The 2016 Catholic Voting Conundrum Simplified


The 2016 presidential election seems to be presenting many Catholics with a voting conundrum: Can a Catholic in good conscience vote for either candidate?  If yes, which one?  But if neither candidate is acceptable should they vote for a third-party candidate, or not vote at all?

Many Catholics think they have four options when it comes to voting on November 8 – vote for Clinton, vote for Trump, vote for a third party candidate, don’t vote at all.  But when all is said and done, there is no conundrum.  There is really only one option.

Catholics Cannot Vote for Clinton

James Hooper in his August 27 CS essay “Welcome to the House of Moral Dilemma” argued that Catholics simply cannot in good conscience vote for Hilary Clinton because of her support for abortion and euthanasia, and her outright attacks on the Church. Hooper’s position is backed up by the National Catholic Register and by a number of clerics. Fr. John Zuhlsdorf says, for instance, that he would vote for “the corpse of Millard Fillmore” before he would vote for Clinton.  Hooper’s position is also backed up by Catholic University of America theologian Dr. Chad Pecknold, who says:

“While Catholics must vote their conscience, the conscience can be in error, and so faithful Catholics must make every effort to ‘educate’ or form their consciences according to the teachings of the Church.

“When a candidate supports abortion rights, or assisted suicide, the Catholic should have no doubt that this is opposed to the teaching of the Church, and should not vote for such a candidate.”

What About Trump?

Dr. Pecknold is, however, also one of 37 signers of the March 11 appeal to Catholic voters to reject Trump’s candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. In that appeal the signers said:

“His [Trump’s] appeals to racial and ethnic fears and prejudice are offensive to any genuinely Catholic sensibility. He promised to order U.S. military personnel to torture terrorist suspects and to kill terrorists’ families — actions condemned by the Church and policies that would bring shame upon our country. And there is nothing in his campaign or his previous record that gives us grounds for confidence that he genuinely shares our commitments to or to subsidiarity and the principle of limited constitutional government.”

So back in March,  Catholics could not vote for Clinton, but they were also being discouraged from voting for Trump. And Anthony Lane here at CS said recently that voting for Trump was out of the question.  But that was then and this is now.  Has anything changed?  The answer is yes and no and yes.

Clinton is the Democratic candidate, just as everyone assumed she would be. But Trump, despite the plea to voters to reject him, astonished the pundits, left all of his GOP challengers in the dust, and is the Republican Presidential candidate.

Still No On Clinton

Nothing has changed in regard to Clinton. There’s no question that Hilary Clinton is a smart individual. But smarts alone do not make a good person.  Character and morals matter and they matter a lot.  Sadly, Clinton seems to be deficient in both character and morals.  She is pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, pro-homosexual marriage, a liar, and generally unscrupulous.  She says she wants to make things fair for the little guy and minorities but it’s rather apparent that she’s really only looking to satisfy her own lust for power and money.

Clinton has also picked Tim Kaine as her running mate. Kaine says he is Catholic but his positions and record as Governor of Virginia say otherwise.  He is at best a dissident Catholic; at worst possibly a material heretic. Saying he is personally against abortion and at the same time openly supporting pro-choice is a “gravely immoral position.”

Catholics cannot in good conscience vote for the Clinton-Kaine ticket.

The Conundrum Is Unraveling

But things have apparently changed in regard to Trump. While he vacillated somewhat on abortion in the past, he has committed to supporting the pro-life position, supporting religious freedom, the rights of conscience, and to rebuilding the marriage culture. He also clarified his position on immigration.  And he has picked a strong conservative running mate in Mike Pence. Trump now also has an advisory council of 33 prominent, respected, conservative Catholics who may bring him around to a more Catholic way of thinking in regard to dealing with terrorists.

Trump’s Catholic council, announced on September 22, includes former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List, Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza and the Ave Maria University, and Joseph Cella, founder of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, who also happens to be one of the signers of the March 11 appeal to voters to reject Trump. So just maybe he is coming around to a more Catholic point of view on many of the issues.

Many of the ‘NeverTrump’ crowd and the GOP establishment elites might argue that his Catholic council is nothing more than a political move to increase his appeal to Catholic voters. I tend to think though, that individuals like Santorum, Dannenfelser, Monaghan, and Cella wouldn’t allow their names to be linked to Donald Trump unless they were convinced that he is not the thoroughly despicable fellow some have made him out to be.  Perhaps they are convinced that he will follow through on any policy position promises he might make to them.

