Four years ago I published a comprehensive guide to the 2016 Presidential Election. In the same spirit I offer this similar guide for 2020, but with a caveat: I already know who I will vote for and I write this guide with my decision in mind. That said, I will try to offer what I think are the best arguments for and against each option.
In the list below, there is a noticeable absence of one major candidate. I can’t in good faith offer plausible reasons to vote for Voldemort, so I am not even going to try. If you are considering that option there are plenty of people who have made the case, like here, but I think almost all of their rationales have excellent pairings showing why those excuses are, well, excuses, like this.
Scroll below to the options which most intrigue you or read the whole guide from start to finish. This is meant to be a tool to help you decide which option best suits you and your conscience this year.
No matter what you decide to do, just please remember that you always have a choice.
Third Party Candidates
This is by far the most underrated choice available to the American people. In my view, not enough voters know who these candidates are or what their party stands for. It is absolutely true that in the current American system third party candidates do not have a logistical chance at winning a Presidential election, but that doesn’t make a vote for them a waste.
Ballot access (i.e. getting a candidate’s name listed on your ballot) is very hard for third party/independent candidates to achieve in most American states, and both major political parties have tried to pass laws which make it more difficult for them to participate. This road block makes it harder to fundraise, harder to campaign, harder to earn debate inclusion, harder to win over voters, and harder to attract highly qualified candidates. 2020 was especially difficult for third parties as the pandemic and shut down restrictions made it harder for all candidates to collect the necessary signatures required to be listed on your ballot. However, state restrictions vary widely, which is why so many of us see different third party names for President based on where we live.
I am featuring the top three third party candidates who you are either most likely to see on your ballot, or who I think readers of this blog will be most interested in learning more about. I have listed and linked to their official campaign websites, their platforms, and their party websites, and I encourage you to learn more about them and what they stand for.
I also encourage everyone to look at your sample ballots in advance of voting in case you have additional names listed in your state. It is healthy and good to know who is running and why, even if you ultimately will not vote for them this year.
Jo Jorgensen – The Libertarian Party
The Libertarian Party (LP) is currently the best organized and most widely represented third party in our country, and their presidential candidate – Jo Jorgensen – will be the only third party candidate listed on the ballots of all 50 states. On paper Jo Jorgensen is also arguably the most qualified official third party candidate running this year. She holds a Phd in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, is a senior lecturer at Clemson University, a former CEO and current business consultant, and she previously ran for Vice President on the Libertarian ticket with Harry Browne in 1996.
Jorgensen, a longtime libertarian activist, is running on a standard libertarian platform advocating for limited government in all policy areas, with an emphasis on deregulation, private ingenuity, constitutional integrity, and fiscal responsibility. She recently noted that her most common constituents are:
“people who believe that they should be able to make their own decisions. People who believe that they should have a right to decide their child’s education, which health care they want and which health care they don’t want, [how] to control their retirement dollars, and that they should be able to make a choice of whether or not they wear a mask.”
Notably, she dedicated time during this campaign for laying out a libertarian response to police brutality and she sought out ways to build bridges with Black Lives Matter protestors while staying true to the limited government principles of her party. Although libertarians have long advocated for police reform and policy changes like ending civil asset forfeiture and the drug war, the Libertarian Party has also been plagued with charges of racism and accused of acting as a pipeline for white nationalist radicalization. That is why her campaign choice to address the topic directly is all the more important in 2020. It is a positive mark on her character and a credit to her present leadership of the LP that she did so.
However, as I write this her campaign has released a list of justices that she proposes nominating to the Supreme Court and on there she chose to include none other than Alan Dershowitz. This is a perplexing choice, given his humiliating self defenses on national tv, his deep and incriminating ties to Jeffrey Epstein, and recent dubious legal opinions expressed on cable news and on the Senate floor while defending President Trump during the impeachment trial.
It may seem like a small development to some, but it is indicative of a larger problem with the Jorgensen campaign: an internal identity crisis of a party unsure of how to evolve in the Trump era, with a chronic tendency to undercut their own message and to fail to represent their own values in a way that is not also embarrassing, ludicrous, or contradictory. In the words of one Cato Vice President: “the LP has gotten too ridiculous for me.”
Still, Jorgensen and the LP present voters with the most classically viable and statistically significant third party alternative and she represents a platform that offers an eclectic mix of policies from across the traditional American political spectrum.
- Vote yes: Jorgensen is a good candidate for people who are still very committed to the long term growth or preservation of the Libertarian Party. She also stands for a unique mixture of policy positions including free trade, free speech, liberally minded immigration policy, robust 2A protections, judicial reform, and a very scaled back presence of the US military (non-interventionism) around the world. She may be especially appealing to traditional GOP voters who value limited government and feel excluded by the current platforms of the two major parties.
