee which has primarily created the conundrum we face.  If you are anything like our family, you watched the primaries with a mixture of shock, horror, and denial.  You still can’t believe the same political party so fixated in the past on public virtue has deemed his antics and rhetoric an acceptable representation of their message.

Yet many public figures, several of whom you probably respect, have come to embrace or even actively endorse him in recent weeks.  Personally, I have a hard time looking past his erratic nature, constant lies, childish personal attacks, racially charged rhetoric, irresponsible policy suggestions and obvious ignorance, but apparently not everyone finds these issues to be disqualifying.  Or at the very least, his failures are deemed to be the lesser evil set before us and thus a vote for him is considered a necessary, if unpalatable, choice.

Why Yes

Even if you ultimately choose to cast a vote for Donald Trump, chances are it will be hard to say you support the candidate himself.  This makes you what I think of as one of the “vote for The Nominee” advocates.  Like many of the current leaders within the GOP, you acknowledge you will probably vote for Mr. Trump, but wish to do so with as little of a connection to the actual man as possible.  You remain concerned about a number of issues raised by Trump’s candidacy, but you think a Republican president, no matter how inconsistent or foul, is still a better option than the alternatives, primarily Hillary Clinton.  Ultimately, Donald Trump represents a placeholder: flawed, perhaps, but the best pragmatic option available to you for the advancement of conservative principles in this election.

The most pressing reason why this choice might be right for you is if you are primarily concerned with appointees to the Supreme Court.  You hope to ensure with this election that the court will remain ideologically balanced following the sudden death of Antonin Scalia.  You even hope that the court could turn in favor of conservative judicial interpretation following the potential death of more justices in the next four years (a morbid thought for the otherwise pro-life, I know).

You hope for this because it could have major ramifications on future cases related to critical issues like abortion, religious freedom, gun rights, healthcare, executive power, and immigration.  For some social conservatives and gun rights advocates this could be an important enough issue for you to justify a vote for Trump on its own merit.  You may even find yourself desiring to print out his list of hypothetical nominees and bring it with you on voting day as a reminder for why you are doing this.

It is still a risk to support him primarily on this basis.  For even though Donald Trump has released a very conservative list of potential nominees, he has already left room to negotiate his way out of those names if he deems it necessary.  He also has not really assured with clarity or consistency that any future justice appointees beyond Scalia’s replacement would share this ideological bent.  And even if he did promise that tomorrow, would you believe him?  Perhaps not.  But you argue that with Trump as president there is at least a chance for justices of a conservative nature to be nominated, whereas with Hillary Clinton there is a zero-percent likelihood that she would nominate an originalist with a pro-life, pro-gun, pro-marriage record. You take that argument for what it is: a hope and a prayer.

This brings us to a second reason to vote for “The Nominee.”  To you, general elections for president are primarily about the two major parties and you only want to vote for someone who can possibly win.  I personally disagree with this assessment.  However, if this is how you see the world then you really only believe that you have two choices, not five.  In that case, you must judge which wretched candidate, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, best represents you and/or is best for the country.

Perhaps you will conclude that you trust a Trump administration if not Trump the man.  Perhaps you are so appalled by the worldview or record of Hillary Clinton that you believe she is still worse than what Trump has to offer.  Or maybe you just hear something you agree with in the policies Donald Trump has suggested, and you agree with it enough to compromise any other beliefs or concerns that a vote for him may entail.

If you are wary of Free Trade, NATO, Muslims, illegal immigrants or desire to not just secure the border but also dramatically increase deportations – among other single issue policies like energy, military growth, tax cuts, healthcare, and preserving social security – then you may find yourself desiring to vote quite openly by name for Donald J. Trump, warts and all.  Included in this group are also those so tired of politicians that you believe it would be best for someone lacking political experience to try their hand at the presidency.  In this case you may not need to read on, for Donald Trump is your best candidate for 2016.

Whatever your reasons, some (perhaps many) of you will likely end up voting for this man come November.  If you do, I’d like to add a request from those who, like myself, find that this decision is hard to reconcile with our beliefs.  No matter your reasoning, I ask that you do not let partisan patterns of coloring the world in favor of your chosen candidate lead you to blindness of this man’s weaknesses or keep you from speaking out against the things he says or does which are abhorrent.

