Charlie Harper: Race to the Bottom Yields No Winners

Charlie Harper

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Over the weekend there was quite a shakeup in the political landscape.  An eleven-year-old video of Donald Trump surfaced that is yet another straw on an overloaded camel’s back.   

Many who have been holding their nose to support him can no longer stand the accumulated stench.  There are now more elected members of Congress and Governors breaking with the party’s nominee than when Goldwater held the nomination.  

Donald Trump’s comments about assaulting women he finds attractive are indefensible. They go beyond “locker room talk”.  And yet, many treat politics as a war game.  As such, in the middle of battle, many if not most will ignore a decade old statement from the top general while fighting the battle of the day. 

One of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked during this campaign cycle (and quite frequently over the weekend) is “How can anyone still be supporting Donald Trump after this?”.  This question generally comes from Democrats and independents.   

Republicans and independents have a similar question with almost similar frequency.  “How can anyone support Hillary Clinton after _______?”  There are a litany of issues that fill in that blank.  From lying about Benghazi and blaming a known terrorist action on a YouTube video, to lying to the American Public about emails with constantly changing answers that were quickly adjusted to meet facts as they were grudgingly revealed, voters have many reasons to distrust what Hillary Clinton would do with the power of the highest office in the land. 

This is not an exercise of false equivalence.  Unfortunately, it is quite an exercise of equivalence that neither side wants to play to its logical conclusion. 

Partisan Democrats and Republicans alike have long since ceded political debate and battles from one of intellectual rigor to one of moral superiority.  This process has largely depended on disqualifying the candidate from the other side as fit or worthy to hold office.

Partisans have gotten quite good at constructing arguments that highlight the negatives of their opposition.  They then conclude that because they have summarized that the opposition candidate is horrible that you must vote for their favored candidate.  This allows a full sidestep of the negative issues of their own candidate, in favor of righteous indignation over their opponent. 

Disqualifying the opposition is not the same as qualifying your candidate.  It’s logically possible that both candidates are unfit for office.  For 2016, this is our reality. 

This is the usual point of an argument where the Libertarians are chomping at the bit to say “but we have a third option!  We’ve worked long and hard to give you ‘none of the above’ and if everyone just voted that way we would have unlimited prosperity and end all wars!”.  The problem with this is that the Libertarians, and their candidates, are completely unserious.

Their candidates are entirely uninterested in foreign policy and defense issues.  Believing that if we don’t take an interest in foreign affairs that they won’t take an interest in us is as disqualifying as the issues surrounding Clinton and Trump.   

Libertarians have had their best shot in a generation, and they’ve have blown it.  They should not be rewarded with a protest vote.

Republicans best option at this point is to focus on holding the House and Senate, though these are now cast with renewed doubt.  As such, Republicans who have concluded they cannot in good conscience support the nominee had better get comfortable with a fallback strategy of divided government.  When Checks and balances are all you have, then voting is even more important.

For those in Georgia that want their vote to count, but agree that the choices given are unacceptable, Evan McMullin has qualified as an official write in candidate. He has virtually no chance to win the Presidency, but is at least someone that conservatives won’t have to be apologizing for longer than NBC can keep vulgar videos hidden.

Politics, mirroring much of modern society, has become a race to the bottom.  The 2016 Presidential contest is a small microcosm of much bigger issues.  Our country and society needs healing and reconciliation.  Our current politics offers further divisiveness and destruction. 

The problem with the race to the bottom is that there are no winners.  We are all losers in this race.  

For there to be a change, we must figure out how to build coalitions built on shared goals and persuasion of others.  That won’t happen in 2016.   

America has had trials and tribulations throughout our great history.  We’ve survived them, and we can survive whoever is elected next month.  Our biggest choice now is to resolve if we want more of the same, or if we’re willing to change in order to leave this race to the bottom.

Charlie Harper is the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank focused on issues of Business & Economic Development, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation. He’s also the publisher of, a website dedicated to State & Local politics of Georgia.