- Vote no: Jorgensen is probably not a good candidate for people who believe we need a robust, federally organized response to the pandemic, for those with strong beliefs in federally condemning abortion (like a lot of libertarians she believes that is an issue to be left to the states) or for people who would rather not endorse the notion that Alan Dershowitz should be on the Supreme Court of the United States of America. She is also not a good candidate for people who are deeply troubled by the prospect of Biden losing the election – in fact, this is just what Bill Weld (the Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate from 2016 and former Republican governor of Massachusetts) concluded when he endorsed Biden over Jorgensen earlier this year.
Howie Hawkins – The Green Party
The next most prevalent and best organized third party (which is essentially our nation’s fourth party) is The Green Party. This year the Green Party will be on the ballot in 30 states (eligible to receive write-in votes in 17 additional states) and their nominee is Howie Hawkins, another long time advocate for their causes and co-founder of the party. Hawkins is a retired teamster and construction worker who has dedicated much of his life to political advocacy, with a focus on the environmental, anti-war, anti-nuclear, and trade union movements.
Much like Jorgensen, Hawkins’ candidacy seems best summed up as offering a face for a platform, so I encourage you to read more about the pro-worker, anti-capitalist, pro-environment, and anti-war principles that define the party. As the video above summarizes, they are especially focused this year on promoting Eco-socialism as a government led effort to combat climate change and as an attempt to build a more equitable society.
The Green Party, like many other third party/Independent campaigns, has received a lot of attention since 2016 for the potential role it played as a “spoiler” in that election. While I reject this notion overall, for it is hard to predict exactly how specific supporters might have voted had she not been in the race, it is very unfortunate that Dr. Jill Stein (the 2016 Green Party Candidate) attended a controversial dinner as an honored guest of Vladimir Putin and she has done little since 2016 to denounce the Russian ads which were designed to boost her campaign and help Donald Trump’s chances of victory. She and her running mate also often appeared on RT, the Russian funded propaganda network that broadcasts here in the United States. In spite of the known intentions behind the network to destabilize US domestic politics and spread Russian propaganda, third party candidates from many parties, including the Libertarian and Green Party, have frequented their shows looking for ways to amplify their message and reach a new audience.
I bring this up because it speaks to both the disadvantages third parties face in our electoral system as well as the sometimes dubious lengths alternative candidates will go to try to work around them.
Hawkins was recently criticized for accepting the help of GOP lawyers to gain ballot access in Wisconsin, after which he gave an insightful interview offering his views on the differences between genuine spoilers/political games and legitimate third party candidates. Contrasting himself with Kanye West (who you definitely should not vote for under any circumstances), Hawkins noted:
“There has to be some criteria for getting on the ballot. Anybody with money can hire petitioners and get on the ballot. There should be some threshold for recognizing parties—a level of organization, so there’s really a base there, and they should be allowed to make their nominations by convention…We are a serious movement. We’ve been around for 35 years. There is a difference. And if people don’t see that, they’re not stopping to think…I want Trump out of there more than the damn Democrats do. They could have impeached his sorry behind, you know, early on for all kinds of lawlessness and self-serving and violations of things like the emoluments clause, telling Border Patrol people to break the law. There’s just a whole long rap sheet that could have mobilized public opinion around an impeachment based on how he was hurting workers and consumers and the environment. They had a chance…And the other assumption in that, you know, accusation that no doubt would be thrown at me is that our people would have voted for Biden if I wasn’t on the ballot. And we know from 2016 exit polls that 61 percent of Jill Stein’s voters would have stayed home.”
In this interview he also explains outright the goal of his campaign: to help secure ballot access for locally based Green Party Candidates in future elections.
Hawkins is not running under the pretense that he might win, which in many ways is quite refreshing and may prove to be clarifying for those considering a vote for him.
- Vote yes: Hawkins is a good candidate for people who want to see the Green Party maintain or expand their ballot access, for both local and national races, in the future. He is also a solid candidate for anti-war voters who – as a matter of conscience – struggle to vote for our major party candidates owing to their support for a status quo in foreign affairs. Finally, he is a natural candidate for people who are more affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) than the Democratic Party, or for people who are sorely disappointed by the Democratic Party’s platform on climate change.
- Vote no: Hawkins is not a good candidate for anyone who might otherwise vote for the Democratic Party and who absolutely does not want to see another four years of Donald Trump as President. This is fundamentally true for all of these alternative candidates, but it is perhaps most true for Hawkins as he draws more naturally from the Democratic base than many of the others. Notably, Bernie Sanders – the most prominent face of DSA influenced politics in America – has endorsed Biden and encourages his supporters to do likewise. Hawkins is also not a good fit for people who are committed to advancing anti-abortion policies (he is for maintaining the Roe v. Wade status quo), for people who are pro-capitalism, or for people who do not believe in big government programs.
Brian Carroll – The American Solidarity Party
Founded in 2011, The American Solidarity Party (ASP) is one of the newest third parties in this country yet it is one which seems to have met it’s moment in the era of Donald Trump and an ever more socially liberal Democratic Party.
