Republicans should raise standards and not vote for Moore
As we approach November 9th, the one year mark since the election of Donald Trump, pundits, commentators, and laypeople alike still struggle to figure how a candidate like Donald Trump – crass, generally uninformed, unpopular, and decidedly un-conservative – managed to guide a campaign riddled with once-damnable offenses to lay claim to both the Republican nomination and the oval office.
The first question, that of how he came to win the Republican nomination, is undoubtedly an important one, but the second question, how he then managed to win the general election, is especially important now as Alabama sets out to debate the future of its own similar politician, Roy Moore.
How Roy Moore, the twice-removed-from-office ex-Alabama Supreme Court chief justice and twice-failed gubernatorial candidate won the Republican Senate primary is an also important question, but the more pressing question now facing many Alabama Republicans – like the one faced by many Republicans one year ago – is what now to do with a candidate as unqualified as the one their party chose.
For context, modern American history has scarcely seen voters confronted with an issue of this magnitude. For voters on both sides of the aisle, candidates that have won primaries in major elections, even if not their preferred candidates, were at least generally palatable. Think about the relatively miniscule differences between Mitt Romney and John McCain, and now think about the differences between Donald Trump and John Kasich. There were no #neverMcCain or #neverRomney campaigns.
So come November 9, 2016, Republican voters, or at least many of them, were faced with a relatively new dilemma. What if I in good conscience can’t vote for the candidate of the other party, or the candidate of my own party either?
Some answered this question by posing a sort of consequentialist argument, where, when faced with two evils, we are morally obliged to choose the lesser between them. This intuitively makes some sense. If one of two bad things are inevitably going to happen, we should choose the one that is less bad. Thus, many voters, and enough voters to push Trump past 270 electoral votes, reluctantly cast their ballot for him, hoping that at least he wouldn’t be as bad as the alternative.
But this consequentialist view of our obligations to our elected representatives, or their obligations to us, poses huge threats to our democracy. By eschewing the expectations of high moral character and reducing our voting criteria to the mere relative standard that one candidate be politically “better” than another, we send a message to our candidates that so long as they promise to vote a certain way or nominate certain justices, there’s virtually nothing they can do to lose our vote.
In doing so, voters surrender any power they once had to make politicians earn their votes, and instead become powerless to demand from them any level of moral character, as they know voters will fall in line at the end of the day anyway. The long-term effects of this will be deeply injurious to our democracy and to the relationship that constituencies have with those that represent them.
Look, for instance, at the myriad of once-disqualifying character traits that Republicans were willing to overlook for the sake of electing a Republican president. Time after time, Republicans were unwilling and unable to clearly define the point at which they would become unable to vote for Donald Trump.
This is understandable in the sense that the political stakes were so huge, but it offers no answer for how to ensure that our future representatives and officials will be held to any sort of moral standard or character requirements. When voters set the precedent that character isn’t necessary, they give license to candidates like Donald Trump to say or do anything they want so long as they promise to toe the party line.
Enter Roy Moore. What does the willingness of voters to overlook the character of Donald Trump tell Roy Moore about how much he can get away with and still get elected in Alabama? Are we fine with our candidates arguing that Muslims should be barred from serving in Congress and touting endorsements from neo-confederates?
If we’re not, we must make clear to candidates that they must do more than claim our political party to earn our vote. That means casting votes informed by more than mere political promises.
Issues matter, yes. But character does too. And yes, this will likely mean losing elections; this is the position we’ve put ourselves in. But sometimes winning wars means you must lose battles, and I’m fine with abandoning a few hills if it means we can regain what it means to be the shining city on a hill that America is supposed to be. Not voting for Roy Moore is a good start.
Will Leathers is a senior majoring in management information systems. His column runs biweekly.