Dear Reluctant Trump Voter: Here is why you can vote for Biden with a clear conscience.
The 2020 election is putting some Republican voters in the difficult position of choosing between their conservative values and their uneasy feelings about voting for the re-election of Donald Trump. For a significant number of these conservative voters, Trump’s personal conduct, his abrasive tone, his self-glorifying approach to politics, his struggle to tell the truth on a regular basis, and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic are reasons they would prefer to vote for someone else. The problem is, the only ‘someone else’ is Joe Biden, the Democrat nominee, and voting for a Democrat just isn’t appealing to this block of voters.
The apprehension about voting for Biden is not surprising and it follows a typical (and understandable) pattern when voters consider voting for someone from the ‘other Party’ — a fear of a national swing away from their core political values. For conservatives in 2020, those fears range from the broad to the specific with specific fears including a fear that a Biden win will lurch the country to the left; fear that taxes will rise and deficits will soar; fear that the country will sell out to the Chinese or the Iranians; fear that crime will rise; fear — and this is a big one — that we will ‘cease to be America’ if Joe Biden becomes the President.
These fears derive from a variety of subtle (and not so subtle) narratives that come from conservative sources on the radio, tv, and the internet. These narratives include conspiracy theories about the far left ‘controlling’ Biden, claims that very liberal members of Congress (like NY representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) will dominate the House of Representatives (there are even theories that AOC will become Speaker of the House in the next session), warnings that entire suburbs will be destroyed by ‘anarchists and agitators’, predictions that the U.S. will be ‘controlled by China’, and speculation that Biden is just a puppet for international ‘globalists’ who want to create a international socialist government that will strip America of all sovereignty.
These narratives are silly, of course. The Democrats went through a long primary process where they had the chance to select a much further-to-the-left candidate like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. But they didn’t — they chose Joe Biden, the one candidate with literally decades of experience as a proven (relative, at minimum) moderate. In 2018, when a blue wave swept across the country during the mid-term elections, the biggest Democratic gains were in ‘purple’ parts of the country (like the suburbs of Saint Louis and Phoenix) with candidates that appealed to moderate Republican voters. Rather than focusing on those races, the conservative media pounced on wins by Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and other liberal candidates and claimed 2018 represented a huge swing to the left for the Democratic party. What they failed to mention is that the wins by AOC, Omar, and Tlaib and others came in overwhelmingly Democrat districts where it is more likely for left-wing candidates to win (just as overwhelmingly Republican districts often produce more far-right winners). The point is, far-left congressional winners in 2018 were the exception to the blue wave that swept Democrats back to power in the House, not the rule.
But just for fun let’s play the ‘Dems are Far Lefties’ game and say all of the dire predictions of the far-right actually come true— and let’s even kick it up a few notches. Let’s say Biden wins; the Democrats take the Senate; AOC becomes the Speaker of the House; Biden resigns and Harris becomes President; the Green New Deal passes through Congress and is signed into law; and Congress passes a huge tax increase on the middle class. And just to make it interesting, let’s say all of this happens in record time — by the end of 2021, less than one year after the inauguration.
Then what, you might ask? The country will be altered forever.
Well, OK, except that omits one key part of the equation: if all of this happens by the end of 2021 it means the next elections are less than a year away and members of Congress who voted for these leaders and policies can be voted out of office!
Stay with me. If the people of the United States really don’t like the direction the county is moving we can vote to replace the elected leaders. That’s the beauty of a representative democracy! The notion that one person or election can forever change the character of the United States is a fear-inducing scam of an argument. The idea that a Biden victory will plunge the United States into a never-ending socialist spiral reveals a complete misunderstanding of why we have elections. We — Democrats and Republicans alike — have the power to keep the country from swinging too far to one side or the other by simply exercising our Constitutional right to vote. This is the essence of the system of checks and balances, a system that allows you to vote for a candidate who you may not agree with on many (most?) issues once or twice in your lifetime without feeling you have abandoned your political principles.