Modeled after European Christian Democrat parties, the ASP offers a platform that is pro-life for the whole life. That is, their party focuses on taking a pro-life ethic and trying to apply it consistently throughout all areas of public policy. Therefore, they are not just anti-abortion, but they are also anti-death penalty, anti-euthanasia, pro-universal healthcare, anti-war, pro economic distributism, pro-immigration, and the list goes on.
This year they appear to be on the ballot in 9 states with the goal of seeing write-in votes accumulated throughout the rest of the country. It seems they may have been most disadvantaged by the pandemic in terms of securing ballot access, but that doesn’t mean their candidate should be automatically discounted from your consideration.
Brian Carroll is a former middle school teacher who previously challenged Devin Nunes in the 2018 primary for California’s 22nd congressional district. Like the other third party candidates before him, in many ways he was called to run this year to offer a name and a face for a platform and not as much for his persona or professional qualifications. I say that with no disrespect, as he seems like a sincere and kind man who truly believes in his message.
Many people will find this to be a refreshing quality for these third party candidates in 2020, that they are all people who just sincerely believe in the policies they advocate for and who would really like a chance to help make this country a better place.
I personally struggle with voting for presidential candidates who I doubt could excel at the job. Even as an occasional third party voter myself, even when I know it is unlikely or impossible for them to win, I prefer to vote for people who I believe are qualified for executive leadership of the scale that the job they are running for requires.
So, and this is just a personal issue of my own, I struggle with the current iteration of the ASP. I had this issue in 2016 and I continue to have this issue in 2020. Perhaps for valid reasons, as they are new, small, and presidential campaigns can be taxing and unpleasant even for the most unknown of candidates, the ASP has struggled to recruit candidates who have a professional political background and a media savvy that matches the scale and ambition of their own platform. That said, one needn’t look any further than the current occupant of our White House to conclude that perhaps a genuine, soft spoken, former teacher is precisely what this country needs most right now.
The American Solidarity Party might have first won over GOP voters unsettled with Donald Trump in 2016, but their latest recruitment efforts have also focused on disenchanted pro-life Democrats upset with the changing views of the DNC on abortion policy but who still do not feel represented by either party.
Carroll is the quintessential vote for those struggling to reconcile matters of faith, public policy, and their moral conscience. And while there are other voting options open to people who struggle casting these votes because of conscience driven issues, there is a lot more power in consolidating your vote behind one candidate and one party than just staying home or writing in a random person who has not chosen to run.
In recent interviews, Carroll and his running mate Amar Patel have suggested that their hope for this campaign is twofold: first, to raise awareness of the party name and platform; second, to hopefully earn enough votes to convince our major parties to take a second look at the ways each side alienates holistically pro-life voters in this country (and potentially convince them to adjust their platforms accordingly).
- Vote Yes: Carroll is a good candidate for people who strongly support the American Solidarity Party (Christian Democrat) platform, for people who are both anti-abortion and support social welfare policies like universal healthcare, or for anyone who is looking to cast a pro-life vote in 2020 as a form of conscientious objection or dissent from the platforms of either the RNC and the DNC.
- Vote No: Carroll is not a good candidate for people who strongly believe in limited government (although if you fall into the pro-life category mentioned above you still might want to consider his platform more deeply), for people who would prefer to vote for a candidate on their ballot vs write-in a name, or for those who feel very strongly one way or another about the final outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Some analysts see Biden as a Christian Democratic styled candidate himself, so voters wanting to support a DNC led by these principles may prefer to endorse the direction and style with which Biden currently leads his party.
The intuitive appeal of Write-In votes is that you can pick whomever you want. It may sound like the ultimate way to customize an election, allowing you to dissent from the major party candidates with precision in who you wish were running instead.
However, not everyone actually has this voting option available to them. Write-ins are not currently allowed on ballots in seven states: Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Dakota. In 35 states you must write in a pre-approved candidate in order for your ballot to be counted, which may include Howie Hawkins and Brian Carroll as listed above (check with their campaign websites or with your local election offices to see if they have been approved by your state). Eight states allow any name to be written in, including the infamous examples of celebrities, fictional characters, or deceased historical figures: Alabama, Delaware, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Wyoming.
And while writing in anyone from Mickey Mouse to Abraham Lincoln to Elizabeth Warren or AOC or Justin Amash may feel satisfying, it is important to remember that your vote is only likely to be noticed if it is cast collectively.
This is why, for those who feel compelled or interested to write in a candidate, I suggest you consider voting for people who a) are qualified to do the job, and b) would earn the write-in votes of others so you might pool your influence to make a statement.
As already noted, the most common options available to you will be the third party candidates listed above (plus those specific to your region). Each state election office should have information for approved write-in candidates and you can check with them to survey your full list of options. Writing-in one of these pre-approved candidates is a way of dissenting to the ballot access policies in your state, as well as a way to pool your voice with others who share similar policy concerns.