It’s one thing to decide to vote for him; it’s another to advocate for him or remain silent in the defense of your “lesser” evil.  If he does win and attempts to make any of his more criminal policy suggestions into reality, such as order attacks on the family members of terrorists or use the powers of the federal government to crack-down on journalists who don’t portray him in the best possible light, I hope you will be among the first to speak out against him no matter who he nominates to the Supreme Court.

Why No

If you have concluded that it is an unacceptable option to elect someone as leader of the free world who is crass, emotionally unstable, unprepared to address the basic demands of the office, and willing to suggest heinous, unconstitutional, and even criminal policies just to claim a news cycle, then Donald Trump is not your candidate.  From the ugly rise of the young alt-right to the embrace of the blatant racism found in his recent attacks against the judge overseeing his Trump University fraud case in California, you are appalled at the type of support this man is receiving.  You can’t fathom such ideas being rewarded with the powers of our chief executive. Bad behavior should be met with consequences, even if they are painful for all involved, not reinforced with rewards.

For some of you, his less than ardent commitment to conservative principles (to put it nicely) might be enough to rule him out.  Yet while you may have deep policy differences with the Trump campaign, chances are your deepest reservations are tied to concerns about his character, rhetoric, lack of experience, and motives.  While all of his policies have been declared by the candidate himself as inherently “negotiable” and as mere “suggestions”, I’m afraid his character is not.  As Thomas Sowell aptly noted, “A man in his 60s has life-long habits that are not likely to change. Age brings habits, even if it does not bring maturity.”

If you were persuaded early on by arguments from Christian leaders like those offered by Max Lucado on decency, or later by Russell Moore on the potential damage that support for this man could have for the fellowship and witness of Christians within minority communities, then Donald Trump is probably not the best option available to you.  You are unswayed by arguments like the one regarding the future of the Supreme Court for you question Trump’s intentions to follow through on his promises.  Or, you see great deal of potential evil in other areas that also concern you like immigration (border walls and racial insults bring to mind the worst of modernity?), or dangers for foreign policy (talked to anyone from the intelligence community lately?) or the economy (tariffs and trade wars not your thing?) that outweigh, or at least render even, any possible gains from a hypothetical conservative court.

It’s probably disquieting to relinquish the possibility of replacing Antonin Scalia with another like-minded justice, but you still cannot find yourself able to support or advance the leadership offered by Donald Trump.  You are willing to take this hit and surrender the future of the Court for the next few decades in exchange for “principled dissent.” It is all in God’s hands anyway, therefore you decide to release this future back to Him.

It’s possible that you are willing to look beyond the social conservative purity tests of pro-life/pro-marriage (for example, you voted for pro-choice Republican candidates in the past).  Therefore you aren’t compelled by a need to vote solely on that basis. Or you find it difficult to use the Trump campaign’s official support of these types of “Christian” policies as justification to overlook the other ways he daily undermines your closely held understandings of public virtue, human dignity, compassion, truth, and leadership.

Maybe you are someone versed in psychology or patterns of abuse and you just can’t bring yourself to vote for a person who so openly engages in dysfunctional and potentially clinical behavior.  Or perhaps, like Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, John Kasich and other figures who have publicly announced their difficulty or inability to vote for Trump, you don’t know how you could explain or justify this decision to your children or grandchildren.  You you don’t want them to ever look up to this man or believe his public behavior is in some way acceptable, defensible, or worthy of support.

You are so concerned by the ramifications that a Trump presidency presents for the safety, prosperity, and common decency of this country, or for a compromised ability to witness Christ to a needy world, that you are willing to consider options beyond the Republican nominee. If any of these describe you, I encourage you to keep reading.

2. Vote for “Her” (a.k.a. Hillary Clinton)

I know what you are thinking: “Is this a joke?”  Sadly, I’m quite serious.  Not only is Hillary Rodham Clinton – another candidate not needing an introduction – an option by way of her likely nomination by the DNC, but she is most definitely a very real choice for traditionally Republican voters thanks to the deep problems presented by the nomination of Donald Trump.  Yes, please take minute to let that fact sink in.

