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The Conservative Vote

TAC‘s election symposium is online, and I recommend reading it in its entirety. Some of my favorite entries are those written by Jeremy Beer, Scott Galupo, and Dan McCarthy. Scott sums up most of the same reasons why I find Romney completely unacceptable, and I agreed with Dan’s argument for his proposed write-in vote:

A vote for Rand Paul is an arrow telling the GOP which way to move: forward as well as back to a prudent conservatism.

All of the contributors make some valuable comments, but there were a few I wanted to discuss at a little more length. Noah Millman explained why he wouldn’t be casting a protest vote for Johnson:

I considered voting for Gary Johnson as a protest for these reasons. But Johnson’s economic ideas would be catastrophic if put into practice.

I have seen some version of this argument before, and each time I see it I am puzzled by it. The purpose of voting third party on foreign policy grounds is to register a protest against at least some aspects of the bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. Even if we were in a country where Johnson could be elected, it is extremely doubtful that most of his domestic policy agenda would ever become law. Noah seems to share Jim Antle’s objection to voting for a flawed third party candidate because, as Antle puts it, “Settling defeats the purpose of voting third party.”

I would argue that “settling” is unavoidable no matter what party one chooses to support, and the only way one can avoid settling for a flawed candidate is to avoid voting all together. Whether one finds that “settling” acceptable depends on what one wants to prioritize and what one candidate gets right that the other candidates miss. Sometimes it will depend on the available options on the ballot. A social conservative or restrictionist might want to cast a protest vote for Goode, but in some states he won’t have that option and may have to settle for voting for Johnson for other reasons.

I didn’t send in a contribution to the symposium earlier this week, but I’ll try to make up for that omission here. The truth is that I forgot to register to vote here in Texas before the deadline passed, and as a result I won’t be voting in this year’s election at all. It wasn’t entirely a deliberate decision not to vote, but I obviously didn’t consider it much of a priority once I moved here. This is the first time that I haven’t voted in a state or federal election since I have been able to vote, which seemed strange at first, but it did help me appreciate just how much of an empty ritual it often is.

If I had registered, I would most likely have supported Johnson for president for the obvious reasons that his views on foreign policy and civil liberties, while not exactly my own, are so much better than anything offered by the other candidates that it isn’t even close. He is far and away the most credible candidate with respect to fiscal responsibility. Growing up in New Mexico, I was there for most of Johnson’s tenure as governor, and while he promoted some bad ideas (e.g., casino gaming, privatizing prisons) he mostly did well by the state. Especially when there is no chance that New Mexico will have any impact on the outcome, I hope that New Mexicans give him a respectable amount of support. As far as most of the other elections are concerned, I have been a resident in Texas so briefly that it seems preposterous that I should have any say in choosing state and local officials, and the Senate and House races are bound to be so lopsided in favor of the Republican candidates that it makes no difference whether I vote in these elections or not.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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