If you live in one of the eight states where you can truly write in any name, I have a few suggestions:
First, really pour over the platforms of all the candidates on your ballot, and all third party candidates who have actually declared their intention to run. It is notable these people have invested the time, thought, and willingness to put themselves out there and do the hard work of running for president. While our two major parties and our third party system is woefully inadequate, we are not ideologically impoverished in our options this year. We can both hope for a better system in the future and also recognize that a lot of political perspectives are well represented by candidates who will either already be on your ballot or those who are actively asking you to put their name on your ballot.
Second, if you truly don’t wont to vote for any of these people who have declared to run for president, consider listing the names of well known politicians who most directly make your point. If you are a disaffected Republican who neither wants to vote for Biden, nor for Jorgensen, nor for Carroll, consider writing in Mitt Romney. If you are an advocate for Medicare for All who neither wants to vote for Biden, nor Hawkins, nor Carroll, then consider writing in Bernie Sanders.
A vote for either Romney or Sanders would carry significance that will mean something as election historians or data analysts one day pour over these ballots looking for patterns to understand why people chose to dissent. That said, neither of these men are asking for your votes, and that might be something important to keep in mind as you weigh your options.
Just because you can legally write-in anyone doesn’t mean it is always the best or most impactful choice.
In this country there is a stigma attached to not voting. We use manipulative slogans and sayings against one another, including by suggesting that because many veterans fought and died so that you can have the right to vote, to not utilize that right is to dishonor their sacrifice. It is ok to come to that conclusion for yourself but it is not fair to project that kind of shaming language onto others.
Our veterans also fought and died so that we can live in a free society where we are not required to vote, most importantly they fought and died so that we can live in a country where we are free to dissent.
I strongly believe that not voting is a form of dissent.
It is a way to say “I am not represented here.” It an act of conscientious objection: to the candidates, to the parties, to the dominant policies and platforms, and to the way our entire electoral system presently functions.
All forms of alternative voting outlined above have this quality to them, because our system is currently set up to only favor narrow choices that don’t always accurately represent the views and preferences of many people in this country. When your choices are so limited, when the political discourse is so alienating, it is important to leave space for some people to opt out.
It is true that some (perhaps many) Americans do not vote because they are apathetic or because they are ill informed. But I readily admit that I have not voted in many local elections because I was too busy or too overwhelmed with stressful phases of life. So I think we should afford others grace on this topic.
You never know the story behind why people did not vote, which is another great reason to not blanket them with guilt or criticism. On average, half of the eligible population, or around 100 million Americans, do not vote in presidential elections, and we would be better off as a society if we took more time to figure out why.
Yet anyone who is reading this guide is neither ill informed nor apathetic. It could just be that you still aren’t convinced any of these options are the right choice for you.
I did not vote in the 2008 presidential election, not because I didn’t know enough but because neither candidate represented my views well enough. And – quite frankly – neither seemed radically different enough from each other in the essentials I cared about to make the choice an important one to me. It is ok if that is where you are too.
Now, I think there are important differences between this election in 2020 and that election in 2008 (more on this later) but we need to leave room in our society for people’s freedom to make their own decisions in these elections, including whether or not they even want to vote in the first place.
Pollsters and campaigns do track this kind of behavior, so they can often account for when people who have habitually stayed home come out to vote, or when people who routinely vote in every election pointedly opt out of one or two. In this sense, a choice to stay home will likely still be accounted for and it could send a message about that specific campaign year, or those specific candidates, beyond your own knowledge that you did not cast a ballot.
What they cannot easily account for is why you stayed home. Which candidate upset you the most? What part of their platform or candidacy was not compelling enough? The answers to these questions help us all better understand what happened in each election. Because even though not voting or voting third party is an individual choice, they each carry a collective impact and a collective significance.
The advantage of voting for a third party candidate/write in is that it gives clues as to why the primary democratic choices were not the right fit for you, and then perhaps it will help political activists, analysts, and politicians do more to earn your vote (or advocate to improve our electoral system) for next time.
Casting a vote for any candidate sends a clearer message to your broader community about where you stand today and even about how our Democracy is not adequately representing you. It is valid to ultimately not care about this aspect of your vote (or lack thereof). But it is important for those who are debating “staying home” this year to consider the full range of their options and what each choice really offers. Not just in terms of what these options offer for you personally, but also what those options offer to your immediate community and to our broader democratic society.
This years’s nominee for the Democratic Party is Joe Biden, former Senator for Delaware (1973-2009) and former Vice President of the United States (2009-2017). If elected he will be the oldest person ever sworn in for a first term as President, the second Catholic to hold this position, and he will be part of the first victorious presidential ticket without an Ivy League graduate since 1976.
This year I will vote for Joe Biden.
Honestly, I want to say you that should just watch the above video, watch the entire video of Biden’s convention acceptance speech, and then watch some of Trump’s most recent Rally speeches, and his convention speech (but look up Daniel Dale’s facts checks to go with them!) and that should be good enough to explain why I have chosen to do so.
