Tuesday, March 01, 2016

There's No Liberal Obligation To Prevent Trump from Being Nominated

Donald Trump would be an embarrassment, a disaster, and an outright danger if elected President of the United States. This creates a joint obligation shared by all Americans to try and stop him from being elected. For Republicans, that's easily satisfied in the primaries (vote for another Republican) but very painful to do so in November. For liberals, there is an equally strong obligation to stop him from becoming President in November.

There is, however, no liberal obligation to stop him from being nominated. I have no intention of crossing over and voting in the GOP primary (even assuming the race is still undecided by the time my state rolls around).

Now don't get me wrong: I hope beyond hope that the Republican Party does not select Donald Trump as their nominee, though that hope is becoming increasingly dim. I hope that because even if it is true that Trump would be "easier to beat" than Rubio or Cruz, I still prefer that the forces of unhinged xenophobic racism be weaker rather than stronger, and a Trump nomination would indicate they are far stronger than previously anticipated. So I certainly prefer that Trump loses.

But the Republican nominee should be the person who reflects the preferences of Republican voters. One important function of democracy is aggregative -- it gives a rough sense of people's raw preferences. And it is valuable information to know that open racism, bigotry, anti-intellectualism, and thuggery have significant appeal across the base of a major political party. Again, I hope that it turns out that their appeal is not strong enough to carry a nomination. But already the persistent appeal of Trump has been forcing Republican intellectuals to grapple with facts about their rank-and-file that they've long been in denial about. Democratic cross-over voting would only serve to blur the truth and stall the day of reckoning.

Donald Trump has already forced Americans of all stripes to seriously reckon with a revived and rejuvenated racist movement in the United States. That effect would be magnified if he were the nominee, and it would accentuate the threat that this movement represents. But it still only a difference in degree, rather than kind, from what he's already accomplished. As President he could do far worse, and that is a terrifying prospect that should unite everyone. But the call to prevent Trump's nomination, as opposed to his election, seems to be justified based on little more than saving the Republican Party from additional embarrassment. And that isn't any duty Democrats are obliged to take upon themselves


Mark said...

Hmm, turnabout is fair play, right?

There's no obligation for Conservatives to prevent Clinton from being nominated. After all if they want to elect a person who has less sense and is just as corrupt that the law applies to her than Mayor Tammany (see Peter Schweizer .. Clinton Cash ... or the more recent disregard of Secrets Act violations).

There's also no obligation for Conservatives to prevent Sanders from being nominated. After all someone who fondly remembers his visits to a regime that, alas, has a worse record with respect to human rights than the Nazis has got to have a finely developed moral compass.

So before you want to throw stones at the other side, look to your own.

(note: this is not a defense of Trump, I'm somewhat aghast that the GOP rank and file for reasons largely related to rejecting the beltway whole hog is willing to embrace a guy who has even more dishonest in his dialog and conversational tactics than even Obama. You'd think that would have been a lesson learned, but no.)

David Schraub said...

It almost makes you wonder if the GOP base isn't particularly good at identifying dishonest dialogue and conversational tactics.

In any event, I think its obvious that the GOP has any obligation to prevent Clinton or Sanders from being nominated. The argument that "Trump is special" is that a Ted Cruz (say) victory may be terrible from a liberal vantage point (ditto a Bernie Sanders win from a GOP vantage point), but it's nothing more than normal politics where sometimes your side loses and a guy you really really dislike wins. If you don't acknowledge that -- if the prospect of an ordinary member of the opposing party winning is too much to bear -- then your problem is with the idea of democracy itself.

Trump, the argument goes, is different because there's a non-trivial case that he really would destroy our constitutional system of government outright -- in a literal (rather than a hyperbolic "shoving Obamacare down my throat in open defiance of God and the Constitution/PATRIOT Act is the new fascism that may as well put us all in a gulag" way that unfortunately has become de rigeur in histrionic American political discourse). George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton -- there are huge differences between them, but they all fundamentally believe in basic democratic and constitutional precepts. You acknowledge the authority of the courts. You recognize that the president is not a monarch. You don't beat up protesters. And so on. There are very real reasons to doubt Trump signs on to that basic program, and that makes him a qualitatively different beast from, say, Ted Cruz (even though I think there is a non-trivial chance that a Cruz presidency would be a policy matter "worse" for me. But I have to tolerate policy losses if my side loses. It's a different thing to watch the constitutional system itself crumble).