In recent weeks much political discussion has focused on the question of whether the Republican National Convention will, or should, dump presumptive nominee Donald Trump and choose a candidate more in keeping with morality, the Constitution, and Republican principles. Trump defenders have decried such a possibility. One of their arguments is that the delegates are morally obligated to vote for Trump, because not to do so would be to betray “the will of the people.”
Leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that only about 42% of Republican primary voters actually did vote for Trump, let’s consider for a few moments the idea that the will of the people is a moral imperative. Is this true? Do we have a moral obligation to accept the will of the people? Do the convention delegates have a duty to vote according to what the majority in their several states decided?
To help answer this question, I’d like to summon a witness. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican President of the United States and is widely viewed as America’s greatest President. In 1858, two years before his election to the presidency, Lincoln faced off in the race for United States Senator against Democratic incumbent Stephen A. Douglas. Douglas was the champion of a doctrine then known as Popular Sovereignty, the idea that the majority of the settlers in a new territory or state should be allowed to decide whether slavery would be legal there. Lincoln, as the standard-bearer of the Republican Party, stood for the principle that slavery was morally wrong and should be, in his words, “in the course of ultimate extinction.” In the meantime, Lincoln and the Republicans believed, the immoral institution of slavery should at least not be allowed to spread to new territories and states.
During the campaign, Lincoln and Douglas held a series of seven debates in various towns around the state of Illinois. Throughout the debates, Douglas’s message, alongside shameless race-baiting, was what he called “this great principle of popular sovereignty.” For Douglas, the will of the people was a moral imperative. He didn’t care if the people voted slavery up or voted it down. It was wrong, he said, for Lincoln and the Republicans to deny the people the right to have the domestic institutions (i.e., slavery) for which they voted.
At the fifth debate, on the campus of Knox College in Galesburg, Lincoln took on this charge. It made sense, he said, for Douglas not to care whether people voted slavery up or down–if Douglas didn’t believe slavery was morally wrong. But if a man believed slavery was morally wrong, then he couldn’t take a “don’t care” policy. If Douglas were to “admit that there is a wrong in it,” Lincoln said, then “he cannot logically say that any body has a right to do wrong.”
What Lincoln was saying was that any moral imperative behind the will of the majority, any right the majority might possess to see its wishes carried out, had to come from God. But the same God who gave people a right to govern themselves, also gave them a moral law, and their right to self-government could not trump God’s moral law. In other words, the will of the majority is not decisive in matters of moral right and wrong.
Now, you might ask, what does all that have to do with the possible decision of the Republican National Convention delegates to dump Trump? Trump gained the nomination by immoral means. He lied continuously, changed his positions, broke promises, mocked the handicapped, incited violence, and spoke indecently on the national debate stage. He falsely labeled the most honest man in American politics “Lying’ Ted,” repeating the false accusation over and over again while never providing particulars or proof. He had scurrilous stories planted in the National Enquirer, insulted Heidi Cruz’s appearance, falsely accused Ted Cruz of adultery and his father of complicity in the Kennedy assassination. Trump praised the baby chop-shop Planned Parenthood and articulated five different positions on abortion in three days–something that might make sense if he doesn’t believe abortion is wrong–and clearly he doesn’t. Trump is devoid of integrity or decency. To put forward a person like that as the nominee of a major party is a crime against this country (yes, I know the Democrats do it all the time, but that’s no excuse).
Rejecting Donald Trump as the Republican nominee is a moral imperative, and as Lincoln pointed out, doing what is morally right is more important than following the will of the people.