At least every four years (or more frequently when Congressional, state and local elections are considered) the Catholic blogosphere starts erupting with debate over whether voting for a major party candidate who is not fully pro-life or in line with Catholic moral teachings, but appears to be the lesser evil when compared to his or her opponent from the other major party, is morally permissible or advisable.
Right now this question, on the conservative Catholic side at least, is being raised in relation to whether or not Catholics should prefer Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, or another candidate over Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee for president, and whether or not to vote for Romney over Obama in the general election if Romney ends up as the GOP nominee. Some who are less than satisfied with Romney’s past record on life and family issues say they will not vote for him at all, not even in November and not even if his loss means another 4 years of Obama, because they believe the GOP needs to be sent a strong message about the importance of life, family and cultural issues. Others believe the prospect of a second Obama term is sufficient reason to vote for the GOP candidate in the general election even if he is less than satisfactory.
What follows are just a few of my own personal reflections and suggestions on this topic. They are merely suggestions offered for your consideration and should not be construed as a moral judgment against any who may disagree. Also, because they appear to comprise the majority of TAC readers, I am addressing myself solely to Republican or GOP-leaning Catholics opposed to Obama’s reelection. Again, this is for simplicity’s sake and not meant as a moral judgment against persons with a different view.
I believe that if you want to “send a message” to the GOP about the importance of life and family and cultural issues, the primaries are the time to do it. If, for example, you support Santorum and he is still in the race by the time your state’s primary rolls around (or even if he isn’t, you can still write him in), by all means vote for him. Likewise, if you support Huntsman, Gingrich, or any of the other “not Romney” candidates, vote for them, without hesitation.
You are, at this point, only picking a party nominee, not the actual POTUS — that is, if your primary vote is actually binding and is not a mere “beauty contest” (as in some states where the convention delegates are not bound by the outcome of the popular primary vote). At this point, there is not as much to lose by choosing an allegedly “unelectable” candidate. If the “more electable” candidate wins despite a heavy vote for another candidate, he will still get the clear message that a considerable chunk of his party isn’t very happy with him, and will likely move in their direction. If the “less electable” candidate wins in an upset, it lets the party know how its core voters are inclined, and also builds momentum for that candidate to become more electable (as is happening, right now, with Santorum).
However, when the general election rolls around, the stakes get much higher. This time, you are choosing who will actually be POTUS for the next 4 years. So if Romney does end up as the GOP nominee, and you are an Anyone But Romney voter, what should you do on Nov. 6? Do you vote for him to prevent an Obama victory, or do you not vote for him in order to communicate your displeasure with him to the powers that be in the GOP?
Before I attempt to answer that question, consider the fact that in presidential elections, the vote that really counts is the Electoral College vote. That is decided on a state by state basis. Therefore, how much of an impact your individual vote may have on the presidential race depends to a large extent on what state you live in; and likewise, so does the impact of your decision to vote, or not vote, for any given Obama opponent.
If you, like me, are a conservative living in a deep blue state (Illinois) whose electoral votes will probably go to Obama anyway, then there is less force to the argument that voting third party, independent or write in is simply throwing away your vote and enabling the worse of the two major party candidates to win. However, if you live in a hotly contested swing state like Florida or Ohio, where just one or two votes per precinct really could decide who gets those electoral votes, you have to take that argument more seriously.
Personally, I would say that if you live in a state that is clearly in the bag for one candidate or the other going into Election Day — classified as “Safe” or “Leaning” Democrat or “Safe/Leaning Republican” by multiple reliable polls — then you may feel free to vote third party, independent, or write in, or abstain from voting for POTUS at all, without fear that your actions may materially assist in tipping your state’s electoral vote the “wrong” way. But if your state is in “too close to call” or “tossup” status going into Election Day, and has sufficient electoral votes to be described as critical to one side or the other, then I’d suggest you think long and hard about voting for anyone other than the GOP candidate, if you do not want to see 4 more years of Obama. Remember Florida in 2000, and how close we came to having President Al Gore.
Finally, we should remember that the presidential contest is not the only one of importance. Due to retirements and a number of vulnerable Democrats among the Class of 2006, the Senate could very well flip to GOP control this time around. That, combined with continued GOP control of the House, could provide a much-needed restraint on the left-leaning excesses (e.g. Cabinet and Supreme Court appointments) of a second Obama term, or make it less necessary for a Romney or Santorum or Gingrich Administration to water down its agenda to get past Democrats.
If your state has a contested Senate seat this year, start paying attention to that race now. If there is a contested primary race for this seat, familiarize yourself with the candidates and choose the one you believe to be best. In the general election, you may still want to cast a vote for Senate even if none of the presidential candidates are acceptable to you. Also pay attention to Congressional races in your area; you may have a different Congressman than before due to redistricting after the 2010 census.