The Final (Prudential) Judgment
For almost every Presidential election I can remember, deciding who to vote for has been a fairly easy task. There have been only two realistic candidates. One candidate favors abortion and other intrinsic evils, and belongs to a party that also supports those things. The other candidate, while not perfect, at least pretends to be pro-life and belongs to a party that, at least in their platform, is also pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family, etc. This choice has largely been a no-brainer. Even if I liked some other things about the first candidate, issues of life made it impossible for any Christian with a properly formed conscience to vote for him.
This year’s election is different. I will say in complete honesty that, with three weeks to go, I am still undecided. Based on conversations, this describes a lot of people, especially faithful Catholics. Therefore, I thought I would create this post, not to tell you who to vote for, but to explain some of the thoughts that are influencing me right now and what my decision-making process looks like. It’s easy to say what to do when things are black and white, but what about times when good Catholics can disagree and we’re left to prudential judgment? Well, here’s an example of one Catholic’s prudential judgment in action.
Clinton vs. Trump
Clinton is everything I described in the first paragraph and worse. She is, without doubt, the worst and most damaging Presidential candidate the Democrats have ever put forth. With the potential of four vacancies on the Supreme Court and her desire for activist judges, the damage of a Clinton presidency cannot be overstated.
Normally, the above would therefore mean an easy vote for the Republican nominee. However, I have often told people that the life issues have nothing to do with partisan politics. If the Republicans put up a pro-abortion candidate, I’ve always said that you would then see a bunch of Catholics prefer the Democratic party, especially if the Democrats could manage to tolerate a pro-life candidate. For the record, I have serious doubts that Trump is really pro-life. With that said, I also have to admit that it is at least possible that he really is pro-life or at least would favor laws that respect life.
In summary, we know the evil that Clinton would do, and we at least have some hope that Trump would do some good. Therefore, if the Presidential race is really only a two-person race, I think you have to vote for Trump.
A Broken 2-Party System
Given what I just said, the important question then is, “Is the Presidential race really only a two-person race when it comes to the general election?” In the past, my answer to this question has always been an emphatic “yes.” You can fight things out in the primaries to get it down to two candidates. But, when it comes to the general election, our “winner take all” system of the electoral college means that no third party candidate has a realistic chance of getting elected.
I have often told people that if the election comes down to “Hitler vs. Stalin” you can pick one. They’re both evil, but if you get a chance to minimize the evil by picking the lesser of two evils, then you can pick one. Some people will say that choosing the “lesser of two evils” is still choosing evil. This is not true. You have to consider what choice you are actually being asked to make.
If the choice is “Who do you think should be President?” without further qualification, then you should vote for someone who is your ideal candidate. However, when it comes to the general election, I believe that our choice is no longer “Who do you want to be President?” but is instead “Which of these two do you want to be President?” While it is still possible to vote for someone else, there is so little possibility of having any success, that it is a practically non-existent option. We have to play the game we are given and, like it or not, in the general election the choice we are given is, in almost every case, “Pick one or the other.”
In order to vote for someone other than the two major party candidates in the general election, there would have to be some probability of success. There would have to be some outcome that would balance out the apparent forfeiture of the chance to minimize evil.
An Unprecedented Election
Like most Americans, I cannot believe that the two candidates we have are the real candidates for President. Clinton may be the worst candidate in history, but Trump may be the second worst. It’s an embarrassment around the world that these two deeply flawed people are left running for office. Is this really the best America has to offer? Can we find no one else to run for President?
While I believe my description of the 2-party system above is accurate, I have always disliked it. It forces us to conform into being “all this” or “all that.” There’s no room for pro-life candidates in the Democratic Party, and people who favor immigrants and certain programs for the poor find little welcome in the Republican Party. If ever there were a year when I thought we could blow up the 2-party system, I thought this was it.
If everyone in America could vote for either Clinton, Trump, or None of the Above, we all know that “none of the above” would win in a landslide.
So how do we fix this? Unfortunately, I think that the answer is probably not to be found in how we vote in the general election. There were clearly flaws in the primary system that led to these candidates. On the Democratic side, we now know that Clinton had the help of the DNC in making sure that Sanders never had a chance. On the Republican side, the media built up Trump the whole primary season giving him the appearance of legitimacy. The “Trump vote” was always around 30% while the “Not Trump” vote was 70% but split among 16 other candidates. By the time the “Not Trump” vote was able to coalesce, it was too late.
So maybe this was a year of failed primaries. Still, I think it’s bigger than that. Major changes to the “winner take all” system are going to be required in order to have more diversity of candidates. It may take amending the Constitution to fix this, but we only need look at these two candidates to see how necessary change is.
So What About November?
I indicated above my feelings about voting for a third party in the general election. I have always advised against it. However, I have also said that this is an unprecedented election. In fact, this election is so unprecedented, that I am actually considering breaking my own rule. Here is what I would want my vote to do:
I absolutely do not want Clinton to be elected. Therefore, if the vote is close between Clinton and Trump, I would vote for Trump.
However, I live in Kansas. Trump appears to have more than enough votes to win. Therefore, I want to vote in such a way that the Republican Party gets the message that people are a lot more loyal to the values they think the party stands for than to the party itself. The Republican Party is not my team. If the Democrats could become pro-life and pro-family then they would become a viable option for Catholics with well-formed consciences. Both parties need to get this message.
Finally, to the extent possible, I want my vote to show my dissatisfaction with the two-party, winner take all, system. I want to blow the whole thing up. I would love to see there be no majority winner on election day and have the House elect the people’s preferred choice, “none of the above,” whoever that might be.
So, for the first time in my life, I’d have to say that I’m leaning toward voting for a third party candidate. I wouldn’t propose this to everyone. It depends on your state and if the race is closely split between Clinton and Trump. In the end, this is not about “voting for the best candidate.” That’s not the choice we’re given. This is about being as wise as serpents, playing within the rules of the game, to achieve the most favorable outcome. I don’t know exactly what that looks like in your situation, but these have been some of my thoughts. Secretly, I’m still kind of praying that “something” will happen… like the stage collapsing at the final debate or, my favorite, “Giant Meteor 2016: Just end it already.” In the event that we do end up having to vote in a few weeks, I hope the above was helpful.
Here’s an article on the mathematics of third party voting that I found helpful:
How Not To Waste Your Vote: A Mathematical Analysis
And here’s an example of how third party voting could hypothetically find success in this year’s election:
A Stupid-Simple Way Out Of Trump Vs. Hillary 2016