But because I know this is not an easy or clear choice for everyone, I want to go deeper into addressing a few categories of voters whom I have an affinity with, in the hopes that it might persuade you to join me.
Third Party Skeptics for Biden
Look. I get it! A major party candidate? Who wants to restore the status quo? Who lauds a “return to normalcy”, the very normalcy we have been complaining about and dissenting from?
But what if our years of dissent has been made possible by the relative stability (and a mostly federally competent leadership) that normalcy offered our country? What if we need that kind of political stability as a baseline in order advance our most fundamental concerns about electoral reform and government accountability? What if we need to live in a society where, at the very least, the mail is delivered on time, and the weather forecasts are free of political intervention, and our scientific health related reports are not actively meddled with to better improve the re-election efforts of our current leaders?
Like Nicholas Grossman observed:
“Donald Trump is a serial liar. That’s hardly a revelation — the Washington Post’s most recent tally has Trump up to 12,019 false or misleading claims* in 928 days in office, averaging almost 13 per day — but still, the hurricane lies are different…
It’s easy to dismiss Trump’s silliest lies. He lies so much, why bother with these? But the easily disproved lies about unimportant things are, in a way, the most important of all.
It’s those lies, sustained through fact-checks and corrections, that constitute the most direct assault on the concept of truth. Because he’s president, and because he won’t let it go, Trump gets government officials and media organizations to join in obvious, almost entirely pointless falsehoods. If the public believes Coast Guard Admirals and the NOAA are in the business of partisan spin rather than facts, millions won’t trust their future pronouncements, on hurricane forecasts or anything else…
Trump’s obvious lies about unimportant things create a loyalty test: do you value Donald Trump more than truth? Many government officials and media figures say yes, repeating the lies, providing cover for them, or deflecting from them by blaming others. This hardens the Trumpist information bubble, an alternative reality where the president’s every word is fact, and those saying otherwise are the real liars. In a bubble like that, consequential lies about North Korea, Russia, Central American migrants, past presidents, tariffs — anything — can flourish.
This isn’t just another politician lying (albeit more). It’s bigger. An American version of the “nothing is true and everything is possible” standard Putin imposed on Russia. An assault on truth itself.
And without basic truth, we can’t really discuss anything.”*The Washington Post has now documented over 20,000 false or misleading statements told by Donald Trump since he took office. The article cited above was written last year.
Is Joe Biden a perfectly honest man with a perfect record of truth telling? No. But his lies are normal political lies, and they are no where near the scale of Donald Trump. Biden has also shown a capacity and a willingness to apologize and correct himself.
Perhaps this aspect of his character is best demonstrated by the fact that some of the same people most directly harmed by his plagiarism/resume inflation scandals from 1987 said they supported him for president as early as a year ago – long before the Democratic field consolidated – noting he is “a candidate with “proven ability, experience, sense of mature judgment on the issues” and “only mundane imperfections.””
This is, by all accounts, a strange place to be in. And I understand why it is uncomfortable for a lot of people who don’t like joining in on major party politics to even consider a vote for Joe Biden – a politician who’s entire career has been defined by playing the game of consensus politics (essentially a swear word to true political idealists and dissenters!).
But I think if we step back for a moment we can all see the stark contrast put before us. It is not just a choice between two imperfect men who offer different policy views, neither of which we find compelling.
It is a choice between a candidate who believes in American democracy and (however imperfectly by our own standards) our constitutional principles, and another who has demonstrated for years (and even decades) that he scorns these principles and these values.
I didn’t vote in 2008 because I didn’t like the platforms of either McCain or Obama, but also because I knew that they more or less represented a similar kind of leadership. The cost of one winning over the other was minimal, in spite of the fear mongering on the right about the horrible nightmare of Obama’s America.
It turns out that “Obama’s America” wasn’t all that bad. I didn’t agree with everything he did or said, our nation certainly faced challenges, but much of the divisiveness of those years was, I think, manufactured outrage. We weren’t experiencing a leadership much better or worse than what we might have experienced under President McCain or President Romney. That is not what I can say about our current president.
Sure, you could claim this feature of presidential norms that Donald Trump is so bent upon upending is a product of the frustrating duopoly, but it is also a product of true American greatness. The office of the president is meant to make a leader out of whomever occupies that role, as it comes with weighty norms, expectations, and responsibilities that call lesser men (and one day women) to try their best to live up to them. To try their best to be a president for everyone.
It might sound hokey but I do think that it is something this country needs, even when the people who try to do this sometimes (or often) fail. I do think that it is better to have a president who wants to at least try to do these things than one who openly plays off of our divisions and rejects the equal value of the lives and livelihoods of those who do not support him.
And I do think it is something even us, the disenchanted and the skeptical, need. Because this moderating impulse for those who take the job seriously (even when it still pulls us in directions as a nation that we don’t prefer or agree with) offers the very democratic continuity we desire for our own favored causes and candidates to benefit from one day.
