In the early summer of 1780, American revolutionaries’ forces fought a fierce battle against the British and Hessian mercenaries near Springfield Township, New Jersey. The American artillery faced heavy bombardment and were running dangerously low on wadding. Chaplain James Caldwell brought the American forces copies of Isaac Watts hymnals and told them, “Give ’em Watts, boys.”
Conservatives trying to ensure the Republican Party doesn’t nominate Donald Trump may face a similar moment of desperation when Indiana votes next week. If Ted Cruz wins, the momentum and direction of the race is towards a contested convention will be solid, and conservatives in the rest of the states will be emboldened to push back against Trump. If Donald Trump is chosen, then opposition to Trump is softening, and the odds of preventing him from reaching 1,237 delegates on the first ballot are remote.
If Trump is put firmly on the road to 1,237 delegates, what should conservatives do? In most years, Cruz and Kasich would withdraw, and the nominee would work to unite the party. Unfortunately, this year, we are facing a prospective nomination that’s different from any other that has come before.
Trump isn’t Bob Dole, John McCain, or Mitt Romney. A Donald Trump nomination is the equivalent of setting off a dirty bomb on the Republican brand. It is a fair question as to whether the Republican brand would ever recover.
Imagine, in a post-Trump world, trying to convince professional, conservative-leaning women that the Republican Party is for them when you’ve nominated a man who treats women like meat. His mind is so in the gutter, he once speculated as to whether his one-year-old daughter would develop large breasts.
Imagine trying to tell politically inactive Christians they need to back the Republican Party because the party stands for religious liberty, decency, and morality. Trump has made a mockery of those. Could you tell a pro-life activist they needed to support the Republican Party when Donald Trump praised Planned for doing “wonderful things?” How about telling voters to support the GOP because we’re serious about foreign policy when we nominated a man who declared himself his own best foreign policy adviser and whose pronouncements on the subject would make comic book characters blush? Imagine telling people the Republican Party is the party of the Constitution when we nominated a Mussolini-quoting authoritarian with no respect for Constitutional limits on Presidential authority.
Let there be no mistake. The day Donald Trump gets 1,237 delegates is the day Hillary Clinton should start vetting her cabinet and Americans should start practicing saying, “Madam President.” Trump enjoys record high disapproval ratings of nearly 2:1 against him, according to the Real Clear Politics average. Far more will come out about Trump in the fall campaign. Liberal David Brock has said he and other liberals are holding back opposition research for the Fall that could “knock down Trump Towers.” Further, Trump could face a civil trial for fraud on the Trump University issue during the Fall campaign.
Donald Trump will redefine the Republican Party and confirm what tens of millions of Americans have been told: it’s a small-minded, bigoted party of the rich that doesn’t like brown-skinned people, doesn’t respect women, and is full of crazy warmongers who would blow up the world if you gave them the chance. Donald Trump will lose, but for the Democratic Party, he is the gift that will keep on giving.
Traditional calculations of Republican unity must be thrown out the window. Uniting the Republican Party behind Trump will only ensure everyone is seated according to the seating chart on the Titanic.
Then what should conservatives do? Staying home will further damage down-ticket races. Only voting in down-ticket races only mitigates the short-term consequences of a Trump nomination. Conservatives could vote for a candidate from the Constitution or Libertarian parties. That has the virtue of allowing their votes to be counted as not being in favor of Trump, though neither campaign is likely to represent.
Neither solution will persuade millions of disgusted, marginalized voters not to stay home. It’s easy to preach the idea of just voting down ticket and leaving the Presidency blank or voting for a little-known, third party to political junkies, but that’s not most Americans. Many Americans are of a mind where, if they won’t vote for President, they won’t vote.
A better option is a conservative, Independent presidential campaign. The option has some difficulty. Texas’s deadline for Independent candidates to file paperwork and petitions is six days after the Indiana Primary. However, Texas’ filing deadline would most likely be held unconstitutional in court, and grassroots conservatives in most other states would have time to get organized for the right candidate.
There are several benefits of this Independent Campaign.
- It would increase votes for Republicans’ down-ballot races. Generally 30% of Third Party voters would not have voted otherwise.
- It could sow the seeds of a conservative resurgence by raising issues and themes that could be at the heart of a Republican renewal or a political movement to replace the GOP.
- In remaining primary states, a strong independent campaign could cause some who think the GOP will rally around Trump to think again and consider that a vote for Trump will guarantee a split vote. Both the efforts to stop Trump within the GOP and those to stop him with a third party bid could be run simultaneously.
A few have been mentioned for this Independent campaign. Bill Kristol has been buoying a campaign by General Jim Mattis, a social liberal. He wouldn’t excite grassroots conservative activists, whose support would be needed to collect the signatures needed to obtain ballot access. Rick Perry has been mentioned. A Perry campaign would be complicated by him being a key surrogate for Ted Cruz, and it would violate Perry’s pledge to support the Republican nominee, but I could still support him. Former Senator Tom Coburn (R-Ok.) has been mentioned and is a fine man and someone I could support. His appeal would be limited, though not as much as the nominees of the Conservative Party.
I’d suggest conservatives rally around a man who could blaze a new trail for a post-Trump conservative movement. In the event Donald Trump wins Indiana, conservatives should draft Former Oklahoma Congressman, current Feed the Children President and CEO, J.C. Watts.
Watts is a former pro-football player and elected during the GOP revolution in 1994. In 1997, he delivered the Republican response to President Clinton’s State of the Union. In 1998, he defeated John Boehner to be elected chairman of the Republican Conference. He left Congress after four terms and returned to the private sector. This offers a combination of government experience and distance from the current mess in Washington.
Watts would offer a likable and inspirational figure who has spent much of his life serving others as a youth pastor and humanitarian. This would be a big contrast in a race against the two least liked and lowest character Presidential candidates ever. Watts has been reluctant to run in the past because of his refusal to run highly negative campaigns or to engage in gutter politics, which would be another contrast to the two abrasive New York liberals Clinton and Trump.
Watts is a solid conservative with a 94% American Conservative Union rating who endorsed Rand Paul at the start of the campaign. He has often expressed disgust with the GOP’s refusal to formulate an effective strategy to reach out to racial minorities. As an Independent candidate, he would be free to show conservatives how outreach should be done and do more than claim votes from Republicans.
Such an effort would require massive grassroots support and a Super PAC willing to spend a large amount of money to reintroduce Watts and his life story to the American people. Watts would be a long shot to win. However, given the toxic nature of the race and the two major party candidates, he could do far better than would be expected and show Americans there’s a better way than Trumpism.
Of course, the best possible outcome for this presidential race isn’t a third party effort, but for Ted Cruz to win Indiana and go on to be nominated on one of the early ballots at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and win the general election. However, if that doesn’t happen, conservatives should not throw in their lot with the doomed and utterly corrupt Trump campaign. Nor should they sit on the sidelines while Donald Trump and his horde of political mercenaries bombard the intellectual foundations of Conservatism. Those who see the danger Trump poses must rally together to stand for our country and provide long-term direction.
If Cruz loses Indiana, I can’t think of a better rallying cry than, “Give ’em Watts.”