As one astute pundit noted, thanks to Trump’s frequent outrageous statements and behavior Clinton is now able to at least appear reasonable, rational, and presidential, if not actually embody those qualities in the eyes of a majority of the nation.  Her June 2, 2016 foreign policy speech highlighted this contrast well, likely the first of many such speeches to come.  But is she really a safer or more responsible choice than Trump?

Why Yes

My guess is that most conservatives who vote for Hilary Clinton will ultimately choose to do so on the basis on foreign policy and not a shared morality.  It is her strongest general election argument and it is no surprise that this is how she has chosen to frame her opposition to Trump.  This might be an option for you if you worry about the temperament of the person who has access to our nuclear codes and our highest levels of intelligence briefings.  If you are a neoconservative in foreign policy and this lens of national security is one of your primary policy concerns, then it should be an easy choice – one that some prominent conservative ideologues have already publicly announced.

But even if you are a critic of Clinton’s often abysmal record, including her tendencies toward ill-fated military engagement, her handling of Benghazi, and her questionable judgment behind the ongoing classified email investigation, she still might prove to be the safer or less frightening choice.  Personally, I lean toward non-interventionist policies and don’t support much in her record.  Yet I am schooled enough in foreign policy and international relations to understand that maintaining a less than desirable status quo is preferable to emotionally charged unpredictability, incompetence, and incoherence on the world stage.  You don’t get to stop the camera and take 2 (or 22) in diplomacy and war.

In fact, stability could be why, in the words of my life-long Republican mother, you may find yourself thinking in awe that “Hillary Clinton might be the best hope we have to save the republic.” I don’t think most Christian conservative voters are looking to permanently switch parties (although Reince Priebus and his ilk are doing an excellent job at making a case for why we should reconsider political allegiances).  Neither are you looking to support most of Clinton’s agenda.

But in an election filled with deeply pragmatic choices of compromise, voting for a candidate whom you believe to be, in the words of P.J. O’Rourke, “wrong about absolutely everything, but…wrong within normal parameters,” could be the lesser evil.  Ironically her famous “3 A.M. phone call” argument is even more relevant in this election than ever. Who cares about the Supreme Court if we elect someone who could potentially trigger a nuclear WWIII?

You assess that choosing Hillary Clinton, even if you have a long history of antipathy towards her, probably means lower risks of economic collapse or international political instability.  For those radical conservatives (count me as one!) who support sanity in our immigration policy, it means a movement toward some kind of realistic solution for the millions of undocumented workers who could otherwise be paying taxes, given newfound dignity, and integrated into our society.

Toss in a dash of Alexander Hamilton’s now popular adage, “If we must have an enemy at the head of government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible.” Add a pinch of the notion that most of you who vote for, or at least acquiesce to, Clinton in 2016 will almost immediately look for challenger to support in 2020, and you’ve got the makings of a pretty persuasive argument.

I’m not saying there will be some kind of come to Jesus moment where a bunch of us decide the Democrats have been right all along.  Rather I am suggesting that for many of you there is newfound reason to reevaluate your distaste for certain politicians and view them with fresh eyes.  Perhaps you think it’s time to ask anew just why Hillary Clinton is so wrong for the presidency in light of the realities of who the republican nominee is and what he has chosen to represent.

I found the knee-jerk response of prominent politicians like Marco Rubio to reveal our own madness on this matter: just why is Hillary so bad that we must have Donald Trump, a man Rubio publicly deemed “an erratic individual,” a “lunatic,” and “con-artist,” at all costs?  The answer to this query is not as obvious to me as so many die-hard Republican partisans now assert.  If you are considering a vote for Clinton – or at least a non-vote for Trump – I expect you agree.

Honestly, I think most conservatives who will not be voting for Donald Trump, whatever that looks like, have at least unconsciously accepted some, if not all, of these arguments.  Barring a major shift in our national political behavior, either Trump or Clinton will be president.  If you are choosing a #NeverTrump position I’m not sure you can also faithfully be 100% #NeverHillary, even if you decide that you cannot personally cast a vote for her.

Some of you, it’s important to note, share a few key interests with the Democratic Party platform, such as addressing environmental conservation, racial injustice, or gender inequality. It’s ok to be a voter who changes up party support from time to time.  If this description fits you then you maybe this choice isn’t going to be all that difficult in the end.  You may find the Clinton campaign to be a more natural fit given the options.