I think this will be an election where the margin of victory will matter. I think that means even if you feel in your bones that Biden will win anyway we could be headed toward a tumultuous several months unless that victory is decisive. And so I want to implore you, anyone who is open to it, anyone who worries about what might happen without this clarity come the first week in November, to vote for Joe Biden.
You don’t have to love him, you don’t have to agree with him on all things, you don’t have to commit to not criticizing him (I hope you won’t!), you don’t even have to like him, or tell other people you are voting for him (although it couldn’t hurt!). You are agreeing with the idea that voting for Biden right now, voting this once for normalcy, is a vote for the continued preservation of our freedoms. To vote for Joe Biden as a skeptic is a vote for securing our future luxury for habitual electoral dissent.
Republicans for Biden
There is a large and growing movement of former Republicans who have chosen to endorse Joe Biden. Everyone from Cindy McCain, to former GOP Governors/Senators/Congressmen, to former Republican national security professionals, to former Trump administration officials and high level staffers.
Many regular folks, just like you and me, have also endorsed Joe Biden through creative video testimonials sent to Republican Voters Against Trump. If you haven’t seen their work, take some time to watch these videos and hear what they all (in very diverse ways) have to say. And if you leave this post certain that you will now vote for Joe Biden consider submitting your own video, to put into words why you have made this choice and to encourage others to do the same.
I think this is all very significant. While their reasons may vary, these former conservatives and Republicans mostly all agree on a few things: 1) Donald Trump’s continued leadership presents a unique threat to this nation; and 2) Joe Biden as an alternative is fine (if not great).
I could go on at length about the problems posed by the Trump presidency, both in terms of policy and personal character. But if you are reading this right now I think you already understand what all of those are.
If you have spent any time reading conservative media and traveling in mostly conservative circles you know that it’s one thing to not vote for a Republican – but to actually vote for a Democrat?! Unthinkable.
And yet here we are, in the year 2020 when so much that was once unthinkable is now filling our headlines and defining our day to day realities. Much of what we thought could never happen is now common place.
No one says that to vote for Joe Biden is to endorse all that he stands for. I certainly don’t agree with every policy he promotes. But there are a few policy areas which I think many more traditional conservatives can even find places of agreement. A vote for Biden doesn’t have to be purely a vote against Trump. It can also be a vote for something: our shared values, yes, but also for some good policies.
Healthcare is broken in this country and the Republicans revealed to all of us in 2017 that their bold claims of having an alternate and more efficient vision than Obamacare was a lie. It is still a lie. Moreover, we need competent leadership to finish helping this nation address the pandemic, and Joe Biden has a real plan to help achieve that goal.
The GOP still does not have a coherent national plan, for either addressing the Coronavirus or fixing the problems of our healthcare system, meanwhile people are suffering. For voters who do not favor Medicare For All, Biden’s healthcare plan is potentially one of the most reasonable compromises on the table and I think former Republicans should give it a second look.
A Biden administration would also seek to find a compromise on immigration policies (something the GOP used to favor as well), and his proposed family leave/child tax credit program was drafted with input from the center right Niskanen Center. I imagine you can think of other policy areas where a Biden administration may bring about welcome changes, perhaps on the environment or in foreign policy.
I realize it is popular now to claim that advancing policies which you disagree with is inherently divisive. But we need to make a distinction for the specific approach to governance offered by individual politicians and their willingness to compromise, both in terms of what gets proposed on a website AND in terms what they’d realistically put forward as legislation for Congress to vote upon.
Biden, both in his political history and his current campaign, offers America a leader who believes in working across the aisle. While the current political environment will make this challenging, while a Biden administration may never pass or advance your own favored policies, it is fair to assume that he will try to listen to the other side. When he says we need to find ways to come together as a nation I do believe he means it. Not everyone will like what he and his administration does. But in this fraught moment in our history I’d rather have a president who tries, than one who doesn’t care at all.
Ultimately, to vote for Biden in this election as a former or current Republican is to stand in good and decent company. And it is to perhaps cast a ballot for the only conservative candidate who chose to run this year.
Pro-Life Voters for Biden
There is so much more that could be said, in large part because there is so much that is uniquely vile about the things our current president does and says, and so there are many different groups of people he pushes away or who are at a loss for how to respond.
But I want to take a moment to especially address pro-life voters.
I consider myself pro-life. I believe abortion is wrong. I have only recently begun to learn more about the policy implications of overturning Roe, and I have new questions and doubts about what it means to faithfully and compassionately and wisely legislate against abortion.
But I still deeply respect those who believe that they cannot in good conscience vote for any candidate who espouses pro-choice views or who supports pro-choice policies. I’d imagine this is one of the greatest policies differences that is keeping many of you from voting for Joe Biden.
First, I think it is upsetting the DNC has chosen to no longer support the Hyde amendment (which keeps taxpayer money from funding abortions). I think making this policy switch now is needlessly divisive and it is disappointing that Biden chose to change his long held position to back the new DNC platform during the primary campaign.
