If Donald Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination, I and millions of conservatives like me will not vote for him. Some will stay home on Election Day; others will go to the polls to support down-ticket candidates in important races. We will do so fully aware that this could well mean another four years of a Democrat in the White House. Does this make us traitors or, in the favorite epithet of our detractors, RINOs (Republicans in name only)? I can only speak for myself, and I'll start with the last accusation.
The first Republican I ever voted for was Ronald Reagan in 1980. I was still a registered Democrat -- but one who had only voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in a single presidential election, 1968, as a 21-year-old college student. I voted for Reagan largely because I believed that President Jimmy Carter had weakened America's defenses and our standing in the world. I was, from my Catholic school childhood on, a staunch anti-communist, and it was clear that during Carter's presidency, communism was aggressively on the march from Asia to Africa to Latin America. I joined President Reagan's administration in 1983, still a registered Democrat, and did not change my affiliation until 1985.
For me, party has always mattered less than political philosophy. I was always a conservative on most issues, from my opposition to racial quotas to my belief that the Soviet Union was indeed an evil empire. I vote for the candidate who best represents my principles -- and since 1980, that has been the GOP nominee. I haven't always been enthusiastic about my choices, but I have at least been confident that on the big issues, the Republican nominee would keep America safer and more prosperous than the alternative.
I cannot say that about Donald Trump, who, I believe, is a danger not only to the principles I hold dear but to the nation I love. I have heard nothing from him that suggests he has either a basic understanding of our constitutional system or minimal knowledge about domestic or foreign policy.
What I have heard is personal praise for authoritarian regimes and strongmen, from Vladimir Putin to, amazingly, Kim Jong Un. "How many young guys -- he was like 26 or 25 when his father died -- take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden ... he goes in, he takes over, and he's the boss," Trump said in Iowa. "You gotta give him credit." Of Putin, Trump lavishly praised the authoritarian's "leadership" and gave a hint of how he would deal with Putin's aims to stake a claim to the old Soviet empire: "A lot of good things could happen with Russia if we get along with Russia and if they respect us."
On economic policy, Trump's only platform is to launch a trade war with our major partners that would devastate the American economy. His appeal to blue-collar workers is that he would bring jobs home from China, Mexico and Japan by slapping huge tariffs on foreign goods and would force out Mexicans and others who are working in low-wage jobs for which Americans have shown no appetite. If he succeeded in both, it would mean that the goods and services all Americans buy -- including those packing his rallies in their "Make America Great Again" regalia -- would be far more expensive and less available. As for the jobs that undocumented immigrants would vacate, do you think his supporters would be lining up to pick lettuce and tomatoes or debone chickens or scrub toilets if Trump were to launch his deportation raids?
The media have enabled him from day one to become the front-runner by giving him unlimited free time to drive ratings and are ready to call the nomination for Trump four months out. I don't think it's too late to stop him, but the next two weeks will tell. Trump has yet to get much more than a third of the Republican primary vote, but it won't matter if the 60-plus percent of people who oppose him don't unite to defeat him. This was supposed to be the year Republicans took back the White House. We had everything going in our favor, including a polarizing and deeply flawed presumptive Democratic nominee in Hillary Clinton. But no one counted on a reality TV figure's hijacking the party of Lincoln and Reagan.
The GOP can survive another presidential loss, but it cannot survive a Trump presidency. More importantly, the country itself would be at risk if Trump were to become president. I and others who will never vote for him are no traitors; we are patriots who love our country more than we do any political party.