Vote Trump, Vote Hillary, Stay Home, Pray

Republican voters who despise Trump on what they’ll do if he’s the nominee.

Virginia vote
What will Republicans do? Above, a woman votes in the general election in 2012 in Virginia.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The specter of Donald Trump as nominee has begun to loom large, and it’s freaking out a certain subset of the Republican Party. Some GOP pundits have already declared, with God as their witness, that they will never vote for Trump. (See, for instance, “With God as My Witness, I Will Never Vote for Donald Trump.”)

Last week, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza rounded up comments from prominent conservatives who are deeply disquieted by Trump and are grappling with a dilemma: If Trump’s on the GOP ballot in November, what’s the plan? Stay home on Election Day? Pray for a third-party candidate to appear? Write one in? Hold your nose and vote for Trump? Or—horrors—cast a vote for Hillary Clinton?

I wanted to hear from some non–pundit-class folks. So I put out a request to friends and colleagues to spread the word: Send me Republicans who feel uncomfortable about the rise of Trump. This could not be a less scientific survey. It’s a tiny sample, and my network skews toward Republicans more educated and affluent than the working-class voters who’ve been associated with Trump’s ascent. (Though it’s worth noting that Trump’s appeal is more broad-based than some give him credit for—he’s done well with all sorts of demographics.) I just wanted to listen to people describe how they’re wrestling with a difficult question, while understanding that it’s March, and plenty of minds can and will change between now and November.

Below are condensed and edited interviews with Trump-averse Republicans, conducted over the past week by phone, email, and text chat. As you’ll see, most are assuming Hillary will be the Democratic nominee. For the purposes for this piece, so are we.

Who: civil litigation attorney, male, 45, California
Voting background: has always voted GOP in previous presidential elections
What he’ll do if Trump is the nominee: probably vote for Trump

“Donald Trump is an amusing character but a con artist. He’s an excellent marketer and a shrewd guy who has recognized a political moment and is going to ride it. I think he doesn’t have the temperament to be president. I have friends I’m trying to talk out of supporting him. I would consider writing in a protest vote for a Libertarian.

“But honestly, Trump is smart enough that he’d pick someone for VP who’s generally acceptable to people like me, and then I’ll probably hold my nose and vote for him. I might consider a different Democratic candidate, but I just couldn’t vote for Hillary.

“It does concern me a little that there could be a great disaster on his watch—an error of judgment that would be very serious, that Hillary probably wouldn’t make. I don’t think he would push the button or actually round up people and send them to Mexico. But when I say that it makes me nervous because all sorts of dictatorial leaders were not taken seriously before they came to power. I guess I can’t imagine that that sort of thing would really happen here.”

Who: retired attorney, male, 74, California
Voting background: has voted GOP since Barry Goldwater, with one break for Ross Perot in 1992
What he’ll do if Trump is the nominee: vote for Trump

“I’m no Trump fan. But I would vote for Trump over Hillary. I recognize the arguments against Trump—I don’t think they’re frivolous, or mindless, or foolish—but I truly believe Hillary would be dangerous. I agree there are some aspects of Trump and his bombast that would make me and others uncertain about how he would behave. But he has been successful in business in part because he surrounds himself with good people, good advisers, good architects and engineers. He understands what he doesn’t know. Trump would not be so foolish as to start a war with Russia or Syria or Iran. I can’t guarantee it, but that’s what my gut tells me. I trust the system to constrain Trump way more than I trust Hillary.”

Who: federal HR employee, female, 40, Kentucky
Voting background: has voted GOP in every previous presidential election
What she’ll do if Trump is the nominee: vote for Hillary

“My biggest objection to Trump is that he is an ugly human being exploiting the ugly impulses of others. I don’t even think he is a real Republican. I think that people are latching on to him because they are angry and afraid and feel like ‘their’ America is moving on without them. I’m a military spouse, so I am extra disposed to lean right. But that is something else Trump does to annoy me. He tries to use veterans as props.

“It is honestly not that much of a stretch for me to support Hillary (although my dearly departed father is no doubt spinning in his grave). I think she is the only person close to a moderate that is left. Also, it is time for a woman!”

Who: business owner and CEO, male, 44, Washington, D.C.
Voting background: has always voted GOP in presidential elections, save for a libertarian vote in 2004
What he’ll do if Trump is the nominee: pray

“I have thought about this endlessly. For me it comes down to: pray for a viable third option, write in, or simply abstain. (Being a D.C. resident provides some measure of relief here.) 

“Hillary makes this such a tough decision. I think many Republicans could cross the aisle, but not for her. What makes this so much more complicated than Democrats realize is that HRC is no ordinary Dem. Had it been Kerry or Obama or O’Malley, pulling the lever would have been a wee bit easier. But actually voting FOR Hillary is like succumbing to everything you know is profoundly wrong in this world. The closest comparison would be if somehow Kanye West hijacks the Democratic Party and says the most outlandish things, but locks down the nomination. Mainstream Dems would be like damn, I can’t vote for that jackass. But what if the Republican nominee were Ted Cruz?”  

Who: retired attorney, female, 52, California
Voting background: has always voted GOP in presidential elections but abstained in 2008
What she’ll do if Trump is the nominee: probably not vote. Possibly vote for Hillary.

“Trump is a dangerous megalomaniac. Quite possibly the shallowest person in the public eye I can imagine, outside of a Justin Bieber–type celebrity. He has no humanity. He has no tolerance for different opinions. I am awestruck at how awful he is. I can’t describe in mere words just how appalling he is. My friends feel the same way. I don’t know anyone who isn’t mortified, and that includes friends and family who aren’t political, people who just read the paper occasionally.

