The 2016 presidential election is a mess. Following the campaign is like reading a dystopian novel: sure, it can be entertaining, but it leaves you depressed at the end.
For the conservative Christian, in particular, this year’s choices are abysmal. The Democratic Party, topping off decades of hostility to conservative Christians, put forward Hillary Clinton—whom some conservative Christians consider a shade worse than the anti-Christ.
The Republican Party, which usually treats conservative Christians like Democrats treat African-Americans (count on them for votes, but don’t take them seriously when enacting policy), actually came close to nominating the most conservative Christian candidate in recent memory. Instead, the GOP selected a thrice-married casino-owning egomaniac that brags about his adulterous affairs and has a long history of supporting liberal causes and candidates.
Who Should Christians Vote For?
So what should the conservative Christian do now? Sit out this election? Pray for the Second Coming to occur before November 8th?
These aren’t bad ideas, frankly. But besides a boycott or biblical-level intervention, conservative Christians have another possibility in their political desperation: voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate.
Gary Johnson? Isn’t he the pot-smoking, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage guy? Um, yes he is. Isn’t he the Libertarian candidate who picked a gun control advocate as his running mate? Yup. The Libertarian candidate who might be less libertarian than at least one of the Republican primary candidates? Yeah. The candidate who said he agreed with “73% of Bernie Sanders’ positions?” Okay, this is getting awkward.
But regardless of all those valid points, in an election year straight out of Idiocracy (or perhaps Dumb & Dumber) Gary Johnson might be the best candidate for conservative Christians this year.
‘Gary Johnson Isn’t Pro-Life’
Why should a conservative Christian vote for someone who clearly doesn’t hold similar beliefs? When I broached the possibility of voting for Johnson instead of Trump to a conservative Christian friend, he immediately responded, “I can’t vote for someone who is pro-choice.”
While setting aside the legitimate question of whether Trump is pro-life or pro-choice, I understand and respect this position. However, here we get to the fundamental difference between libertarians, as opposed to conservatives and liberals. Most voters, whether conservative or liberal, are “checklist” voters. They have a checklist of important issues, and they vote for the candidate who promises to use government power to check off many of the items on their list.
However, instead of looking to the government to implement their personal beliefs, libertarians want to transfer power from the government to states, localities, and individuals. So even though Johnson may hold views that differ from most conservative Christians, his underlying libertarian philosophy—which respects individuals and their personal beliefs and values—should prevent him from using the federal government to enforce those views on the country. So paradoxically, even though Johnson is personally pro-choice, his administration would probably do more than either Trump’s or Hillary’s to undermine Roe v. Wade.
Which brings us to the Supreme Court. Many conservatives are arguing that the Supreme Court is the main reason to vote for Trump. After all, Hillary is guaranteed to select terrible nominees for the Court, whereas Trump has promised (*cough cough*) to select conservatives. Conservatives further argue that even if Trump isn’t trustworthy, his promise is better than Hillary’s assured liberal picks. Perhaps this is true. But there is little in this world I would rely on less than Trump’s promises.
Johnson’s Supreme Court picks, on the other hand, would likely be solid constitutional justices—ones who believe in limited government and would work against the encroaching state. Even though Johnson himself is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, a libertarian Supreme Court pick would likely rule against decisions like Roe v Wade or Obergefell, simply on the basis that the federal government has no place in such matters. And punting such decisions to the states is a massive improvement over our current situation.
‘Gary Johnson Is Not One of Us’
For years, conservative Christians have tried to get one of their own into the White House. Whether Cruz, Huckabee, or Santorum, conservative Christians are often attracted to candidates who speak their language and promise to use federal power to check items off their list. Politicians understand this need for connection, and most of Republican candidates (including Trump) use the language of conservative Christians to advance their campaigns.
Johnson doesn’t speak that language. But just because a candidate can talk the talk doesn’t mean we should vote for them. Remember George W. Bush? He was the closest conservative Christians ever came to having one of their own in the White House. But he increased the size of government more than any president since FDR, laying the groundwork for his Democratic successor. Not exactly “conservative” credentials.
The growth of the federal government is the existential threat to conservative Christians. In recent years, the federal government has undermined Christian principles in the public square at every opportunity. So instead of simply trying to get “their guy” into the Oval Office, perhaps Christians should consider supporting a candidate who wants to change the system itself. A real change, not just changing the name plates on the desks in Washington.
‘Gary Johnson Won’t Enforce My Checklist’
While conservative Christians dream of a candidate who will check items off their issue-list, this encourages candidates to use the federal government to enact anything they might like. But next election, when the “other guy” gets in, a precedent has been set: the opposition will use that same federal power to check items off their list.
Why not instead try to undermine that power itself: devolving it to the states, localities, and individuals? Would it not be better (and more possible), for example, to let states decide for themselves the legality of abortion instead of the federal government shoving it down our throats via a Supreme Court edict?
A de-powered federal government—with justices that limit its power—would not be the arbiter of every community’s standards. One of the biggest conservative Christian complaints of the past few decades has been that whenever a community wishes to live according to its own traditions, the federal government (usually in the form of a federal judge) prevents it.
Instead of trying to use the beast to advance their goals, perhaps conservative Christians should work to starve the beast. A reduced federal government will allow conservative Christians to have greater influence in their communities. Through persuasion and evangelization, they can convince people to want what they want. Rather than attempting to enforce their views by government fiat (a page from the liberal playbook), this method allows those views to be embraced and desired by the people. Ironically, by voting for a pro-choice, pro-gay pot-smoker, conservative Christians might actually increase their influence in their communities.
Don’t Forget The 2020 Election
Voting for Gary Johnson is really voting to advance the Libertarian Party, and this is good for conservative Christians for two reasons. First, it weakens the current Democrat-Republican duopoly, opening up opportunities for real alternatives in the future. Second, it promotes the cause of limited government, which should resonate with conservative Christians.
Further, looking at the currently available third parties, the only one with a chance at broad appeal is the Libertarian Party. After all, the Green Party is to the left of the Democrats and the Constitution Party is to the right of the Republicans. Most Americans, whether we like it or not, are not in either of those two fringe camps. The Libertarian Party, however, can attract a broad range of voters beyond the small sub-segments to whom third parties usually appeal.
It’s highly unlikely Johnson will win this election. However, if he musters enough votes, it will put the Libertarian Party in a better position for 2020. Then, they could nominate a better candidate—one more attractive than Johnson to conservative Christians and more in keeping with libertarian principles. In effect, Johnson becomes a placeholder for 2020.
Ultimately, there is no candidate this year that can satisfy conservative Christians who want to both support someone who aligns with their beliefs, and to vote for someone able to win. Voting for Gary Johnson, however, might very well be the best they can do: it advances the cause of limited government while opening up the field for better candidates in the future.
Most conservative Christians idealize the early days of the Republic, when the power of the federal government was significantly limited. The same is true of libertarians. Perhaps now is the time for common cause between them.