“If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee," said Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska in February, "my expectation is that I will look for some third candidate — a conservative option, a Constitutionalist.” He got thumped by his own state's convention yesterday.
Still, it's a widely shared sentiment, appearing in various forms on blogs and social media:
In a choice between two evils, better to give neither the absolution of a vote.If harm befalls us, better that our hands be clean and our conscience unblemished.Political gains are not worth sacrificing one's principles.
And so on. But this level of sanctimony when it comes to political creed is not recommended even when it comes to religious creed. The Christian church in its early years, responding to the frequent martyrdom of believers in the Roman empire, held a council in the town of Elvira, Spain in 309 AD. Discussing those Christians killed for openly defying Roman gods, the council decided against martyrdom: "If someone smashes an idol and is then punished by death, he or she may not be placed in the list of martyrs, since such action is not sanctioned by the Scriptures or by the apostles." A believer is not a kamikaze; faith demands making an effort to avoid detection when necessary. Spitting on idols isn't martyrdom – it's stupidity.
If even the early Church made room for prudence, surely the art of the possible can do without the sackcloth and ashes. It is not necessary for party and principle to be always aligned. The shoulder on the road is there for a reason. We can, with principle intact, continue laying firmly on the horn, going nowhere. Or we can hitch a ride with the bastard in the service lane throwing off dust and flipping the bird. Just maybe, the opportunity for safe and sensible travel awaits at the next exit, if only we can arrive there.
Principled conservatives like to blame their political fortunes on losing the culture. Trump offers a part of it back. It might not be pretty, but once you've got an audience you can tinker with the programming. Who knows, maybe they'll stay tuned in. And "history shows that it is no easy matter to excite a large people into any vigorous and continued opposition to the government they have been long habituated to respect and obey....The waves do not rise till the wind blows." No Republican since Reagan has stirred up as much wind for the GOP as Trump. Principle does not provide its own opportunity. And while opportunity sometimes knocks, it seldom nags. Spitting on Trump isn't principle – it's stupidity.