I am a No Party Preference registered voter in California, and this year especially, I prefer no party.
Five weeks ago I asked whether it was time for the first organized write-in campaign in presidential history, on the theory that such a campaign could force the current candidates to abandon their worst policies to compete for votes and lay the groundwork for a third national political party, as many Americans would prefer. Today, the answer is unequivocally “yes.”
Like Vizzini in The Princess Bride, I find myself regularly exclaiming “inconceivable” at the news, just in the last five weeks, that Donald Trump has called for an immigration litmus test that he could not himself pass, undermined the NATO alliance, called for foreign cyber-espionage on his opponent, and then implied that gun-rights supporters could guarantee his victory by assassinating her. Like tens of millions of Americans, I will not vote for Mr. Trump. Indeed, given his insistence on repeatedly demonstrating that he is unworthy of the Presidency, the race should already be over.
Except that his opponent is Hillary Clinton, who has actively tried to “short-circuit” her own campaign over the past five weeks as well. As the most recent polls demonstrate, it is getting even harder for the public to shrug off her email scandal or visualize bright lines separating Clinton Foundation donors and U.S. Government actions. Nonetheless, there are still voters who see her as the lesser of two evils because they view her as the anti-Trump – experienced, well-informed, judicious, and deliberative. The problem with this rationale is that a person can embody all of these qualities and still be wrong most of the time, on issues ranging from universal healthcare, to the ill-conceived and hopelessly naïve “reset button” with Russia, and to military intervention in Libya that repeated the signature mistake of the second Iraq War – toppling a dictator with no plan for the aftermath. Combine this terrible track record with a policy platform that abandons equality of opportunity for equality of outcome and rests on the fallacy that we can soak the rich to pay for more entitlements without imposing crushing debt burdens on younger Americans, and I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton either.
I won’t argue with those who believe she is better than Trump. But that doesn’t mean she should be President. I am hardly alone in this view. “The number of voters who cannot bring themselves to voice a positive opinion of either presidential nominee is more than three times higher than in any other election in recent memory.”
Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, would seem like the obvious alternative in this presidential election. Indeed, the Libertarian emphasis on personal and economic freedom is designed to fill a major gap in the political landscape by appealing to those of us who consider ourselves socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Along with more than 700,000 others, I have signed the online petition to get Gary Johnson into the presidential debates because the two leading candidates are both undeserving of the office. I encourage others to do the same.
That said, I remain quite concerned that the Libertarians are not ready to govern. Their domestic policy positions do not accept that we must balance conflicting values, and their principles lead in directions that many Americans are not prepared to follow. On foreign policy, the Libertarian belief in non-interventionism is dangerously out-of-synch with an interconnected flat world where people in the U.S. can be inspired by people in Syria to commit murder to settle scores that occurred years, decades, or even centuries ago in another part of the world. If the Libertarians address these issues, they may get my vote in years to come. But for now, I want to vote for someone that I believe is ready to lead the country at a time when foreign policy and national security issues are increasingly important and complex; ideally, that person could also fundamentally change the course of the election if he or she entered the race.
So who to vote for this November? I will write-in “Robert Gates,” the former Secretary of Defense, who has served our country and Presidents from both parties honorably and with distinction. He has the experience, judgment, temperament, and vision for pragmatic domestic reforms and sensible foreign policy that we need to reduce gridlock in Washington and confront an increasingly dangerous and unstable world. He is decidedly disinterested in divisiveness and the imperial presidency, and he believes in putting duty and the public interest before personal gain. In short, he is the type of candidate that the parties should have nominated for the upcoming election, and now it is up to voters to put him on the ballot themselves.
In a year where the inconceivable has become routine, and the two major party candidates are the most disliked in history, an organized write-in campaign for Gates could catch fire. Even if such a campaign could not replicate Lisa Murkowski’s success in Alaska, there would still be reasons to support a Gates campaign. As I have previously noted, a disciplined write-in campaign for a candidate like Gates would “force the candidates to . . . move to the center to compete for votes.” Simply “curbing the worst policy tendencies of Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton would be a victory.” Moreover, a strong write-in campaign for Gates “would signal to both parties that they will be vulnerable in national elections unless they moderate their platforms and nominate more broadly appealing candidates.” Finally, an organized and well-supported write-in campaign for Gates, especially if coupled with a strong showing by Johnson, “could galvanize the creation of a [broadly appealing national] third party and produce long-lasting positive change” by focusing on sensible engagement abroad and governing and problem solving (rather than divisive social issues or building a larger and less-effective Leviathan) here at home.
For disaffected voters outside battleground states, like those of us in California, there is no reason not to write-in Gates (or vote for Johnson). In battleground states, however, unhappy voters may be leaning toward more traditional voter calculus — holding your nose and voting for the lesser of two evils to avoid handing the election to your least preferred candidate. Although this may be the most defensible position on Election Day, these voters should cross that bridge when they get to it. In the interim, they should actively support a write-in campaign for Gates over the next 10 weeks, try to get him into the debates, and seek to change both the tone and substance of the most unappealing election in our nation’s history.
Fortunately, Robert C. Bonner — a distinguished public servant in his own right (former U.S. Attorney, federal judge, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection) – has just started such a campaign at http://www.writeingates.com/. Please visit the site and sign the online petition. It is not too late to try to make a difference in this election.
Brian C. Goebel is the founder and editor-in-chief of 2040matters.com and a signatory of the online petition to write in Robert Gates: www.writeingates.com.