Here’s my pre-election position statement and argument. The TL;DR is that I’m absolutely not going to get angry at anyone who decides to vote third party, but I think that’s a terrible strategic mistake for this specific election, and I would like to explain why.
The system is bent
Let me start out by saying that I was a third party voter for years. In the UK, I routinely voted for the Liberal Democrats. UK voters may remember them as the party Nick Clegg destroyed. I voted for them because they were strong advocates of electoral reform.
That’s what the US needs too. 2016 has shown what a disaster the two party system is. This year, both parties have selected candidates who appeal solely to the most rabidly partisan. No ordinary voter wants anything to do with either of them. And if you’re saying “No, you’re wrong” or “Well, that’s because of the media”, then I’m afraid you’re inside one of the partisan bubbles. Just look at how few bumper stickers there are, even though voting has started. Even Al Gore and George W Bush both managed to attract enthusiastic supporters, and they were both terrible, terrible candidates.
In the long term, the US needs electoral reform. We need a system where people can pick multiple choices and put them in order, a ranked voting system. That way, Republicans would be able to vote for the candidate they actually want without letting Hillary Clinton get elected, and Democrats would be able to vote for a candidate they actually want without letting Donald Trump get elected.
One option is called Instant Runoff Voting. Basically, if a Democrat listed Bernie first but Bernie didn’t get enough votes and was eliminated, those Bernie votes would transfer to the voters’ second choices. If a Republican listed Ted Cruz first but Cruz proved unpopular outside Texas and was eliminated, those Cruz votes would be distributed to the voters’ second choice candidates.
At this point it’s pretty clear to me that it would be in both parties’ interests to move to something like IRV, to inoculate themselves against another disaster like 2016. Yet they probably won’t do it, because it reduces the power of the party insiders, and if the party hierarchy isn’t on board it isn’t going to happen. That’s before you even get to the problem that all elected politicians will have succeeded under the bent first-past-the-post based system, so none of them will want to change it to something that might make it harder for them to get elected. Politicians will put their selfish interests ahead of what’s best for the party, let alone what’s best for the country.
Of course, all of the above blather about electoral reform is something to think about after the election, because the bottom line is this: In 2016, either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be elected as the next US President.
Trump isn’t going anywhere
There are still a few Republicans who think that there’s a chance of getting rid of Donald Trump before the election, so I’m going to take a small detour to pop that bubble.
First of all, there’s no time to get his name replaced on the ballot. We’re past the deadlines to get new ballots printed, and early voting has already started in some states.
You can also forget about persuading Trump to drop out for the good of the party or the nation. He has all the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder. That’s not just my opinion, plenty of therapists have said the same even though it means risking professional censure. One thing narcissists do not do, is drop out of the limelight selflessly for the good of others. Trump’s already lining up the excuses to protect his fragile ego in the increasingly likely event of his losing, and he’s boasting that he will never drop out.
You think the Republicans will find a way to get rid of Trump against his will? Sorry, but it’s too late for that too. The party would need to change their own rules in order to dump him, which would require a full party vote and a two thirds majority voting in favor of the change. There isn’t time for that to happen before the election, even assuming they could get the rank and file to obey instructions. And they can’t, because at the time of writing only 12% of Republican voters want to get rid of Trump.
No, the only way Trump will leave the Presidential race is in a yuge gold-plated casket. And before you start thinking that scenario sounds appealing, remember that Trump’s most loyal followers are a bunch of conspiracy theorists. In fact, the Republican party leadership had better hope that Trump’s health is as good as his dodgy physician claimed in that infamous letter, because if he suddenly dies of natural causes before election day it’ll rip the party apart.
Put it all together and there’s no doubt about it: the Republicans are going to have to carry this one to term.
Third parties won’t win, and this year’s third parties suck anyway
The closest third party candidate to viability is Gary Johnson, and he’s polling at 6.6%. There is absolutely no way he’s going to suddenly get 7× the support in 4 weeks and become a contender. His running mate, Bill Weld, has tacitly admitted this and is focusing his attention on stopping Trump — even if that means telling people to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Gary Johnson is also a terrible candidate. His argument that it’s OK not knowing about world affairs because he can’t start wars with countries he doesn’t know about is ludicrous. (Yes, Gary, asking you to name a foreign leader is “playing politics”. You’re a politician, it’s the game you signed up to play.)
In spite of his attempts to seem more centrist, Johnson’s got a straightforward right wing Republican record. His position on climate change is that the sun’s going to engulf the earth in a few billion years so we might as well do nothing, and he’s a big fan of austerity. So hey, if you absolutely must vote for a Republican, Johnson’s your man, but he’s not going to win, and even if he did he wouldn’t do anything positive for the economy.
Meanwhile in the green corner we have Jill Stein, who in the interests of full disclosure, is the closest to me on the political map. She’s terrible too.
Stein panders to the anti-science crowd with crackpot theories about WiFi causing cancer and vaccines causing autism. She hailed Brexit as a great victory, then hurriedly edited her praise when she realized she was praising the success of an overtly racist campaign.
