Protest Voting: GOP Edition

There are a lot of people on both sides upset with the outcome of these primaries. I’ll leave to the Democrats to figure out how to send their party a message. But what of us conservatives? The way I see it we have three options:

  1. Don’t vote (at least for the presidential race.)
  2. Vote for Gary Johnson
  3. Write in someone else.

I don’t see 1 and 2 as really viable options. The goal is to send a clear message. Not voting is easy enough for the party to rationalize away or even kick the can down the road. There will be discussions of “negative campaigning driving down turnout” or “depressing turnout as an election strategy (a common democrat strategy to boot.) The message the party will get is “we have to fix that.” Not “we have to change directions.”

Voting for Gary Johnson has similar issues. The party will write it off as a one time thing: the appeal of a ticket of 2 successful governors, or relative youth or something. Plus given Johnson’s weird tack towards leftism in various areas (“bake the cake!” or “Mandatory Birth Control coverage!” or “MOOAAARR regulations on things I don’t like”) you run the risk of sending the wrong message, and the party deciding to tack even more left center to appeal to people.

This leaves us with one option: writing in a protest candidate. In order for this to work, it would have to be a clear unified effort. If everyone just writes in their own name it won’t ring enough bells anywhere to even register. It’s a long shot too. And I’m not talking about “getting elected” (which is an impossible shot, and not even the goal here.) I’m talking about it being a long shot to even make a dent in the status quo. My back of the napkin math suggest we’d be talking upwards of 1 million votes, just to even be able to use it as an argument. 5 Million to make a statement and 10 million to say our point was made.*

One million votes (1.2 million actually) being what Johnson got in 2012 and it barely blipped in the 2012 news cycle. A write in campaign though would likely draw more news, and this is a wholly unprecedented cycle anyway so who knows what the news will cover. But that’s the threshold to even hope to crack the discussion. 5 million would definitely get noticed, but still might be rebuffed by the party elites who are more interested in paychecks than principle. At 10 million the party has to listen to keep those paychecks going.

If you wanted to go this route (and I’m not even sure I would, I’m just brainstorming. As I’ve noted before I feel no moral imperative to vote for Trump even if he is some category “less bad” than Hillary”) you’d need to pick a standard bearer. I actually think it’s unimportant and possibly counterproductive to get your standard bearer to agree to this. If they agree it looks opportunistic, which may defeat the message being sent.

It also couldn’t be someone who ran in the primaries. If you went that route it looks like sour grapes for losing more than anything (and this is a perception game if it’s anything.)

You’d want someone who represents the principles you want the party to reclaim.

Lastly, it’d need to be someone high profile enough that people would recognize them and rally to their cause. I only see one person who fits all of these conditions: Sen. Mike Lee. He’s high profile enough to garner recognizably and respect. He didn’t run this cycle and his principles align with the message conservatives want to send the party.

If the #NeverTrump movement wants to do something productive, they could work to position the party to move away from the positions of this election back towards conservatism. But they’d need to start moving quickly.

*For the record, this is roughly 1%, 5% and 10% of what polls seem to indicate is going to be projected turnout of 100 million or so. 2012 turnout was approx. 120 million. This cycle is likely to have lower turnout and I’m using round numbers.

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