By Justin Arnold
Unfortunately the biggest issue in the 2016 GOP Primary hasn’t been foreign policy, the economy, immigration, or taxes. Instead, it is unquestionably the fault line Donald Trump has created in the Republican Party and, more importantly, the conservative movement. After choking down the brutal irony of this coming when the country and Party need the polar opposite of optimism and unity—Iowa Republicans are now asking themselves some agonizing questions.
The Introspective: Could I Actually Support Donald Trump?
I’ll go first. Under no circumstances will I ever support this man. The only good thing to come of the nearly $2 billion worth of media coverage he has been given is that not too many words are required here to explain why. Anyone who has watched five minutes of this appalling charade—his supporters included—know exactly how one could conclude that Donald is uninformed, unfit, and dangerous.
The very short-list is that he is dishonest, is not a conservative, has no grasp of the issues, has no class, and has promised to commit war crimes. Additionally, I believe he will mobilize the largest anti-candidate vote in the history of American politics, leading to his decimation in November and threatening to sweep hundreds of conservative champions out of statehouses across the country. In my view, he is an electoral disaster who in beliefs, substance, style, decorum, and temperament—simply does not represent me.
To uncommitted Republicans who may be feeling Faustian, I submit the word “represent” as the operative one. Our Representative Republic is rightly glorified for the fact that every American has the right to vocally support and vote for any candidate they choose. But, also embedded in our system is the rarely discussed inverse—that we are all then partially responsible for what and who results from it.
I respect both those who avidly support Donald Trump and those who would vote for him begrudgingly. The fact is though that all who choose to, hold responsibility for the various calamities that may ensue—especially given the mass of evidence he has provided to predict it. These possibilities include a historic defeat in November, the gutting of the conservative movement nationwide, and a catastrophic presidency.
The Present: What is to be done now?
In the immediate, as long as a mathematical chance exists to prevent this national nightmare, everything possible within the rules should be done to avoid it. Trump failing to amass 1,237 delegates would trigger a crucial phase and a chance for convention delegates to give voice to the large majority of primary voters who deeply oppose him. After the first ballot, they will be under immense pressure as they choose the nominee.
The fact is that delegates not casting for Trump would be plainly within the rules and that several scenarios, including casting for the actual winner of the Iowa Caucus, would be supremely justified. In the run up to the convention, every respected Republican voice who opposes, including those who had somehow managed to enjoy the warmth of detachment prior, will need to engage and lend delegates their moral support. Which leads us to this…
The Future: What is the long-term impact?
Of course the saving grace is that this will pass. Soon this primary will end and eventually the general election will come and go—but this chapter will be far from over.
For several election cycles, where Republicans stood on Donald Trump will unquestionably be a major litmus test. In past elections the company line “I will support the GOP nominee whoever it is” has been reasonable and safe—so much for that. Aside from those officially attached to the GOP at the state and county level who are under charter to support the nominee—and whose skills and talents helping down ballot candidates will be needed more than ever—the topic will be unavoidable.
Fairly or not, in both Republican primaries and general elections, not standing against rhetoric and conduct so out of phase with our values and principles will be cast as a lack of judgement, a lack of courage, or both.
While some current office-holders have been asked and taken a position, the equally impactful long-term question all Iowa Republicans deserve answered is, “where does the next generation stand?” Against a backdrop of our highest-ranking federal and state elected leaders (Grassley, Branstad) soon aging out of politics, there has long been an undercurrent of prominent Iowa Republican figures jockeying to inherent the mantle. While the media instantly provides us with news of who in this group is or isn’t running whenever there’s a political opportunity—on this score they should provide both Iowa voters and prospective candidates the service of getting them on record now.
Though the question of whether to support Trump in a general election is extremely difficult, answering it includes a simple two-step process of yes/no questions—Step 1: Does he represent me and what I stand for? Step 2: Do I believe he will be a good and respectable president? Do I trust him to be Commander in Chief and have the power to issue unlimited Executive Orders? If he wins the presidency, am I comfortable with him representing Republicans and the conservative movement until 2024?
The fact that hundreds of thousands of right-leaning Iowans can’t in good conscience answer “yes” to all is devastating.
Given that most have been fighting for these principles for years, if not decades, it is especially gut-wrenching for Iowa conservatives, activists, and Republican leaders—many of whom I respect and consider friends—to be pushed by Trump towards the unthinkable proposition of denouncing the Republican nominee for President.
However, the larger reality is stubborn—while it is one thing to stake temporary but uncomfortable ground on either side of this political fault line…actually being at fault for what may come is far worse.
The Author: Justin Arnold has worked for and managed several Republican campaigns in Iowa, last serving as Marco Rubio’s Iowa Political Director and Minnesota State Director. He lives with his wife in Ankeny. This op-ed originally appeared in the Des Moines Register. Republished with permission.
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