Perhaps worst of all, Stein traveled as a guest to Russia, and dined with Vladimir Putin. She then had the gall to complain about the USA’s human rights record, in interviews for Russia Today — the state-controlled TV station that basically acts as Putin’s propaganda arm. All patriotism aside, it was a massive “fuck you” to LGBT followers.
I’ve seen people argue that Jill Stein could get 5% of the vote and qualify the Green Party to be on more ballots next year. Sorry, no, that’s not going to happen either. She only got 0.36% of the vote last time. Even if she magically got 10× the votes she got last time — which is not going to happen — that still wouldn’t be enough to actually achieve any material benefit for the Green Party.
Why Republicans need Trump to lose
If you’re a Republican, you might be worried that Donald Trump is going to lose the election. Well, there’s an even more terrible possibility: he might win.
The Republican party published its own autopsy of the 2012 election, which said:
The nation’s demographic changes add to the urgency of recognizing how precarious our position has become.
America is changing demographically, and unless Republicans are able to grow our appeal the way GOP governors have done, the changes tilt the playing field even more in the Democratic direction.
In 1980, exit polls tell us that the electorate was 88 percent white. In 2012, it was 72 percent white. Hispanics made up 7 percent of the electorate in 2000, 8 percent in 2004, 9 percent in 2008 and 10 percent in 2012. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2050, whites will be 47 percent of the country while Hispanics will grow to 29 percent and Asians to 9 percent.
As 538 put it:
In 1980, Ronald Reagan won 56 percent of all white voters and won election in a 44-state landslide. In 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney carried 59 percent of all white voters yet lost decisively.
Donald Trump’s campaign has been seized on by the dying white supremacist movement. His supporters are overwhelmingly white, and skew towards being both older and less educated than Democrats. Yet the USA has been getting both less white and more educated in recent years.
Whether you think Trump has deliberately courted the white supremacists or not, his social media ties to racists and his choice of an “alt-right” campaign manager have confirmed in many people’s minds that the Trump-era Republican Party is a party for old racist white people. And that’s a party that won’t be able to win elections for much longer.
So if you want to see another Republican president in your lifetime, you’d better hope Trump doesn’t squeak a narrow victory this time around.
So here are your three options, choose carefully
So given the rules of the game, here’s how the Presidential election works. As Clay Shirky explains at greater length, your vote can send one of exactly three messages:
- I prefer Donald Trump be President, rather than Hillary Clinton.
- I prefer Hillary Clinton be President, rather than Donald Trump.
- Whatever everybody else decides is OK with me.
Sure, you may also manage to express a faint secondary preference for (say) green policies or low taxes, but the primary message received will be one of the three above.
You’re going to vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson? The system will interpret that as message #3 above. Sure, to you, your third party vote is sending a message about rejecting the two party system, but the system won’t hear it. It’ll be interpreted as #3 above.
You’re going to sit it out and not vote at all? The system will interpret that as message #3 as well.
The system is stupid, dishonest, ignoring what you are saying, and reading things into your vote that you’re not saying? I absolutely agree! See start of article. But that isn’t going to change before November.
So, let’s consider the messages you can send with the system set up the way it is.
Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump
Hillary Clinton is totally going to screw us with more neoliberal trade deals. We know that she believes in saying one thing publicly but another in private. She’s done exactly that in the past when promoting a trade deal she publicly promised to oppose. She did call the TPP the “gold standard” in trade agreements, and she’s still lying about doing so, as she did during the first debate.
Clinton is also a hawkish believer in American exceptionalism who has been Secretary of State for a string of foreign policy disasters. She might pull us into another foreign invasion — Iran, perhaps.
She should never have put her state e-mail on a private server, let alone a Windows box with no firewall running Microsoft Exchange. She should never have enthusiastically supported welfare ‘reform’.
I could go on. This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive catalog of what’s bad about Hillary Clinton; other people can handle that. My point here is to make it clear that I am absolutely not a fan of Hillary Clinton.
But compared to Donald Trump, she’s a saint.
Donald Trump is in the pocket of Vladimir Putin. He has borrowed money from oligarchs in Putin’s inner circle. One of his advisers waged a covert campaign on behalf of Ukrainian pro-Putin politicians. Another traveled to Russia to decry US policy, and then worked on behalf of the Trump campaign to get the Republican party to drop the idea of aid for Ukraine against Russia (see also Politifact article). A third Trump advisor has been working for a gas company owned by the Russian government.
This is all considered serious enough that US intelligence agencies have investigated. That’s why people got upset when Trump ‘joked’ that Russia should hack Hillary Clinton’s e-mail and told everyone that Crimea wanted to be part of Russia. Sure enough, more hacked e-mails appeared, and the US government is now confident enough that Russia is the source that they’ve made a public accusation.