For those who believe that you must vote for the candidate of one of our two major parties, I think Clinton offers a very realistic alternative worthy of consideration as your version of a “lesser evil.” It is not the most desirable option and it carries significant trade-offs, as discussed below.  For many of you the reality of another Clinton family presidency is downright depressing. But again, when faced with bad options sometimes you have to make less than appealing choices.

Why No

Well, the reasons here to not vote for Clinton are aplenty.  Most of them fall along party lines and you already know them well.  You have likely voiced them vociferously at TV screens and family dinners for years.  However, I think the most important reason to not vote for Hillary Clinton is if pro-life policies are of the upmost importance to you, as well as a whole host of other social issues.  A Clinton presidency will be at least as radical as the Obama administration on issues of human sexuality, marriage, and abortion, if not even more so.  This could have very serious ramifications for Christian businesses, schools, and possibly even churches.

If you care about the Supreme Court appointments first and foremost, then she is definitely not a good choice for you.  If you are concerned with restricting our military presence overseas, believe she ought to be in jail, or find the thought of Bill Clinton back in the White House chilling, then this is also not a great option for you.  If you believe that we can’t possibly survive another 4 years of a liberal political agenda in this nation and Dinesh D’Souza’s political films rank among your favorites, then you should probably rule her out.

None of the positive arguments listed above negate her colorful past full of lots of “gates”, unanswered questions, and evasive pretension.  They don’t fix any real perception of how trustworthy she is, or address concerns about her judgement.  They also can’t effectively be used to defend against her liberal voting record and philosophy on just about every major policy area of concern.  So basically if you aren’t swayed by arguments that you need to restrict your voting choices to two corrupt liars with different letters listed behind their names, or if you aren’t all that worried about potential crises like trade wars, nuclear wars, and unconstitutional acts as manifested in a potential Trump presidency, then she is probably not your candidate.

3. Vote for “The Other Guy” (a.k.a. Gary Johnson)

Gary Johnson, a former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, is the newly chosen nominee for the Libertarian Party.  As of today he is the only other presidential candidate who will appear on the ballot in all 50 states.  Depending on your social network, there is a decent chance that you have never heard of him or see him merely as “The Other Guy.”  Unlike Trump and Clinton, he already has a running mate, another former two-term Republican governor, Bill Weld of Massachusetts.  They are billing themselves as the “governor ticket” and are currently engaged in a media frenzy to try to raise money and get their names out there.

Their first major hurdle comes in regards to the debates, for the committee overseeing the general election presidential debates currently mandates that candidates must be polling nationally at 15% or higher in five major polls in order to be included.  This is a very difficult feat for anyone other than the nominees of our two major parties. For some perspective on the difficulty of this task, Johnson also ran for the Libertarian Party in 2012, winning just shy of 1% of the popular vote with 1.2 million votes.

However, in a recent poll (the only one where his name was even included) Johnson was polling at 11%, so there is still reason to believe the Johnson/Weld ticket could possibly see unprecedented third party success come November.  As an aside, I think if you are even toying with voting for Johnson and happen to be queried for a poll, it is to everyone’s benefit for you to say that you would vote Libertarian just to get a third voice on the stage come this fall.

Why Yes

The motto of the Libertarian Party, as defined by Gary Johnson, is that they are fiscally conservative and socially liberal.  This is a great choice for you if your primary concern is to see a return to (or a beginning of?) conservative economic principles in this country.  If you fundamentally want to see the size of the government decrease and a more strict enforcement of the constitution, the Libertarian platform is your answer.  Particularly so in this election with both candidates of the two major parties openly campaigning as authoritarians who see the federal government as a vehicle for solving most problems at home and abroad.

Johnson is also a good choice for those who advocate for free trade, more open borders, legal status for immigrants, entitlement reform, and limited intervention overseas.  You may also be drawn to this ticket if executive political experience is one of your most treasured qualities to look for in a president and vice president.  It is also possible that you may choose to support them if you are looking to mix-up the two party dominance of the past and want to make it more commonplace for emerging third parties to gain traction and exposure.