Given that healthcare policy is likely to be a priority for a Biden administration I imagine this is one area of contention which is likely to be debated during the crafting of actual legislation (versus just a controversial policy proposal on a website which is unlikely to see a vote on the floor of Congress). We shouldn’t run away from this topic, we should ponder and pray about it, and if we are opposed – whether we vote for Biden or not – we should voice our opposition to it if the time comes.
That said, some very thoughtful pieces have been written about abortion in America, our public policy process, and this election, which I implore you to read and consider. These are not written by people who are traditionally counted as theological or political liberals, nor are they written by those who already use the language of the pro-abortion movement. I think all people wrestling with this issue should at least hear them out.
If you can, read both essays in their entirety, but I will pull out some of the most salient arguments here as well.
Mona Charen is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and currently a contributor for The Bulwark. Her essay on this topic is perhaps my favorite, as she says:
“I have been pro-life my entire adult life. I haven’t changed. I continue to find the practice abhorrent, and will persist in trying to persuade others. But I’ve noticed a tendency among pro-life conservatives to forgive absolutely everything else if a politician expresses the right views on abortion. This is a mirror image of the left, as we saw when Bill Clinton was accused of sexual misconduct. Many liberals were willing to overlook his gross behavior toward women in the name of preserving abortion rights. Call it “abortion washing.” Both sides do it.
Abortion washing shuts down moral reflection. Rather than do the work of analyzing how one good thing weighs in the balance against other considerations, abortion washing permits the brain to snap shut, the conscience to put its feet up.
My views on abortion can’t be severed from the rest of my worldview. I oppose abortion because it’s morally wrong. I understand that women are sometimes plunged into terrible life crises by unplanned pregnancies, which is why I do what I can to provide help for them. Crisis pregnancies can present agonizing choices, but I don’t think killing is an acceptable solution because life is sacred.
That doesn’t settle the matter of how to place abortion within the matrix of factors that go into voting. There are prudential considerations. While I would prefer to vote for someone who upholds the right to life, I’ve never believed that electing presidents who agree with me will lead to dramatic changes in abortion law, nor is the law itself the only way to discourage abortion. The number of abortions has been declining steadily since 1981. It dropped during Republican presidencies and during Democratic presidencies, and now stands below the rate in 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided and when abortion was illegal in 44 states…
It has always been my hope to change people’s hearts, so that this cruel practice—like slavery, torture, and mutilation—can be put (mostly) behind us.
Being pro-life is part of an overall approach to ethical questions. It’s wrong to take innocent life. But other things are immoral too. It’s also wrong to swindle people, to degrade and demonize, to incite violence, to bully, and while we’re at it, to steal, to bear false witness, to commit adultery, and to covet. I don’t think Trump has committed murder, and he seems to have honored his parents (though perhaps in the wrong way). But as for the other eight of the 10 commandments, Donald Trump has flagrantly, even proudly violated them all, and encouraged his followers to regard his absence of conscience as strength.”
She is asking us to look at moral questions in a way that is inter-related and inter-connected, to not pick out only one thing we abhor and to focus on that at the expense of all the others. Rather, we should really weigh what all of our values ask of us in each situation and each dilemma. Yes, she espouses the view of a consistent pro-life ethic taken by the American Solidarity Party, but she goes one step further to say that a holistic pro-life ethic might demand more from us right now than sidestepping engagement between the two major candidates in this election.
Michael Gerson, a Wheaton College graduate, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, and Washington Post columnist put it this way:
“For most of my life, had you asked me whether I could vote for a pro-choice presidential candidate, my immediate reply would have been “no.” Protecting unborn children — undeniably alive, distinctly human, possessed of their own genetic identity — is the commitment of a compassionate, welcoming society.
Yet my “no” has always been qualified. It does not mean I could support a pro-life fascist or a pro-life segregationist. Opposing abortion does not make up for the betrayal of fundamental democratic values…
One of the most encouraging social facts of our time is that the rate of abortions today is lower than it was when Roe v. Wade was decided.
This does not mean that the policy stance of the president has no influence on the prevalence of abortion. But whatever that influence is, it is overwhelmed by other social factors — some combination of declining births and pregnancies, state restrictions, improved access to and use of contraception (including long-term contraception), and continued public concerns about abortion itself.
Similarly, Trump’s reelection is not likely to substantially reduce the number of abortions beyond current trends. Nominating Supreme Court justices is a formidable presidential power. But there is little indication that the Roberts Court intends to overturn Roe. And even a significant retreat from Roe would leave matters to the states. Most Americans would continue to live under the abortion laws they currently have.
The 2020 presidential election is not an up-or-down referendum on abortion. The actual level of abortions in the United States will be determined mainly by deeply rooted social attitudes and trends. The effect of presidential leadership is more marginal and indirect than advocates on either side recognize. Ultimately, persuasion will matter more than federal regulations. And here, the case for Trump begins to break down. Is it really in the long-term interest of the pro-life movement to associate itself with a form of right-wing populism that dehumanizes migrants, alienates minorities and slanders refugees? Or to tie itself to a political leader who oozes misogyny?
