This has happened before, more than once. And so we know what to do — what must be done.
Granted, it wasn’t then at the level of a presidential election, but Donald Trump is not the first candidate to hijack a major party’s nomination.
The first time I remember this happening was shortly after I moved down to the Philly area for college. Longtime incumbent Republican Rep. Richard Schulze was up for re-election in 1988 and the Democrats in his Delaware/Chester/Montgomery County district didn’t see much opportunity to challenge him, so voters weren’t paying much attention during the low-turnout, down-ballot primary vote in April of that year. The winner of that primary turned out to be Donald Hadley — a supporter of right-wing conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche (one of those intensely bonkers people you may have avoided outside of the post office — the ones with signs explaining how the Queen of England controls the drug cartels so therefore we need to quarantine HIV+ people and expose the truth about the moon landing).
Hadley’s name was going to appear on the ballot that November, with a big “D” next to it. So Pennsylvania Democrats did the only thing they could do: They put up billboards and bought radio advertisements urging Democrats to vote for Richard Schulze. The Democratic Party in Pennsylvania endorsed and campaigned for the Republican candidate because their nomination process had been hijacked and supporting the opposition’s nominee was the only way to keep that hijacker out of the party’s congressional delegation. And it was the only honorable way to avoid being complicit in helping a raving LaRouchie gain a foothold in Congress.
That wasn’t the first time a closeted LaRouchie snuck in to steal a low-profile Democratic nomination. It’s a favorite tactic of that beyond-the-fringe group. And whenever that happens, the Democrats are forced to do what happened here in Pennsylvania in 1988 — refuse to endorse the candidate who usurped their nomination, and campaign for the Republican in order to preserve their own party’s identity, sanity, and decency, and to keep the LaRouchie out of office.
Perhaps the most famous case of a hijacked nomination comes from the race for governor of Louisiana in 1991. The state’s always unpredictable “jungle primary” system was made even more chaotic that year when the incumbent governor, Buddy Roemer, switched parties, thereby alienating a lot of voters on both sides of the aisle. When the dust cleared, the top two candidates emerged as former Gov. Edwin Edwards, running as a Democrat, and David Duke, who won the Republican Party nomination.
Edwards was quite a character. He had already served three terms as Louisiana governor, and during that third term he had stood trial for “mail fraud, obstruction of justice, and bribery.” He was acquitted, but still widely (and correctly) regarded as corrupt — hence his defeat by Roemer in the following election.Louisiana Republicans hated Edwin Edwards and they were fiercely determined to prevent him from retaking office for another term as governor. But unfortunately, GOP primary voters were split between Gov. Roemer and U.S. Rep. Clyde Holloway and Duke, with Duke coming out ahead.
And David Duke was a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, an outspoken white supremacist, and an ally of Neo-Nazi groups.
Although Duke won the Republican nomination, he was not endorsed by Republican officials in Louisiana. Instead, they condemned him as “unfit for office,” urging Louisiana voters to stop him by voting for Edwards. Louisiana Republicans famously distributed bumper stickers reading “Vote for the Crook. It’s important.”
And it was important. It was necessary to save their state. And it was necessary to save their party.
David Duke has been back in the news this year, consistently praising Donald Trump and announcing that, energized and encouraged by Trump’s message, he intends to run for the Senate. “He’s made it OK to talk about these incredible concerns,” Duke says of Trump — meaning “he’s made it OK” to explicitly speak of Duke’s own “anti-PC” agenda of white supremacy and neo-Nazism.
So far, a handful of Republican office holders have demonstrated the courage and decency to declare, as President George H.W. Bush said of David Duke in 1991, that Donald Trump is unfit for office. But the majority of Republicans, so far, haven’t demonstrated that level of courage and decency. They seem to still be hoping that the racist, misogynist, ignorant and unstable man who hijacked their party’s nomination will change his spots between now and election day.
Or perhaps they feel they have to support Trump because, after all, he’s the only viable candidate running against Hillary Clinton, and they’re sure she’s a crook.
Hillary Clinton is not a crook, but that’s tangential and irrelevant to the point here. An objective evaluation of Clinton’s honor and honesty isn’t simply a matter of discussing the facts, but of attempting to reconcile two incompatible epistemologies, and that attempt is beyond my capability and beyond the scope of what I’m getting at here.
The point here is that it doesn’t matter whether or not your epistemology causes you to conclude (or to pre-conclude) that “Crooked Hillary is a crook.” That’s as irrelevant as whether or not Edwin Edwards was a crook. (And, yes, he was.) That’s irrelevant within your own epistemology and ideology.
So, yeah, I think you’re wrong to hate Hillary Clinton and wrong to oppose her. I think she has enormous personal integrity and has consistently demonstrated a strong commitment to moral values far greater than either the commitment or the values of any her critics over the years. And at any other point between now and November, I would be happy to sit down with you to explain why her track record and her policy agenda are things I support with pride and enthusiasm.
But never mind that for now. You think she’s a crook? Fine, let’s stipulate that she’s a crook. That crook is all that’s standing between us and having President Donald Trump redefine the future of this country and of the Republican Party. Donald Trump is unfit for office.
Vote for the crook. It’s important.