Trump has also been bailed out by a Saudi prince a couple of times. This is one of the real reasons why he won’t release his tax returns. We already know he’s paid no federal income tax for over a decade, the actual revelations in those documents must be worse. Presumably they’ll show just how many shady oligarchs he owes favors to.
Then there’s, you know, the fact that Trump’s a fascist. He openly courts neo-Nazis, the KKK, anti-semites and far-right European politicians. I’m not going to go into all those details, I’ll just point you at this huge page of links you can read through until your face melts.
Trump is either profoundly ignorant of the US Constitution, or simply eager to trash it. The ACLU has a document outlining all his unconstitutional authoritarian policy proposals.
Trump wants more countries to have nuclear weapons, he praised the Chinese government for how they handled Tiananmen Square, and he has praised Saddam Hussein and said the US shouldn’t have toppled the guy.
Yes, Trump is also a racist and a misogynist, but those aren’t unusual positions for the Republican party. It’s the authoritarian streak which makes him uniquely dangerous.
So I maintain that for every bad thing of note about Hillary Clinton, you can find multiple worse things about Donald Trump. Clinton deleted e-mails, possibly illegally? Trump deleted e-mails illegally. Clinton has connections to Russia? Trump had party policy changed to favor Russian interests, has had at least four advisers discovered to be directly connected to Russia (Manafort, Burt, Page and Epshteyn), and has borrowed money from Russia. Clinton has U-turned on TPP? Trump has U-turned on immigration, Iran, Israel, abortion, and many other issues. And seriously, read that huge list of links and tell me Hillary Clinton is anything like as awful.
Can Trump win?
As I write this, 538 has Donald Trump with a 16.5% chance of winning. That may sound reassuring, but you have the same odds playing Russian Roulette, and I don’t want to play that game either.
In the UK, there’s something known as the Shy Tory Factor. The US has a related issue known as the Bradley Effect. I have a horrible feeling that there are a lot of people who, when asked by opinion pollsters, are adamant that they will never vote for Trump — but who, in the privacy of a voting booth, will let their inner racist make the decisions.
I’ve seen analysis which seems to show that shy Trump supporters don’t exist in large enough numbers to swing the election — not least because there are equal numbers of hideously embarrassed people planning to vote for Hillary Clinton. But I still worry.
So no matter how badly Trump seems to be losing, I say it isn’t over until the day after the election.
Democrats always say this
I know, you’ve heard it all before. The Republican candidate is a right wing lunatic, it’s the end of the world unless we all vote for a slightly-less-right-wing Democrat, and so on.
Absolutely true. The Democratic party uses that crap to herd progressives into obedience every election. It’s sickening.
However, I don’t trot this argument out every election. As I said at the start, normally I’m a third party supporter. I think protest votes are generally valid and healthy for democracy. But this election is, I believe, qualitatively different from previous ones.
Consider Mitt Romney. I lived in Massachusetts while Romney was Governor. I wasn’t a fan, and I wouldn’t have picked him for President, but I didn’t think he was a white supremacist authoritarian with no regard for the Constitution. On the contrary, I believe that he’s much more moderate and reasonable than he made himself out to be during the 2012 election campaign. It was sad seeing him try to condemn healthcare measures that were so similar to the ones he himself had championed in Massachusetts.
Trump is no Romney. He’s not even a George W Bush. He’s something much more dangerous.
So what’s your message going to be?
Here’s the message I’m personally going to send with my vote:
I’m going to vote against the fascist.
I’m not generally a fan of simplistic rules, but I think “Always vote against the fascist” is a pretty sound one.
It isn’t enough for Donald Trump and his merry band of white supremacists to lose. If they merely lose, they’ll say “Well, we almost won, white nationalism and authoritarianism can win next time”, and they’ll come back and try again. No, we need them lose on such an epic scale that no politician will ever dare pander to racists again.
In fact, now that Trump looks like he’s going to lose, his new narrative is that the election is “rigged” and will be “stolen”. This makes it all the more essential that he be defeated on a massive scale, so that claims of election rigging lack credibility.
I want to see a smoking crater where the Trump campaign used to be. So I’m going to vote for whatever will do the most damage to Trump, which unfortunately means voting for Hillary Clinton.
You want to send a message? Every single popular vote for Clinton over Trump sends a message that white supremacist authoritarianism is unacceptable, that Russian interference in US elections will not be allowed to succeed. It doesn’t matter if Hillary can’t win in your state. She’s very unlikely to win Texas, though it’s not impossible. That doesn’t matter, because whoever wins the electoral votes, people will still be looking at the popular vote counts on the morning after. There is no such thing as a wasted vote against Trump.
How serious am I about this? Imagine we were in an alternate reality where it was a race between Donald Trump and George W Bush. Let’s even imagine Bush was running for re-election, so we’d already seen his performance. I would still be lining up to vote for Bush to send a message against Trump.
So one last time: For all our sakes, Republican, Democrat or neither; whatever the polls may say; please, take a barf bag and go vote for Hillary.