You recognize they are unlikely to win this year, but you also believe that it is precisely this kind of thinking which has kept our electoral options very narrow and unappealing in the past.  You reason that if everyone who said they would vote third party candidate “if only they could win,” actually did vote third party, then someone like Johnson might have a fighting chance for success.  So while you can’t change the entrenched habits of others, perhaps starting this year with changing your own is a step in the right direction.

All these reasons probably sound great to disenfranchised conservatives (especially my fellow millennial voters), and in some ways they really are.  But the Johnson/Weld ticket does come with some serious detractions, especially for voters who previously or currently consider(ed) themselves to be social conservatives or values voters.  You need to ask yourself if you can accept pro-choice candidates who seek to uphold federal precedent on abortion (but who are against late-term abortions), if you can see any benefits in the legalization of marijuana, if you are willing to stop looking to the federal government to define marriage, and if you believe that when a person is engaged in commerce they must serve all customers regardless of any personal or religious objections to the request.

These are not easy questions, and my guess is that there may be some compromises you are ok with and others you will have a really hard time supporting.  Of course, most of these compromises are also found in a vote for Hillary Clinton without the ideological benefit of a commitment to fiscal conservatism, constitutionalism, and limited government. It is also important to note that on most issues (the proverbial wedding cake example is a troubling exception for Johnson) libertarians advocate that it is not the role of the federal government to tell you how to live so long as you aren’t using your freedoms to hurt others.  So while they may support, say, LGBT causes, they aren’t for using something like the public education system to enforce or promote this worldview.

For those of you who, like myself, have lived in blue states for most of your life where it is common for fellow conservatives to not share all of your social convictions, these compromises may seem more commonplace and necessary than they will to our red state brethren.  Also, you may find that the libertarian approach to some of our more contentious social divides presents an attractive way forward in a live and let live kind of way. Johnson/Weld remains a great choice for those of you who are fundamentally concerned about the direction of our economy and the size and scope of our federal government.

Why No

If the core issues of social conservatism are at the heart of your voting choices then Johnson/Weld is probably not for you.  They are both, as mentioned above, pro-choice, supportive of LGBT causes, and are in favor of the legalization of most drugs.  In fact, Johnson himself was formerly CEO of a company that makes cannabis products and openly admits to recreational use of marijuana in the recent past.

While much of their advocacy is through the lens of a limited federal government, on the whole they come as advertised: socially liberal.  If this is not a compromise you are comfortable making, even considering the unpalatable nature of this year’s choices, then you are unlikely to want to vote for Johnson.  The Libertarian Party certainly has some prominent pro-life members (like Ron Paul or primary challenger Austin Peterson who gained short term support this month from the likes of Glenn Beck), but the core of the Party has not been terribly friendly to social conservatives on the whole.

The ideological narrowness of the Libertarian Party has not only restricted their ability to build coalitions in the past, but it also raises questions about their potential effectiveness as a third party moving into the future.  If you are looking to vote for a likely winner, or if you at least want to support a movement you can get behind in years to come that will also welcome your differences of opinion, this might not be your best choice.  Finally, if a robust and global military in the neoconservative tradition is important to you, or if you are deeply concerned about border security, you probably won’t be satisfied with their policy proposals.

4. “Choose Your Own Candidate” (Vote for Another 3rd Party Candidate or Write-In)

While most of the pros and cons of voting for an obscure third party or writing-in a candidate of your choice align with the points I make below for choice #5, it’s worth noting this as a separate option unto itself.  In terms of other third party candidates we may still be in flux with who will run, although it is increasing unlikely – but not impossible – for a new independent challenger to get their name on the ballot in all 50 states.  Another third party candidate of note is Darrell Castle and his running-mate Scott Bradley of the Constitution party, who are currently approved for the ballot in 18 states.

Why Yes

This might just be the best choice for the truly desperate or dispossessed.  If none of the other three candidates listed above are acceptable choices to you, but you still want to vote for someone and not just stay home or leave the ballot blank, then this is the only recourse left.  Of course, the much hyped white knight scenario would certainly ease the conscience for many conservatives, and should such an independent candidate emerge in the next few weeks they would be worth your scrutiny and potentially your support.

Darrell Castle presents another alternative who is, at the very least, actually running for president. If you happen to live in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, or Wyoming, you are in luck!  While he will have limited ballot access, the Constitution Party’s core policies of limited government and social conservatism could be a sweet spot for those in search of a Trump alternate.