Our political culture tends toward theatrical choices: apocalypse or nirvana. But the next president’s view of abortion will not determine the status of abortion in the United States. And that allows and requires the consideration of other factors in choosing the president.
For some, treating the 2020 election as a referendum on abortion is a way to live with Trump’s moral ugliness. If there is only one issue on the ballot, then only one policy position counts, not Trump’s character as a man and a leader. This has the virtue of simplicity and the drawback of complicity in grave wrongs.”
He is reminding us that there are distinct powers associated with the Office of the President, and there are some things our presidents cannot directly control (like ending the practice of abortion in America) and there are others which they can, like ordering and enforcing dehumanizing immigration practices, such as the child separation policy of 2017/18. Mona Charen recounts that particular episode quite powerfully:
“It isn’t just a matter of style. At Donald Trump’s order, thousands of children, including hundreds under the age of four, were forcibly separated from their parents at the border. Pro-lifers are tender-hearted about the most vulnerable members of society. So images like this must stir something. Separating children from their parents is a barbaric act. In the crush of outrages over the past three and a half years, it has gotten swallowed up, but the horror of what was done in our name should never be forgotten.”
Because we ought to consider any moral evils that a president directly oversees, we should be honest with ourselves about the assault to a holistic pro-life ethic that the current president has truly been. Gerson continues:
“If other matters are allowed to matter, the floodgates open.
It matters that Trump engages in bold, systematic and daily deception, to the point of inhabiting a separate, conspiratorial universe of self-serving lies. It matters that Trump has stoked White, suburban fears of dark-skinned invasion and augmented the legitimacy and morale of white supremacy on the political right.
It matters that Trump has been a cheerleader for cruelty against migrants and their children and has refused to see a common humanity beneath national differences. It matters that Trump’s administration is shot through with corruption and self-dealing. It matters that Trump sees blue states as part of a foreign and hostile country and seems incapable of serving citizens who don’t show him undivided adoration. It matters that Trump seems inspired by authoritarians and sullies democratic norms like so much Kleenex.
And it should matter — greatly — to pro-life people that Trump has presided over a substantially preventable public health disaster, causing tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, largely among the ill and elderly.
It dishonors the pro-life cause to make it an inexhaustible permission slip for prejudice, deception and malice. And so I find myself in an uncomfortable but inevitable position: I am pro-life, and I intend to vote for Joe Biden.”
I believe we can come to different answers on the question of whether or not to vote for and affirm the candidacy of Joe Biden. We can see all of this as a problem but still believe it is best to dissent from the options presented before us. If your conscience before God still trembles as you go to cast your vote, if you believe deep down that voting for Biden is wrong, then I invite you to continue reading about the other options available to you in this election. You always have a choice.
For me, I find that I cannot vote in a way which would perpetuate the pain of all the people who are still abused, wounded, dehumanized, and endangered under our present leadership. I cannot vote in a way which might suggest that I condone the power of the state being used in such directly cruel and abhorrent ways.
I have no delusions about Joe Biden being a perfect person or a perfect candidate. But I also don’t think Biden is evil. I think Biden is ok, a mostly normal person and politician, with normal faults and normal strengths. It is honestly a little odd that someone normal like him is in this position, but maybe that is what a lot of our fellow neighbors have found reassuring to begin with.
Again, I don’t endorse all that he stands for. I will voice my objections to anything he does as president which I disagree with, and I invite you to join me.
When I wrote my voter guide in 2016 I had this to say to those who might vote for Donald Trump:
“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.”
Sadly, most everyone I know who voted for him did not follow through and chose to enable him rather than challenge him.
Let’s promise each other, right now, that we will hold one another accountable and commit to challenge the Democratic leadership if Joe Biden wins and he ever moves to use the power of our government to hurt the innocent or trample upon the oppressed or dehumanize our fellow citizens.
But this year I, a cynical pro-life former Republican, will vote for Joe Biden.
Please consider doing so as well.
- Vote Yes: Joe Biden is a good candidate for anyone who does not want Donald Trump to be president of the United States, for whatever reason. A vote for Biden is the only direct way to help achieve this outcome. Biden is also a good candidate for anyone who wants to see a federally-led response to the pandemic, improvement in healthcare access, progress on voting rights, expanded child tax credits, immigration policy relief, and a new focus on issues related to climate change (among many more).
- Vote No: Biden is not a good candidate for anyone who has deep-set convictions against using their votes to in any way to endorse policies or views articulated by Biden or the DNC that they believe are morally wrong. This includes ardent pro-life voters and anti-war voters, those who believe that to cast this vote would be to violate their conscience. To just about everyone else, I urge you to consider voting for Joe Biden.
May we all respect each other as we make this choice.
And may God protect our troops.