I turned eighteen in 1979, the year Pierre Trudeau suffered his first electoral defeat at the hands of Progressive Conservatives (PC) led by Joe Clark (aka “Joe Who”). Unfortunately, all throughout the 80’s the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was so bad that it wasn’t until the 1993 Federal Election - when Preston Manning and the Reform Party arrived on the scene - that I actually voted for somebody for the first time in my life.
Throughout that bleak period, I never voted PC – not once. Conservative friends would ask me, do you want the Liberals back in power? My response was who cares? The PC’s and the Liberals are just a choice between Tweedlededee and Tweedlededum. The 1980’s may have been a flowering of conservativism throughout the world - the US had Ronald Reagan, Great Britain had Margaret Thatcher - but in Canada we got a clunker in the form of Brian Mulroney. A venal, petty, unprincipled, and vindictive Red Tory, I could never vote for a man so hell-bent on hard-coding left-wing principles into Canada’s Constitution.
My guiding principle during those frustrating years is that politicians need to earn my vote. I have no obligation whatsoever to support anybody, regardless of their party affiliation. Politicians ultimately derive their power from the people not the other way around.
As a result, in the 1984 election, I voted for the Party for the Commonwealth of Canada. Decades later I discovered they were a front for Lyndon LaRouche. They only received 87 votes in my riding (one of them being mine), but it didn’t matter. They weren’t a serious party and my message - that I hated every mainstream option - was delivered. In 1988, I didn’t vote at all. After Brian Mulroney’s disastrous second term – where, in addition to his attempts at constitutional meddling, he enacted draconian gun-control laws (Bill C-17) - I felt vindicated. I hadn’t soiled myself by voting for him.
So if you are a Republican who thinks Donald Trump doesn’t have Presidential Timber, and you hate Hillary as well, then my advice is to not vote for either. You owe them nothing. It is up to them to convince you that they are worthy of your support. Don’t let anybody tell you it works the other way around.
But here’s the good news. As a Republican, you have a lot to be proud of. In spite of this year’s disastrous presidential season, the GOP is at a historical level of strength. The Republicans control 31 state legislatures outright, split 4 legislatures with the Democrats, hold 31 governors’ mansions, and have an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives. As well, the majority of Senators are Republicans. And while the Congressional Republican leadership has been disappointing (to put it mildly), the new Speaker of the House is much better than the man he replaced. Paul Ryan may be disappointing in some ways, but he stands head and shoulders above the execrable John Boehner, a man of no virtues or talents.
So if I were you, I would tune out the presidential election. Regardless of who wins, the conservative cause has already lost that race. Rather, I would concentrate all my attention, energy, and money on local, state, and congressional races where you can make a real difference. These elections matter and there is a lot at stake.
Now that we know that the new President is guaranteed be bad (even if we don’t know his or her name yet), it is more important than ever to maintain control of Congress. This is especially true of the Senate, where, thanks to the success of the 2010 midterms, the Republicans have a lot of seats to defend. If I were a conservative activist looking for something to do, I would find a senate candidate to support. If there is none in your state, is there a close senate race in a nearby state? Perhaps there is a RINO who needs to be primaried.
To put things into perspective, I did not have this option as a Canadian conservative in the 1980’s. Thanks to iron party discipline, I could only choose between a Liberal trained seal or a Mulroney PC trained seal in my riding. And because provincial and municipal elections are held separately, there was very little reason to even go down to the polling station on Election Day. But because the American system of government is more decentralized, there is a lot you can do even if you hate all the options at the top of the ticket.
Please note that none of the things I advise involve lost causes or tilting at windmills. There are real, consequential elections out there that you can affect in a practical way.
So cheer up – and get to work.