Because the Hour’s come, and the Man.
–Sir Walter Scott
It has been a long and dark time, this election season. Christians, of course, have allegiance to no party, but for a good while now, the Republican party has represented at least a portion of what many evangelicals hold to be politically best.
Now, however, we find ourselves with just two choices: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (I registered some concerns about Trump some months ago for The Stream). In such a situation, I think we should heed the advice of a number of political elders and consider the prospects of a third-party candidate, a figure like Ben Sasse, Tim Scott, or a politician of similar caliber and character.
Here are a few reasons why.
First, such a figure would be able to speak up for conservative and evangelical principles—a pro-life perspective, the wisdom of limited government, a coherent foreign policy, a judicious immigration policy, and more. This candidate, in other words, could pull the debate toward the right to at least some degree.
Second, such a candidacy would mean that we could avoid merely bemoaning certain options. It is not enough to simply declare your refusal to champion one candidate or another. I wonder if my fellow evangelicals are falling prey to this; surely I can barely skim Twitter these days (It should be renamed Trumpter). That notwithstanding, as a millennial, I for one would love to see like-minded folks think hard about what they might do to rebuild what can rebuilt of meaningful conservatism.
Despair is not a policy. Political nihilism is not a virtue.
Third, this kind of action would galvanize many folks who are depressed. Many of us have come close to losing heart in recent times. Let us not forget what we have witnessed in recent years. The Obama presidency has been unpopular from the start. It caused a veritable grassroots eruption in the form of the Tea Party. As if that was not enough, President Obama’s missteps and failings in the areas of religious liberty, domestic policy (including his drive to remake institutions like marriage and the family), and foreign policy, linked with his general inability to lead with conviction, have created a moment of serious civilizational instability, the kind that is ripe for a populist of a certain kind to shine.
Much has been made of the failure of Republicans to capitalize on this moment. Much should be made of the party’s failings, and its general inability to communicate an inspiring vision of what America can be to folks beyond the white upper-class. Republican public communication is too often protectionist, rather than possibility-driven. But let us not miss the fact that Donald Trump is the reverse-image of Barack Obama to many Americans: he is strong-handed, America-focused, and masculine in some of the worst possible ways (cocky though deeply insecure, braggadocious, demeaning to women). At least part of the narrative of Trump’s rise owes to the justified perception that America is currently lacking in strong leadership.
Who should run as a third-party candidate? I’m not sure, and I would not endorse a single figure. I know that younger candidates (those in their mid-40s, for example, with little kids at home) would face at least several months of very intense labor. This is not a small thing. These are not minor sacrifices to make, for the leader or the family.
Facing tremendous odds, and the prospect of real sacrifices, many potential candidates will justly think hard and then step back. They will not take up the call. But we have to wonder: will someone answer it? Perhaps no one will. The hour is late, the situation is dire, and the conservative movement is limping. Perhaps we should content ourselves with candlelight in the darkness. It is light, after all. Sometimes that’s the best we can get.
But I am reminded of how, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there are numerous moments of near-disaster, swollen with the surety of defeat, in which a heroic figure rises to the occasion. In The Two Towers, Aragorn and Theoden of Rohan face certain death. The defenses have fallen, save for a handful of soldiers. The cause is lost. Helm’s Deep is overrun, and the women and children will very soon be attacked by a horde of hungry orcs. The sun has gone down in the West.
But Aragorn refuses to accept the defeat served to him by Saruman. In the film version, he summons his friend once more to battle.
Ride out with me, Aragorn says to the king.
For death and glory?, says Theoden, his soul beginning to wake.
For Rohan. For your people, says Aragorn.
And so, glorious horns blaring, the two friends ride out, ready for death, aware that their names will echo in history for this act.
It is an epic moment, one that makes your breath catch in your throat, but there is one more line to quote. We close with it, and with awareness of all that it contains, a whole universe of possibility and hope, one that will soon be fulfilled by a much greater figure assuming much greater office. Just before the two men ride out, Gimli speaks.
The sun is rising, he says, almost to himself.
So it is.