Newt Gingrich tore into Mitt Romney in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, calling the former Republican presidential nominee pathetic, bizarre, and ineffective — principally for his efforts to derail Donald Trump and his flirtations with a third party candidacy. Newt might have added a fourth adjective to the list: immoral.
It is a beautiful thing, the American electoral system: in the privacy of the voting booth, each enfranchised American is able to cast his or her ballot as they see fit, according to whatever criteria they choose. Outside the voting booth, plenty of voices are lecturing voters, “you must do this or that for this or that reason.” But inside, the voter is sovereign, immune from the judgment of others; responsible for the morality of their vote only to their conscience and their God.
But what is said and done in public is a bit different. Most of us are free to express our political opinions to anyone we can find who will listen, but certain citizens have particular obligations in regard to their party’s presumptive or actual nominee.
For example, candidates who ran for the nomination and signed a pledge to support the party’s nominee. Unambiguous: it is flatly immoral for Jeb Bush to now refuse to endorse Donald Trump, having told the voters he would do so. I am not aware he was coerced into making that pledge. It was convenient then and, well, not now.
And what of the living former Republican presidential nominees, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain … and Mitt Romney. These are men who gladly accepted the approbation of the very same voters (more or less) who now choose Donald Trump as their nominee.
To their credit, Bob Dole and John McCain both endorsed Trump this month. Said Dole: “The voters of our country have turned out in record numbers to support Mr. Trump. It is important that their votes be honored and it is time that we support the party’s presumptive nominee.” And McCain: “You have to listen to people who have chosen the nominee of our Republican party,” (a particularly gracious statement given Trump’s regrettable personal remarks about McCain).
Exactly. If one has previously accepted the nomination of the Republican Party on the basis of having received more votes than the other guys, it is condescending in the extreme now to tell the 11 million-strong (and counting) Trump majority that their judgment need not be respected.
If the President Bushes choose to remain silent, well that is their prerogative, if a bit uncharitable. But Mitt Romney’s promotion of a third party candidate, and his purported consideration of a third party run himself, are expressions of a blatant contempt for the voters who are, actually, the Republican Party. His opportunity to honorably oppose Trump passed when he declined to run in the primaries. Romney’s behavior now is elitism at its most galling (“run along now little voter, I know best”) — and as a former nominee of the Party, morally repugnant.
Steve Wagner is president of QEV Analytics, a public opinion research firm, and a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.