Every vote must be earned

At this point, the Republican presidential primary has Donald Trump way ahead, Ron DeSantis running a distant second, and everyone else stuck in single digits. So what should fans of those far-behind candidates do? 

One of my maxims is that a candidate must earn your vote; you don’t owe it to any candidate or party. You don’t have to choose between the lesser of two evils, you don’t have to cast a vote for a subpar candidate just because he’s from the party you usually prefer, and if you don’t find any candidate worth supporting, you don’t have to vote at all. (Although I will note that not voting can be interpreted as support for the status quo.) Your vote is your right, your choice, and not something to be tossed around willy-nilly.

There’s a comics quote from Captain America that a lot of people have found inspirational for those times when they find themselves in the minority, and feel like the majority is headed down the wrong path. It’s actually a slightly edited version of a quote from Mark Twain:

Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — “No, you move.”

The fact that seemingly everybody else likes some other candidate, and the candidate that you like is down at 2 percent in primary polls, or 1 percent, or 0 percent, does not mean you should abandon the candidate you like best.

For a while, anyway.

If you’ve found yourself enamored with one of those GOP presidential candidates who is in the low- to mid-single digits in polling — a list which currently includes Vivek Ramaswamy, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Chris Christie, Doug Burgum, Francis Suarez, Asa Hutchinson, Will Hurd, and, oh, I almost forgot, Larry Elder —  there’s no reason to jump off of that spacious and sparsely populated bandwagon. It’s August. Preseason football is on the television. No candidate has run out of money yet. This is the time in the presidential-election cycle when optimism abounds, as candidates eat messy food at the Iowa State Fair and have their picture taken by the giant butter cow.

You don’t have to look hard to find people, mostly Trump supporters, who want to declare the 2024 GOP presidential primary over before a single Republican has cast a ballot. Just yesterday, former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake insisted, “This primary is over. It’s time for the Republican Party to unite around Donald Trump.” (As someone on Twitter dryly observed, you would think Kari Lake of all people would understand the risks of declaring a winner before all the votes have been counted.)

My advice that you should stand by your man does come with some caveats. Obviously, if your preferred candidate has not qualified for the GOP debate stage next week, things are not looking good, and you may want to shop around for other options.

As of now, Burgum, DeSantis, Haley, Scott, Ramaswamy, Christie, Pence, and Trump have said they’ve met the donor and polling qualifications for the debate. The Republican National Committee required that candidates reach at least 1 percent in multiple eligible polls, gather at least 40,000 donors, and sign a pledge committing to supporting the ultimate GOP nominee. Both Trump and Christie have indicated they will not sign the pledge to support the 2024 Republican nominee, which is allegedly a prerequisite for participation in the debate, but no one’s quite sure how far the RNC will go to enforce that rule. Trump has indicated he will not participate in the upcoming debate, but there’s always the chance he changes his mind at the last minute.

Again, if your preferred candidate is not even on the debate stage, it is really difficult to envision a scenario where they magically jump from 1 percent in the polls to frontrunner status.

If the GOP primary comes down to two candidates having a realistic shot, and you consider one unacceptable and one “meh, okay, I guess,” with your preferred option way behind or having withdrawn from the race, there is a logic in voting for Mr. Meh Okay. Casting your ballot for the longshot is fine. You can say to the world, “I don’t care if very few people like my candidate the best. I remain convinced this candidate will do the best job and has qualities that we need to see in government more. In other words, ‘No, you move.’”

But you should also keep in mind that no one will care all that much if your preferred longshot candidate gets 4 percent instead of 2 percent.

By contrast, casting your ballot for Mr. Meh might help put him over the top against the candidate you like least. And we see some version of this phenomenon in plenty of primaries — as the primary gets closer, voters tell public-opinion pollsters that they’re shifting from the candidate running third or worse and moving to one of the two frontrunning candidates. Whether or not you perceive voting for a longshot candidate as “throwing away your vote,” a lot of Americans see it that way.

There are a couple of Never Trump Republicans who are really enamored with Chris Christie these days, and that’s fine. There’s a lot of pugnacious attitude, effective communication, stage presence, and directness to admire in Christie.

But, as of this writing, in the RealClearPolitics averages, Chris Christie is at 2.3 percent nationally, 2.7 percent in Iowa (a caucus Christie has indicated he will not prioritize), 7.7 percent in New Hampshire, and 2.5 percent in South Carolina. Could Christie pick up some more support with good debate performances? Sure. But Christie had some good debate performances back in 2016, too, and he finished tenth out of twelve candidates in Iowa and then, after spending 70 days on the trail in New Hampshire, he finished sixth in a field of nine in the New Hampshire primary. Everyone remembers Christie’s body-blow against Marco Rubio in the debate before that primary. Few remember that Rubio still won almost 9,000 more votes than Christie did in that contest.

And then, of course, Christie endorsed Donald Trump. And now he’s running as arguably the most outspoken and vehement critic of Trump. Everyone in the GOP, pro- or anti-Trump, has a reason to disagree with Christie. In this light, it is less than crystal clear how Christie is going to do better this time around than he did two cycles ago.

In fact, in the latest national Quinnipiac poll, just 17 percent of self-identified Republicans feel favorable about Christie, and 61 percent feel unfavorably about him. Christie is more popular among self-identified Democrats; 32 percent feel favorably about Christie, and 47 percent feel unfavorably.

(Note that in the same survey, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is seen favorably by 47 percent of self-identified Republicans but just 22 percent of self-identified Democrats; just 24 percent of self-identified Republicans feel unfavorably about Kennedy, while 53 percent of self-identified Democrats feel unfavorably about him. Why don’t Christie and Kennedy swap places?)

I’m not telling you this to pick on Christie. As his 2016 campaign slogan put it, I’m “telling it like it is.”

There are a lot of Never Trump figures who have publicly stated that the renomination and reelection of Donald Trump would be the worst scenario imaginable. Some of these voices have warned that Trump’s reelection would represent the end of American democracy, the establishment of an autocracy, the severest of constitutional crises, and the direst of turning points in our nation’s history.

You would think, then, that if the GOP primary comes down to Trump vs. “X,” they would vote for “X.” Even if “X” is Ron DeSantis, and they can’t stand Ron DeSantis.

As I said earlier, every vote must be earned; if you find DeSantis and Trump equally unacceptable, that’s your choice. But I do find it a little odd that in a contest that is framed as “DeSantis vs. Armageddon,” some people — including self-identified Republicans — are insisting they can’t choose either option.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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