Look no further than the 2010 and 2018 mid-terms for evidence. In both elections, the administration in power (Obama in 2010 and Trump in 2018) controlled not only the White House, but both houses of Congress. Both administrations wanted to solidify their power by expanding majorities in Congress in order to make it easier to push their political agendas through the levers of government. But the American people had other ideas. In 2010 Republicans had a net gain of 63 seats in the House and in 2018 Democrats had a net gain of 41 seats. Both are among the most lopsided elections in recent history. And in both examples, it was a significant party crossover that contributed to the results.
For many reluctant Trump supporters, however, the issue goes deeper. They don’t believe or subscribe to the wild theories or predictions of the Far-Right Facebook Fringe, but they do fall back on their long-held conservatives core beliefs as their reason for not voting for Biden. But I think I can help on that front by pointing out that voting for Biden won’t necessarily conflict with those beliefs. Some of the most popular reasons for voting for Trump fail to pass even faint scrutiny, leaving the door open for reluctant Trump voters to give Biden a try this time around. Here are some of the most common justifications conservatives use to vote for Republicans, followed by some evidence that those justifications may not apply when it comes to Donald Trump.
I’m a fiscal conservative. This one is easy — Donald Trump isn’t. The Trump administration promised a return to conservative fiscal policies, an end to budget deficits, and dramatic reductions in the federal debt. Instead, the administration has done just the opposite. Spending is up, deficits are soaring, and the federal debt is at the highest levels since WWII.
Most economists would suggest that during good times we should reduce the deficit in order to have more flexibility for bad times. But that hasn’t happened during the Trump administration, even though he was handed a healthy economy in 2017. Under President Trump, the deficit grew to $666 billion in 2017, was $984 billion in 2018, and topped $1 trillion in 2019 (the highest since the financial crisis). Right smack in the middle of all of this was a huge tax cut that was pitched as ‘rocket fuel’ for the economy. Rocket fuel? Not so much. There were short-term bumps in GDP growth and business investment but that faded relatively quickly. Wages increased, but not to the extent Republicans promised. The main problem is that the hefty price tag has not been offset by more tax dollars flowing to government coffers. Corporate tax receipts are down 23% since 2017 and the Congressional Budget Office projected the GOP tax cuts will increase the deficit by $1.9 trillion over a decade. By contrast, after a few years of increasing budget deficits under Obama and Biden in the years just after the financial crisis, deficits actually went down ever year between 2011 and 2016.
Then there is the federal debt — something not to be confused with a federal deficit. A deficit occurs when the government spends more than it receives in a given year. The debt is the year-on-year aggregation of those deficits. A look at the national debt record under President Trump reveals a picture that isn’t pretty. When Trump took office in 2017 the debt was $19.9 trillion. It currently stands at more than $26 trillion. Not exactly what Trump promised when he told the Washington Post in an April 2016 interview with Bob Woodward that he could eliminate the debt ‘over a period of eight years.’ It was such a preposterous thing to say, it makes one wonder if Trump even understands how the federal debt works.
What about spending? Well, while the Trump WH often cites the need to restrain spending as its way to address an unsustainable debt trajectory, total spending has grown by nearly $800 billion — from $3.85 trillion to $4.65 trillion since the President’s election. And although spending did shrink as a share of GDP between 2016 and 2018, that trend has now reversed. Spending is again growing as a share of GDP, as is now at its highest mark as a share of GDP since 2012.
Trump promised to be a fiscal conservative. He has proven that he is not.
I trust Republicans on the economy. I understand the President’s desire to focus on the economy, what I don’t understand is his insistence that it was ‘the best in history.’ Not only is there no major macroeconomic indicator that suggests as much, there are almost no indicators that significantly improved once Trump got to office. On almost any key indicator (jobs, GDP growth, unemployment, the stock market) Trump’s performance is not only not significantly better than under Obama/Biden, it is often worse.