If you are comfortable with the way the Constitution Party mixes the roles of church and state and you want to vote for someone who is definitely pro-life, Castle may be your candidate and I’d encourage you to read up on him and his party in greater depth.  For those who like his policies but who will not have his name on the ballot in your state, you can always choose to write him in.  There are also a few other third party candidates who may appear on your ballot, the most prevalent being Jill Stein of the Green Party, whom you can certainly research further.  But if both Hilary Clinton and Gary Johnson are a no-go for you, I think it is highly unlikely you will find much common ground with her liberal/progressive agenda.

Of course there is always the possibility for a write-in of your choice, and I have seen many of you suggesting that you will utilize this option to vote for your favored primary candidate, another politician, or perhaps your favorite dog.  This option is for you if you believe that it is 100% crucial to make a positive vote for someone but absolutely cannot see yourself voting for any of the actual names on your ballot.

Short of a massive write-in campaign, and I wouldn’t be shocked to learn of some former Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush supporters attempting to organize such a movement in the coming months, it is unlikely that your choice will get much coverage and it is almost certain, although technically not impossible, that your candidate will not win.  If these facts do not bother you, and if you interpret voting as an endorsement of someone who’s core policies you can support without reservation, then this ultimate “Choose Your Own Candidate” option is definitely for you.

Why No

Alternate third party nominees lacking full ballot access are not a good choice if you believe that your candidate should at least have the logistical and practical potential to win.  If you can’t find an alternate who you are more comfortable supporting than the three major candidates listed above (Trump, Clinton, Johnson), then it is probably best to forgo this choice in favor of the other four options. If you are like me and you are wary of supporting someone who isn’t actually running for president and who hasn’t asked for your vote, then the write-in idea also isn’t for you.

The “Choose Your Own Candidate” route isn’t great for those of you who see the necessity for political compromise and wish to practically walk that out as best as possible given the options before you.  If this is the case you may want to reconsider Choices #1-3 and pick the best (or least bad, depending on your perspective) among them.  If there are certain single issue policies that matter more to you than all else (such as the Supreme Court) then you will also want to pass on this option.

If you question your ability to find anyone who’s acceptable to your own standards outside yourself, then you might want to rule out this choice for the sake of good judgment.  I’ve never taken that option seriously, but yes, apparently there are people in this country who see the write-in option as a chance to write-in their own name or that of their favorite cartoon character.  If this type of behavior bothers you or seems to dishonor and belittle our electoral privileges then you might not want to partake in the practice.

5. Vote for No-One (Stay Home or Leave Blank)

This final choice is one of negation.  You will either stay home or, as Jeb Bush has asserted, show up but leave the presidential section blank and still vote down ballot. It is a choice that is made by millions of Americans every election season for a wide variety of reasons.  While the typical assumption for low voter turnout is disengagement in the political process, if you are reading this guide and yet still consider it an option this stereotype does not apply to you.  It is not unheard of for alienated groups to use the negating power of a non-vote for political purposes.  You may also choose this route as a deliberate act of no-confidence when faced with unacceptable choices or an ambivalence over which candidate you’d rather see in office.

In my own decade of political activity I have personally chosen this option for a number of different reasons. I did not vote in the 2008 presidential election, in part because of a cross-country move that August and in part because of a personal distrust and dislike for either candidate. Over the years I also have not voted in a large number of primaries and mid-term elections because, quite frankly, I had more pressing personal matters and major life changes (moves, marriage, babies) to attend to than figuring out my absentee ballot options or making the necessary arrangements to get to the polls on election day. I don’t regret these choices, they were not usually a decision made of out political ignorance or apathy, and I don’t think less of myself as a citizen or a person for not voting in those elections.  Yes, I sleep great at night!

My guess is that I am not alone in such supposedly delinquent behavior, for many of you have probably done the same over the years for one reason or another.  For others of you this particular option is a new choice under consideration as you have participated in every election from the school board on up for decades.  You may have previously thought it irresponsible or disrespectful to not vote.  Yet you are considering this choice anyway due to the unprecedented lack of acceptable choices set before you this year.

