Politics·Analysis

#NeverTrump conservatives think the unthinkable: Supporting Hillary Clinton

With Donald Trump now the presumptive Republican nominee, some conservatives vow they will never vote for the New York real estate mogul. And others say they may cast their ballot for conservative public enemy No. 1: Hillary Clinton.

Some conservatives vow they will never vote for Donald Trump

Some conservatives who are opposed to Donald Trump would rather see Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the White House. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

​Ardent conservative Ben Howe may do the unthinkable when he enters his South Carolina voting station on Nov. 8.

Howe, who has voted for every Republican presidential nominee since Bob Dole ran for the office in 1996, may instead cast his ballot for conservative public enemy No. 1: Hillary Clinton.

"It's disheartening to think that I would have to pull the lever for someone whom I disagree with that much," said Howe, a contributing editor to the conservative blog RedState. "But such is the maniacal, sociopathic person that we have somehow found as our nominee."

Such is the antipathy held for Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, that some conservatives are considering supporting Clinton, so iconically loathed by many Republicans who view her as an unabashed liberal without morals or principles.

"Only Donald Trump could lift me beyond my visceral aversion I have for Hillary Clinton," said Tom Nichols, a former aide to a Republican senator and contributor to the conservative online magazine The Federalist.

Republican officials are asking fellow party members and politicians to rally around Trump. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Many prominent conservatives, including columnist George Will and National Review senior editor Jonah Goldberg, continue to proudly embrace the  #NeverTrump banner, which has since evolved into a #NeverEverTrump campaign. Supporters vow under no circumstance will they vote for the New York real estate mogul.

While Republican officials are now imploring conservatives to rally around Trump to defeat Clinton, some prominent Republicans of the #NeverTrump gang, like Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, are calling for a third-party candidate. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush who ran against Trump for the Republican nomination, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, have all declared they won't vote for either Trump or Clinton.

Meanwhile, aides for both former presidents George W. Bush and his father George H.W. Bush have said neither will endorse Trump as a candidate. 

Yet some like Howe and others are willing to take it a step further and support Clinton, a "political version of a tragic Sophie's choice," wrote conservative radio talk-show host Dennis Prager.

Marc Salter, former senior aide for Senator John McCain's 2008 presidential bid, recently tweeted "I'm with her" — a Clinton campaign slogan — after Trump repeated a National Enquirer story that suggested Texas Senator Ted Cruz's father may have been with Lee Harvey Oswald before he shot President John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963.

"If I were in a swing state and my vote mattered, I would actually vote for Hillary Clinton," said Nichols. "That's about the most uncomfortable thing I've said in my political life. I think for those of us who oppose Donald Trump, keeping Donald Trump from the Oval Office is more important than our disdain and our very strong feelings about Hillary Clinton."

'Dangerously unstable character'

"Trump's obvious narcissism combined with his astonishing ignorance of even the simplest things in public policy really make him a dangerously unstable character in the Oval Office."

For some conservatives who may not be able to bring themselves to physically cast a vote for Clinton, they would still prefer to see her in the Oval Office. 

"I think right now, I would say it would be better for the country if she won than if he won," said Peter Wehner, former speech writer for George W. Bush and a lifelong Republican. "That's [coming from] someone who has had almost no positive things to say about Hillary Clinton.

"I just think that the dangers that he poses to the country are greater than hers because I think he's just so deeply unstable," he said.

Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse has vowed he won't vote for Trump, and is calling for a third-party candidate to run. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Trump's nomination is "catastrophic" for the Republican Party and he is thoroughly unsuitable to hold the presidency, Wehner said.

"They've nominated a person who is a pernicious force in American politics. Someone who is not conservative, who's misogynist, who's xenophobic, who's nativist, who's incredibly shallow, who's vindictive, who is, I think, emotionally unstable. I think he's obsessive, I think he's a threat to the Republican Party and the republic.

"Other than that, I think he's great."

Aside from the concerns about his personal behaviour, many feel Trump isn't even conservative based on his anti-trade, protectionist views, his changing positions on abortion, his musings about increasing the minimum wage and his vows to beef up libel laws against journalists.

"Whenever he tries to talk about an actual conservative value, I think you see what a fraud he is," said David Harsanyi, a senior editor for The Federalist. "He's a big government statist and authoritarian. Everything he says about free speech bothers me. If you're really conservative and you believe in the constitution, you cannot support him."

It may be difficult to determine the size of the #NeverTrump movement or what effect it might have on the race. As of Friday, the #NeverTrump website had more than 35,000 people pledging support, having added more than 7,000 names in a couple of days.

Popular conservative blogger Allahpundit suggested the NeverTrumpers are nothing more than a "rounding error." 

Many conservatives, like former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, have slammed those conservatives refusing to rally around Trump, saying if you're not for him, "you are functionally" for Clinton who will "create the most radical Supreme Court."

And it's an argument that does hold some resonance among conservatives, worried that a Clinton administration would pack the court with progressives.

'Fly off the handle'

Wehner said it's an important issue to consider, but the presidency is more than choosing Supreme Court nominees. 

"I think at the end of the day, one of the most important things a president needs is the right temperament, the right emotional stability ... who conducts himself in a certain way, who has wisdom, who doesn't fly off the handle."

And better four years of possible gridlock with a President Clinton,  than be subjected to a President Trump, Harsanyi added.

"I want to see Hillary win. I think that's the only way to save any remnants of conservatism in the Republican Party where the RNC and everyone else has largely given in to Trump," he said.

"She's sort of an institutionalist. I don't think she will blow up the republic in the way that a Donald Trump might."

About the Author

Mark Gollom

Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.