From 4 Options to 3

So with November 8 just weeks away, the options for Catholic voters have narrowed. They still cannot in good conscience vote for Clinton, but they can vote for Trump, or a third party candidate, or not vote at all.

The great moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre said, “When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither.” Not voting, he argued, is a way of voting against the system.

But as I argued here at CS back in May, “A combination of enough people staying home and not voting, or voting for some third party candidate, more than likely would result in Hillary Clinton grabbing the gold ring.” Nathan Schlueter, professor of philosophy and religion at Hillsdale College, agrees that not voting is really not an option.

A Moral Obligation To Vote

In an essay entitled “Moral Truth and the Ethics of Voting: How Should I Vote?” at Public Discourse, Schlueter argues that we all have a moral obligation to vote to achieve the collective good.

“The voter who chooses not to vote because his individual vote will be inconsequential is making a personal exception for himself which he would not want others who otherwise share his political views to imitate, and this conflicts with the impersonality that most moral norms require.

“The moral obligation to vote is not principally rooted in the calculation that one’s individual vote might affect the outcome of the election (it will not), nor is it simply a free-standing duty to express oneself (most voters do not think so). In good part, the obligation to vote is the solution to a collective action problem: although each individual has an incentive not to cooperate and is unlikely to alter the final result, everyone is better off when everyone cooperates. It is the necessity of solving this collective action problem that generates the obligation.

“The paramount moral question in every voter’s mind therefore should be this: which of the most likely outcomes will promote the greatest good or avoid the greatest evil? If this is not the paramount question for the conscientious voter, then what is?”

From 3 Options to 2 Options

Schlueter contends that while one’s individual vote will not affect the outcome of the election the action of not voting is contrary to our duty as citizens.

Pecknold agrees with Schlueter:

“Catholics have a moral obligation to participate in the common good, and one important way we do this is by making moral decisions about those parties and candidates who will do the most good, and avoid the most evil, especially when it comes to protecting marriage, the unborn, the family and religious liberty.”

So if we have both a duty as citizens and a moral obligation to vote, our choices on November 8 are two: vote for a third party candidate (or a write-in), or vote for Trump. But Catholics have an obligation to vote for candidates who will do the most good and avoid the most evil.  And since a candidate that has no chance of being elected can neither do good, nor prohibit evil, a vote for a third party candidate avoids this moral obligation to promote the greatest good or avoid the greatest evil.

Only 1 Real Option

It is an absolute certainty that our next president will be either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump. As such, the only action that Catholics voters can take that will promote the greatest good or avoid the greatest evil is to vote for Donald Trump.

That being said, this is not an endorsement of Trump.  As I’ve stated before, he is simply the lesser of two evils. Donald Trump’s questionable business dealings, which have been well-documented, his three marriages, and some of the outlandish comments he’s made, paint a picture of a man who is not an ideal candidate for President of the United States.  He, too, is lacking in character and morals, but my sense of it is that he really does want to help the country, whereas Clinton only wants to help herself.  Given a choice between Trump and Clinton, Trump is simply the more reasonable and logical choice.

Shame On All The Politicians!

Marriage has been redefined, religious freedom is under attack, more than 1 million babies are being killed each year in the U.S., and now the Democrats want to legalize self-murder.  The Democratic Party Platform is a modern day horror story and the Democrats want it fully implemented.  The GOP platform at least upholds Judeo-Christian values, but the Republicans seem content to let the chips fall where they may.

Democratic and Republican politicians alike have been telling us for years that they’re going to fix all our country’s problems, but the problems just seem to be getting worse no matter which politicians we elect.  And the politicians seem to be getting rich while the middle class struggles and continues to shrink.

Our country is almost $20 Trillion in debt and a record 94 million people have left the workforce. Our economy is struggling and all those new jobs that have been created to get the employment rate down to 5% (which is a completely fictitious number) are mostly low paying jobs that are not helping the middle class in the least.

I don’t think this is how our Founding Fathers, who really didn’t like the idea of political parties, intended things to work in our Democratic Republic.

Maybe Trump, the outsider and non-politician, is the guy that will finally turn things around. The lawyer-politicians we’ve been electing certainly aren’t doing a very good job of running the country.

Yes, the country may survive four or eight years of a Hilary Clinton presidency, but survival is not a worthy moral goal.  Vote to do the most good and avoid the most evil, not to merely survive.