Why Yes

Personally, I see a lot of shaming out there related to this choice, or sometimes any choice other than voting for one of the two candidates representing the major parties.  The option to not vote might be for you if you don’t find these shaming arguments compelling or if you are willing to look beyond the pressure of your peers to make a choice for yourself.  I think one of the best pieces written about this option for Christian voters is by Russell Moore for Christianity Today.  If you haven’t read it yet I highly encourage you to seriously weigh his points made here.

In essence, if you find it morally compromising to vote for a pro-choice candidate but also cannot support Donald Trump for any number of deeply held matters of conscience and morality, choices #4 and #5 may be the best or only options for you.  In your assessment, the lesser of two evils argument does not apply when you can’t clearly weigh one set of evil over another.  Perhaps you have taken to the oft quoted teaching of Charles Spurgeon, “Of two evils, choose neither.”  In this sense you may feel more than ever as strangers in this world and you really don’t see much benefit, political or otherwise, in supporting either Trump or Clinton.  But you certainly see the great harm in choosing both.

While you probably take your civic responsibility seriously, you take your obligation to faithfully represent Christ more so.  Through your personal discernment – or alongside your particular branch of the church – you find it irreconcilable with your beliefs to support any of the candidates on the ballot this year.  Maybe you have compromised your values in the name of pragmatism in years past to only to fail to see any fruit come of these choices.  Or maybe you are just wary of joining a movement whose leader routinely disrespects others, uses the basest of methods to stir up conflict or strong-arm support, and vilely expresses appreciation for authoritarian and violent behavior.

Perhaps you come from Christian traditions that were mostly apolitical prior to the rise of the religious right and you question if that was really such a bad thing.  Maybe you think the loudest way to speak up for the downtrodden and the dispossessed, to represent conservative Christian values and socially conservative causes in this country, is to stay silent this year.  Much like the powerful image used by the pro-life movement in it’s advocacy, you wish to use your freedom to not vote in order to publicly stand against the status quo.  You will use this decision as your version of a piece of tape over your mouth, announcing through silence that neither candidate of the major parties is the right direction for our country.

This might be a good option for those of you who aren’t keen on third parties or write-ins, and who would otherwise vote Republican or Democrat but can’t justify voting for either candidate this time around. It is also a good choice for those of you who abhor the limited nature of our two party system and who rarely feel represented by either major party or the handful of third-party alternatives. Regardless of your reasoning, you recognize that not voting (or voting third party/write-in) will only impact the general election by omission.

You are essentially conceding that other people will decide who our next president will be.  What you are not conceding is that your choice to not vote somehow hinders your ability to advocate for your causes within the political process through other means, or silences your ability to voice opinions both before and after the election. Winning isn’t everything, and just because you aren’t backing a potential “winner” doesn’t mean you have lost your right to engage in our public discourse.

Contrary to arguments that not voting for Donald Trump, be it through any of the options discussed in choices #3-5, is a vote for Hillary Clinton, you believe that your vote isn’t owned by a specific party and that every time you go to the ballot box you have the freedom to choose whomever you deem best.  The logic of “any non-Trump vote is a Clinton vote” is only true if you were otherwise obligated or assigned as a Trump voter courtesy of his party affiliation.

As a registered independent, I find this type of reasoning offensive and reject the manipulative motives of those who use it to solicit votes.  But perhaps, being a conservative who would otherwise vote for the republican nominee were he not quite so odious and unfit this year, you recognize that in not voting for Donald Trump you are in some ways helping the cause of Hillary Clinton.

Teasing through all of these accusations, you still likely assert in the end that your vote is for whomever your actually voted for and no other.  Or in this case of non-voting, you see that it is an active choice to not participate and therefore not a magical vote cast for whichever candidate others don’t want to win.  Rather you are pursuing a stand alone civil action of dissent from the whole process.

Still, my guess is that you, like me, have considered many of the pros/cons of a Clinton presidency listed in choice #2 and have made (or will make by November) some kind of peace with that potential outcome should it arise, regardless of which option you will actually choose. I think it is an imperative for any #NeverTrump AND #NeverHillary advocate to contemplate this outcome.  If you skipped over reading choice #2 then perhaps you should reconsider and at least more carefully weigh this one in light of your objections to Donald Trump.

Regardless of who wins you will probably work on some level to challenge the agenda of either administration and you will look to support a new candidate in 2020.  You likely believe that not having voted for either Trump or Clinton makes it easier for you to act with integrity as a transparent voice for your beliefs, your concerns, or your favored policies within your own sphere of influence.