Take jobs, for example. In the final three years of the Obama administration the U.S. created 8.1 million jobs, during the first three years of the Trump administration the U.S. created 6.6 million. In terms of average growth per month over that time, the Obama administration averaged 224,000 jobs per month while the Trump administration has averaged 183,000 jobs. With respect to GDP growth over those same years, the Obama administration averaged 2.4% while the Trump administration averaged 2.5% — not a significant difference. Both Presidents have been good for the stock market. Stock prices actually rose more under Obama’s first term but that comes with the caveat of the post-recession rebound. The market has certainly climbed under Trump, but a close look at the data shows there was not a significant increase in the trajectory of stock prices after Trump took office, suggesting the rise is not necessarily a result of any specific Trump policy. Further, if you look at rate-of-return on stocks, Obama fares better in his first three years than Trump does in his first three years (see the two charts below). As for unemployment rates (a favorite talking point of the President), they are at historic lows, that is true. But when Trump came into office those rates simply continued the downward trend they have been on since the end of the financial crisis (see chart below). There is virtually no change in the downward trajectory of the rate when Trump comes to office. These two metrics (unemployment and the stock market) are very important because these are the two areas where the basis of Trump’s claims about the ‘historic’ economy seem to rest.
Finally, and this is important, I am putting the Trump administration record in the best possible light here because I am not including data from the COVID-19 pandemic months. Obviously, all of this data is far worse today than a year ago. By contrast, when Obama took office we were in the midst of the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression. America recovered from that crisis within a couple of years and by the time Obama and Biden left office the economy was solid (if not great), jobs were increasing, the stock market was rising, unemployment was falling, and consumer confidence had returned to pre-crisis levels.
So no, Trump did not build the ‘best economy in history’ as he likes to suggest. It is, to use a phrase he likes, ‘fake news.
But there is a much bigger issue when it comes to the economy, and that is the belief by many the the economy does better when Republicans are in the White House. A number of studies have shown that this is just not true. Since the end of WWII, not only has the stock market fared better under Democrats (in terms of percentage growth), but GDP has grown at a higher rate as the chart from one study illustrates.
Obviously, economic data (any data, really) can be manipulated and massaged to show a variety of results, but objective analysis of basic macroeconomic indicators shows that, broadly speaking, the economy fares just as well under Democrats than it does under Republicans.
I’m worried about illegal immigration. Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015 with immigration as the core issue — promising to build a wall and stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the country. There was only one problem with this strategy: it was based on a lie. Despite Trump’s warnings of caravans of immigrants flooding across the border, the reality of the immigration issue was quite a bit different. On the day Donald Trump was inaugurated as President, illegal border apprehensions were at a 50 year low, the US had a net-negative migration with Mexico, and illegal border crossings overall were in steep decline.
Further, the idea of a border wall seems like a strange approach when the vast majority of illegal immigrants in the U.S. are here as a result of visa overstays, not illegal border crossings. But Trump digs on, seemingly oblivious to basic facts and uses phrases like ‘border crisis’ to describe illegal immigration.
I’m pro-military and so is Trump. What does it mean to be ‘pro military’? Is spending the only metric that matters, or do words and actions also count?Let’s say it’s just spending — the way you show your appreciation for the military is by increasing its budget. On that front, Trump has a case to be made as he has, in fact, increased spending on the military during his first three years in office. But not by as much as you might think. The annual budget for the military (broadly speaking) has gone up in each of Trump’s first four budgets and totals $2.9 trillion. But that is only slightly higher than Obama’s $2.7 trillion in his second term and is significantly lower than Obama’s $3.3 trillion in his first four years in office. Trump’s claim that he inherited a ‘depleted military’ is not backed up by any data and is the typical hyperbole that we have been accustomed to when Trump makes comparisons between his administration and that of his predecessor.
But we all know that supporting the military is not just about spending money, it’s about respecting the leaders and soldiers who are actually in the armed forces, something that President Trump has failed to do on numerous occasions. Whether saying he prefers soldiers who ‘weren’t captured’, calling decorated Generals ‘overrated’, referring to military leaders as ‘dopes and babies’, insulting Gold Star families, scamming veterans at Trump University, diverting funds intended for Veteran groups to his campaign, referring to former soldiers are ‘losers’, or claiming Pentagon leaders want to ‘do nothing but fight wars’ in order to bring in profits to defense companies, Trump’s words are anything but pro-military. His policies aren’t either.
