This election, conservatives will face a choice that many will find extremely hard. They can choose to re-elect President Trump, who is arguably the best possible fit for their policy preferences; they can vote for a third party, independent or write-in candidate; they can refuse to vote for anyone for president or they can cross over to support their long-time political opponent, former Vice President Biden, who may disagree with them over the next four years on issues ranging from climate change to economics to health care to judicial nominations. Conservatives must choose the last option.
For conservatives who have fought decades to win political battles on a number of fronts, this exhortation will be a difficult pill to swallow. A Biden victory could result in major conservative losses on a whole slate of issues. Yet, if conservatives reflect on the values most important to the conservative movement, it will be clear that out of the two major party candidates, Biden provides the best opportunity to realize those values in the White House. Take four major conservative principles: the protection of human life, support for economic growth, personal responsibility and truthfulness.
Starting with the sanctity of human life, it’s easy to understand why so many conservatives feel compelled to vote for Donald Trump. His policies are undoubtedly more opposed to legal abortion than Joe Biden’s are, and for some conservatives, abortion is the most important issue of all, an issue for which, from the pro-life perspective, millions and millions of innocent human lives are at stake. If human life begins in the womb, as the pro-life movement asserts, then abortion is the largest cause of death in America, more so than heart disease, cancer and COVID-19. One can certainly sympathize with those who vote for Donald Trump out of a fervent desire to defend the lives of the unborn.
Nevertheless, as the stalwart conservative David French has pointed out, the abortion rate in America varies little as different presidents occupy the Oval Office, even when their policies on abortion are in sharp contrast with each other. In general, the rate of abortions in the U.S. has been trending downward. The main obstacle to any ban on abortion in the U.S. is Roe v. Wade, which only the Supreme Court can overturn. Now that Justice Amy Coney Barrett has been confirmed to the Supreme Court, the court will have an undeniable conservative majority. Who occupies the White House is no longer as consequential for the pro-life agenda.
However, while the president does not unilaterally create laws on abortion, he is tasked with implementing policies to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which he has tragically failed to do. When confronted with a uniquely grave threat to the country, President Trump downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak, while admitting to journalist Bob Woodward that COVID-19 was “deadly stuff”. He has held tightly packed rallies with large crowds of unmasked fans, sometimes indoors. A recent study out of our very own Stanford University estimates that these rallies have exacted a disturbingly high death toll of 700. And all the while he has refused to wear a mask at these rallies, instead choosing to mock Joe Biden for regularly wearing one. If the president is unwilling to follow and encourage the simplest of precautions to protect himself, his family and his supporters from a disease that has killed over 200,000 Americans, he is not fit to carry the pro-life banner, as conservatives like French have noted. Conservatives should be worried about the prospect that unshakeable support for Trump from pro-lifers will lead to the term “pro-life” becoming a parody of itself.
On the second point of economic growth, it’s once again understandable why so many conservatives are sticking with President Trump. Although it can be challenging to determine the cause-and-effect relationship of economic policies and outcomes, it’s certainly true that Trump implemented major conservative tax reforms and regulatory reforms during his tenure, and by the end of his third year in office, just before the COVID-19 crisis hit, America was experiencing a period of great economic success, a booming stock market and very low levels of unemployment. As even the progressive outlet Vox pointed out, the American economy was very strong as recently as December 2019. While the economy suffered greatly after the pandemic hit, Trump’s economic policies could still serve as a blueprint for a successful post-pandemic economic recovery. But conservatives worry that with Joe Biden’s very progressive agenda, combined with pressure from Bernie Sanders and “The Squad” to move even further left, the Democrats could reverse Trump’s victories and thereby hurt the economy. Thus, many conservatives conclude that Trump is their only viable option for re-building a strong economy.
But when it comes to the economy, one of the most important issues for voters, conservatives must reckon with the fact that Trump is incapable of showing the necessary leadership to rein in the surging COVID-19 epidemic, and without controlling the outbreak, it’s probable that America will be unable to make a sure-footed economic recovery. Although difficult trade-offs must be made when balancing the interests of public health and the economy, there is one simple step everyone can take to protect the health of themselves and everyone around them, without costing the economy a dime: wearing a mask. As noted above, the president has been a reluctant mask-wearer and mask-promoter. How on Earth can he lead the country to an economic recovery when he has failed to consistently promote the easiest step to getting there?
Conservatives have long emphasized “personal responsibility” as a core value, but yet again the president falls short on a key conservative principle. Despite a never-ending series of political blunders and “self-inflicted wounds” that have hurt his popularity, he never admits fault, instead preferring to complain about how he has been victimized by circumstances and by his opponents. And at a time when so many Americans made huge sacrifices to protect themselves and their families from the virus, Trump held a super-spreader event, at which he and many others appeared without masks, and thereby endangered himself, his family and his colleagues. Trump’s lack of acknowledgment of the dangers of his behavior and lack of apology form the ultimate hallmark of personal irresponsibility. If conservatives ever wish to utter the words “personal responsibility” again, they would be wise to dissociate themselves from this man as soon as they can.
And lastly, we arrive at the moment of truth. Conservatives have long emphasized the importance of honesty; the conservative intellectual Dennis Prager once claimed that conservatism valued truth more than leftism did, stating “[Truth] is a liberal value, and it is a conservative value, but truth has never been a left-wing value.” If conservatives continue to claim that truth is of greater import to conservatism than it is to leftism, they will have no choice but to truthfully acknowledge that it is unwise to support a man who has “made more than 20,000 false or misleading claims,” as per the Washington Post’s diligent tracker.
President Trump is clearly lacking in conservative principles, such as personal responsibility and truthfulness, and he is the least likely of the two major candidates to lead a stable economic recovery and safeguard human life. It is clear that Biden has the upper hand over Trump on many of these core conservative principles and goals. He has an ability to take responsibility for mistakes and apologize for them. And although Biden has a long record of stating falsehoods himself, no one has demonstrated that this record comes close to rivaling the magnitude of Trump’s 20,000 “false or misleading claims.” Biden has a plan for the economy which, according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed, would “spur economic growth” and which some analysts claim would create “7 million more jobs than Trump.” Never forget Ronald Reagan’s wise aphorism, “I believe the best social program is a job.” On the topic of life, Biden has long supported keeping abortion legal, and he has disappointingly swerved even further left in recent times, he now supports taxpayer funding of abortion, and it seems plausible that Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris will do little to reduce the number of inessential third-trimester abortions. Yet on the issue of life that Biden can have the most direct impact on, COVID-19, Biden has shown more concern for the health and survival of the American people by emphasizing the necessity of masks and other precautions. Conservatives should recognize that on these principles and policy areas, Biden, while imperfect, is a much better option than Trump.
For conservatives who are dismayed by Trump’s personality, principles and performance, their disagreements with Biden’s policies may lead them to believe that a vote for a third-party, independent or write-in candidate is ideal. This sentiment is completely understandable and deserves our respect. Yet, for an election this consequential, in the middle of a deadly pandemic, an economic recession and a nationwide movement for racial justice, the stakes are incredibly high, and no third-party challenger has emerged as strong enough to take on Donald Trump. To defeat a president who has forsaken conservative values and behaved irresponsibly and recklessly in the face of a global crisis, conservatives have only one viable option: Vote for Joe Biden, and do everything you can to get him elected.
Contact Hormazd Godrej at hormazd ‘at’ stanford.edu.
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