I think things. Then I write about them. It's the narcissism, you see.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Vote for Hillary Clinton is a Vote for...the GOP?

Republican pundits and operatives who have publicly stated intent to vote for Hillary Clinton have managed all kinds of logical contortions to justify the decision. Many people assert a “country over party” motive, paying lip service to the great sacrifice of voting for Hillary Clinton who stands against their deeply held conservative beliefs. I’m the cynical sort, though, and I can’t help but view the actual strength of these people’s principles with skepticism in light of the lack of any real effort on their part to drum up an honest conservative candidate as an alternative. Such a split vote on the right would have had the same effect of denying Trump the victory. Meanwhile a conservative voter could hold his or her head up high at having not sold out on principles, and the after-effect of uplifting an alternative new standard bearer in such a split might induce the GOP to take a long hard look at itself as it moves into the future. I might feel bad about this cynicism if not for columns like the one Donald Brand penned for Fortune where he laid out a different case for Republicans to vote for Hillary—this one a full throated endorsement of sacrificing principles on the altar of party status quo.

In “Why Republicans Should Actually Vote for Hillary Clinton” Brand appeals to history—and pop culture of the moment—by asserting that Alexander Hamilton would vote for Hillary Clinton. First off, with his love of centralized federal power, there’s no evidence that Hamilton would be anything but a Democrat in today’s political climate; of course Hamilton would vote for Clinton. It’s a cheap hook and one that has no real bearing on his later point except to add the faux weight of an historical appeal to authority since we’re practically trained from birth to revere everything the founding fathers did.

For his real argument, Brand describes the election of 1800 when the Democratic-Republican party nominated Thomas Jefferson for president and Aaron Burr for vice president. At the time, the Constitution’s electoral procedure didn’t recognize this understanding. Brand describes the ensuing situation:
Each elector had two ballots to cast, but the ballots for president and vice president were not separated. The final result was Jefferson and Burr getting the same number of ballots, producing a tie that could only be resolved by a special voting procedure in the House of Representatives. Burr ignored his informal agreement to serve as Jefferson’s vice president and tried to convince the House to choose him as president.

Brand goes on to explain the dilemma before Hamilton’s party—the Federalists—in the House. Voting for Jefferson, a champion of returning power to the states, was the kind of choice that was no choice; Jefferson and his ideas were anathema to the Federalists. Burr, though, was unattractive in his own rights; Brand quotes historian John Ferling: “Throughout his career, many detected in him a frenetic ambition, an insatiable, indomitable craving for wealth, material possessions, power, and acclaim—more of everything, a gluttonous avidity that they assumed drove him relentlessly.” Hamilton, not a member of the House but an influential voice in the Federalist Party, supported his nemesis Jefferson. Hamilton reasoned that if the Federalists supported Burr, “they adopt him and become answerable for him,” and Brand argues that Hamilton believed it was better to remain a party of opposition in retention of its principles than defeat the opposing party at the cost of principles. Brand takes this example from history and imposes it on our current situation, concluding that:
If elected, Republicans would be blamed for [Trump’s] failures. To support Trump, we must sacrifice our principles and reconcile our minds to his. Better we should follow Hamilton’s example and support an opposing party whose principles we reject—and remain a principle[d] party of opposition.

But there are no principles at stake in Brand’s column—nor, arguably, in Hamilton’s decision 216 years earlier. Hamilton saw Jefferson as a predictable opponent “desirous of something like orderly government” whereas Burr “thinks of nothing but his own aggrandizement.” Further, Hamilton’s concern that the Federalists supporting Burr would “adopt him” doesn’t speak toward intent to safeguard principles while leading the opposition but to a fear that the Federalists would be blamed for any mess that Aaron Burr might make after they handed him victory. Hamilton’s better-the-devil-you-know approach is a political calculation that does little more than benefit the Federalist Party of the moment.


Despite using the word three times, Brand’s concluding paragraph isn’t appealing to principles but to partisanship. After arguing against sacrificing one’s principles to support Trump, he urges putting in power a party whose principles stand in opposition to his own. It’s interesting to me that in his telling a vote for Trump is unprincipled while a vote Clinton, a representative of “an opposing party whose principles we reject” is not; perhaps this is because Brand’s hypothetical Republican voter, through individual sacrifice of voting for Clinton, is lending his or her principles to the GOP at large like human cattle to a vampire. I find Brand’s appeal to Republicans a self-serving argument designed to maintain the Republican Party as it existed before Donald Trump upended it—an attempt to pretend the primary voter rebellion never happened and another sign that the we-know-better crowd is increasingly clueless about life for the everyday voter. Call me cynical, but I’m not sure propping up a decrepit GOP is a goal worthy of sacrificing principles—certainly not to vote for Clinton whose sense of personal honesty is dubious and whose policy proposals are, from a conservative standpoint, deeply flawed. A time traveling Alexander Hamilton may well agree with Brand’s reasoning—and would probably vote for Hillary Clinton either way; wanting to look myself in a mirror on November 9th, though, I’ll keep my principles and leave the GOP to rediscover its own.

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