I’m a free-trade Republican. I’m not even going to waste time on this one. This should be obvious.
Republicans are better on Law and Order. Let’s put aside the phrase ‘Law and Order’ for now — it’s a rhetorical bludgeon often used to justify crackdowns on peaceful and legitimate protest, not just in America, but all around the world. The real issue is crime and specifically violent crime. Violent crime has been on the decline for nearly a quarter of a century, falling more than 50% between 1993 and 2018. There have been similar declines in property crimes and less violent crimes. It is worth noting that some of the steepest declines came during times when a Democrat was in the White House.
The President likes to focus on crime rates in cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Baltimore, all run by Democrat mayors. This is, of course, an easy target and Trump enjoys connecting these cities with their ‘Democrat’ mayors. While it is true that large cities are a) areas of high crime, and b) often run by Democrats, the link between the two is virtually meaningless for a couple of important reasons. First, when large cities see ups-and-downs in crime the rates are usually indicative of a national trend more than whether or not a mayor is Democrat or Republican. For example, violent crime over the past 12 months is, indeed, up significantly in cities like New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, all of whom have Democrat mayors. But violent crime is also up in cities like Jacksonville, Miami, and Fort Worth, Tulsa, and Oklahoma City, all of whom have Republican mayors. Second, simplistically ascribing crime rates to the person who happens to be mayor ignores many of the more important reasons why crime rates rise — poverty, mobility, job opportunities, public education, and more. And while it is fair to criticize mayors (or political party!) when cities struggle with these issues for years or decades, shouldn’t the same apply to states that struggle with the same issues. In 2018, 10 of the top 13 states with the highest poverty rates had Republican governors; 7 of the top 10 states with the highest rates of violent crime per capita had Republican governors; 8 of the 10 poorest states per capita had Republican governors. By themselves, these state statistics are incomplete because the issues are more complicated than what the raw data infers. Certainly the same is true for crime rates in large cities.
But more importantly, Trump himself does not embody law and order in any way that goes beyond his rhetoric. He has made it clear on numerous occasions that he thinks the rules are different for him. Whether it was claiming Article II of the Constitution gives him the ‘right to do whatever I want’; his calls for the military to ‘dominate the streets’ even when the streets are full of peaceful protestors; his more and more frequent calls to have his political opponents indicted and/or jailed; or bragging about an extrajudicial killing of a U.S. citizen in Portland.
These are not the the words of a ‘law and order’ President; these are the words of authoritarians throughout history. If Donald Trump feels he can say these kinds of things just months before a national election, just think what he will say (or do) if he is given another four years in the White House.
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So to the reluctant Trump supporter, I say this: you can vote for Joe Biden. Voting for Democrat doesn’t make you a ‘socialist’ or a ‘far-left radical’ any more than my vote for a Republican in Maryland’s gubernatorial race in 2018 makes me a ‘right-wing whacko’. Sometimes the most ethical vote is a vote for the person who you think will best represent what it means to be President, especially when the other candidate — the one in your own party — doesn’t even share many of your values or govern in a way that aligns with your positions.
You can vote for Joe Biden with a clear conscience! Your conscience can be clear because you will be voting based on the actual evidence in front of you, not wild conspiracy theories drummed up by who knows who, who knows where. Your conscience can be clear because Donald Trump doesn’t actually share many of your values. Your conscience can be clear because one vote for a Democrat cannot and will not alter the direction of the country forever, but another vote for Trump this time around just might. And your conscience can be clear because you won’t be voting to give four more years to a man who you know — if you are being honest with yourself — is a childish, narcissistic, rude, divisive, and delusional President who is turning the United States into a joke both at home and abroad.
We can do better. And while he may not be a perfect match for your political views, Joe Biden is better.