Finally, you decide that claims it is somehow selfish or disrespectful to veterans, suffragettes, or civil rights activists to not vote in a presidential election present a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of freedom in our country.  To you, the key to exceptionalism in American society is first and foremost our constitution, the bill of rights, and the freedoms they protect.  This includes the freedom for civil disobedience, dissent, or inaction.

When a soldier risks their life for this country, you believe they are sacrificing for our security and for our continued freedom, not for the obligation of all citizens to vote, or to vote in a specific way, or to vote for a predetermined number of political parties.  It’s the freedom to have all five of these choices in an election that contributes to our greatness. I am grateful to live in a society where we are not in any way obligated or forced to vote in a particular way.

Therefore, we aren’t actually compelled by some invisible gun to make a choice for one candidate or another, and this is a fact that you count as a blessing.  Moreover, your concerns about both candidates run so deep on a moral level that were you forced to choose one or die, you might just choose death.  Sorry to be melodramatic, but isn’t that how some comments on the subject make you feel these days?  Thank goodness that particular hypothetical scenario lies only in the minds of people who believe they must bind themselves to a narrow selection of options in order to make this choice.  If you are considering the alternative options of #3-5 then this type of thinking doesn’t apply.  You are free to choose any of the options before us that best fit your heart, soul, and mind.

In the end, you believe that while federal politics is important, you care a whole lot more about your integrity, your family, your church, and your local communities.  You see potential for how you can be a good citizen, a good neighbor, and perhaps most crucially, a good Christian, without voting for either Trump or Clinton in 2016.

This is your version of rendering unto Caesar this election  While you openly acknowledge that our next president, whomever he or she may be, could come with great cost for you or the work of the church, it is a decision that brings you peace.  You have peace because is a decision that you can explain to your children or grandchildren without reservation.  You have peace because it is a decision that you have confidence in before the thrown of God.  Having decided all this, you are ready to move on to whatever is next as you strive to be salt and light in this world.

Why No

It should go without saying that if you are one of those people who sincerely believes that you must vote for either the Republican or Democrat nominee in our general elections, if you genuinely believe not voting is somehow disrespectful to those who sacrificed in order to grant voting rights to others, or if you think that there is some kind of moral obligation for all citizens to at least vote for someone, then this option is not for you.  If you are still compelled by a lesser of two (or three) evils argument then I think you are best served by choosing between the candidates listed on your ballots.

If you are concerned about local races, especially if you will have any congressmen, senators, or governors on your ballot in November, then you will probably want to rule out not turning up to the polls as an option, even if you decide to leave the presidential section blank.  Just because you can’t find a candidate for the general election doesn’t mean you need to reject all forms of voting for the year.

Like most of the options listed above, if the core of your voting decision has to do with the future of the Supreme Court over and above all other concerns and costs, then you will likely want to forgo this form of political dissent. Also, if you discern that one of the major candidates presents a clear and present danger to the future of this country (and I suppose that assessment could fall on either side) it might be in your best interest to vote for the main challenger to that percieved threat.  This may especially be the case if you happen to live in a state where the race appears to be close between Trump and Clinton in Oct/Nov.  You may therefore feel the need – possibly at the last minute – to help tip the election in one direction or another.

Concluding Thoughts

Voting is often an intensely personal decision with very public implications, especially when the stakes are so high and the debate so open.  I think this year is destined to get even more emotional as the discussion about the leading candidates and their causes will continue to center on personal attributes, qualities, and history, instead of on specific policies. The greatest challenge we have before us is ultimately not in deciding which course of action best suits us and our calling, but in respecting those fellow Christians who choose differently.

In a world of less than ideal options, many of which can be legitimately critiqued on the basis of faith and morality, we will likely not all come to identical conclusions.  Yet we can remain unified as a church.  We can seek to place the kingdom of heaven before the kingdom of this world, learn to reconcile our differences, and strive to put Christ first in our lives. Chances are that no matter who wins in the presidential election 2016 we will need each other more than ever before in the coming years.  So let’s not loose sight of unifying the fellowship of believers, even as this fellowship walks out our civic duty in variant ways.

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