How I yearned for a viable third party candidate—Ben Sasse, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, even Mitt Romney.
I wanted to show the world that principled conservatives would not blindly follow a poor GOP candidate. Yet no such candidate materialized. The best we were left with was a former CIA agent and GOP operative, Evan McMullin, who wasn’t even on the ballot in my state. If a protest vote is made and nobody is around to see it, did the protest happen?
Months ago, I described why I was perplexed by Trump. Two things working in his favor, I argued, were the Supreme Court and Vice Presidential nominee, Mike Pence. I added a huge qualifier: Trump would have to be trusted to keep his promise on the Supreme Court and would have to be deferential toward his Vice President. In general, he had displayed neither the trustworthiness nor teachable spirit that would engender my support.
To my chagrin, Trump didn’t seem to mature in the waning months of the campaign. And my assessment of his moral character didn’t either. The attempts to defend Trump’s lewd comments about women as “locker room banter” were insulting. Most men are not walking around looking for a woman to grab. And the fact that some do engage in such behavior does not make it justifiable.
If I voted for Donald Trump, it would not be based on the strength of his moral character. Politically, I agreed with him on about two-thirds of the major issues, which made him palatable. In the end, it would come down to two considerations: how desperately does our country need a change of direction and what accountability measures are in place to accentuate Trump’s strengths and mitigate his weaknesses?
The first consideration proved fairly easy to determine. Political scientist, Alan Abramowitz, developed a model for predicting elections called “Time to Change.” This model relies on certain measures like presidential approval ratings (state of politics) and the GDP (state of the economy), and has a good record on elections, including the prediction of Trump in this past election.
Perhaps the accuracy of this model is due in part to how it syncs up with the average voter’s thinking. I surveyed the state of our political system and determined that it was ailing, with the prospect of it getting worse. Meanwhile, more and more friends and families members started suffering under the weight of their health insurance premiums. Economically, my slice of the middle class was worse for wear. Although I am from the D.C. suburbs, I began to identify more and more with the populist tide in the Midwest.
The second consideration moved into Trump’s favor, as well. For years, I have looked up to Mike Pence and Paul Ryan more than most any other politician. Most of my #NeverTrump friends are huge fans of each of those guys, too. They are two of the most principled and articulate conservative statesmen of our generation. They would also stand in the way of Trump if he became unmoored. Would Trump risk a public split with the vice president he selected? As with President Obama, I am confident that Speaker Ryan would stand athwart a rogue Trump presidency, as well.
In addition, Trump can only win an election with conservative support. He elicited such support with his Supreme Court promises. If he backed off his promises or in other ways turned his backs on conservatives, they would make him pay, as well. Who is to say that a single, charismatic conservative candidate in 2020 couldn’t knock off President Trump in a primary?
To be honest, these rationales were not as deeply explored when I voted. My plan for two months up until I entered the voting booth was to vote third party or write in a candidate. Once I entered the booth, however, my desire for change and the assessment that Trump could be reined in won out. I have a feeling that a lot of reluctant conservatives made the same calculation on Election Day.
I voted for Donald Trump, not because there was a clear biblical or theological rationale for or against him, but for pragmatic reasons based on what I conceived as wise and in line with my conscience. As my future president, he has my support and prayers. I will continue to critique those areas in which I think he errs and, if he proves my calculations wrong, I will vote for his primary competitor in 2020.
Stephen Roberts is an Army Reserve chaplain, writer and evangelist living near Milwaukee. He is a regular contributor to Political Storm.