“If the general election were held today, Trump against Hillary, I would not vote. I get a feeling from Hillary that she believes she’s entitled to break the rules if she thinks it’s a good idea, I find that arrogance objectionable. I don’t see any bigger goal for her than just her own power. But I do think underneath it all, she at least has some sympathy for civil liberties and for separation of powers. There’s some there there—while with Trump, he might wake up one morning and decide to invade Mexico. If Hillary starts showing something more than just a quest for power and authority than I’d vote for Hillary. There’s no scenario under which I’d vote for Donald Trump.”

Who: attorney, female, 39, Virginia
Voting background: has always voted GOP in presidential elections, save for a libertarian vote in 2000
What she’ll do if Trump is the nominee: not vote

“Trump represents a complete coarsening of the political discussion. I don’t see him standing for any principles. Certainly none of the principles that have caused me to vote Republican in virtually every election. I’m concerned about his cavalier attitude towards the Constitution. I don’t believe he would see himself as being bound to uphold the First Amendment and other constitutional rights. Most of my friends are appalled. I’m surprised, though, that there is a significant minority who are cheering him on or are OK with him. I’d say it’s 50-50 among my friends—half would hold their nose and vote Trump, half would not vote at all.

“I won’t vote for Hillary first because I’m pro-life. But there are no Democrats I can think of that I would vote for.

“I’ve been volunteering for the local Republican Party for eight or nine years now, recruiting volunteers and organizing them. There’s always been a small number who have had outrageous positions on things, and I’ve tried to avoid them. But most of them care about the country and good government and electing trustworthy people. If Trump is nominated, those volunteers will not lift a finger for him whether they vote for him or not. He’s driving people who care most about politics and who we elect out of being active, and into despair about our political process.”

Who: retired executive, male, 75, New Jersey
Voting background: has always voted GOP in previous presidential elections
What he’ll do if Trump is the nominee: vote for Hillary

“Trump is a quirk of the times—no governing or legislative experience, gravitas, no redeeming social skills save celebrity, and no views on his fellow man that I can subscribe to—yet he persists. Assuming that Trump is the Republican candidate, not voting is not an option. I would swallow hard and vote for Hillary Clinton because she has the necessary experience, and because the standing of the U.S. in the world would not be compromised as I believe it would be if Trump were elected.”

Who: stay-at-home parent, female, 38, Virginia
Voting background: has voted GOP in every presidential election
What she’ll do if Trump is the nominee: write in a different candidate

“I think Trump is completely unpresidential. I think he’s childish. I think he has no policy plan, and any inkling of a plan that he’s articulated is not conservative. I think he’s a misogynist, a racist, and a bigot. I have a problem with the way he deals with people he disagrees with. We need to be able to work together and present viable options for good government policy. His recent comments about free speech and limiting it—that’s not a conservative value. Some of my friends have already said they won’t vote for Trump if he’s the nominee.

“I think Hillary is a criminal, I think she’s going to be indicted, as she should be. She’s someone else where I don’t think you can trust anything she says. I’d have to see if a third-party candidate comes forward, or write in someone else.”

Who: attorney, male, 33, Illinois
Voting background: has voted GOP in every previous presidential election
What he’ll do if Trump is the nominee: vote for Hillary

“My objections to Trump? 1) His ban on all Muslim immigration, and my worries that he could evolve to curtailing the rights of Muslim-Americans. 2) His promise to deport all illegal aliens, even those raised here. 3) His support of Putin. 4) His anti-free trade stances. 5) His incitement of violence at rallies and his other authoritarian tendencies. 6) His “take the oil” stance that appears like an endorsement of 19th-century style imperialism.

“I’m half-Japanese and half-white, and I guess the most alarming thing is that, as a rare minority Republican, I haven’t felt excluded from the party or conservatism because the racist part of the coalition hasn’t really had much power. Now they’re about to win the nomination.

“I’m not a fan of Hillary at all. If it were constitutional, I’d rather even have a third Obama term. But if Hillary wins the nomination, I’d vote for her (and donate and possibly campaign too) over Trump. If Bernie wins the nomination, I’m voting third party.”

Who: tech worker, male, 39, Ohio
Voting background: has voted GOP in every previous presidential election
What he’ll do if Trump is the nominee: not vote

“As a Republican, there is no way in hell I would vote for Donald Trump. He lacks the intellectual curiosity, integrity, humility, and temperament required of a good leader. He is a crony capitalist and would introduce government-enforced religious discrimination, both of which Republicans are supposed to abhor. Oh, and there is the fact that he is not a Republican, not by label but by policy. I am no ideological purist, but he isn’t even close. So if he gets the GOP nomination, I will show up on voting day and leave a big, fat blank in the section for POTUS.”

Who: stay-at-home parent, female, 31, Massachusetts
Voting background: has voted GOP in every previous presidential election
What she’ll do if Trump is the nominee: vote for Hillary

“Trump is too arrogant, hypocritical, and bigoted. His lack of experience doesn’t help. He is unwilling to compromise or even hear people out with opposing views. He is childish in his responses, and I am terrified for how that would translate with foreign policy.

“If it’s Trump versus Hillary, I would vote Hillary and probably cry and go to confession. It would be pretty horrific, and I would not advocate for her in any way whatsoever, but instead plead for others to just not vote Trump. I would also be looking into third party candidates a bit more.”

Who: financial adviser, male, 30, Florida
Voting background: has voted GOP in every previous presidential election
What she’ll do if Trump is the nominee: vote for Hillary

“I was a strong McCain and Romney supporter. But Trump’s policy proposals are absurd. He makes racist statements, thus confirming everything Dems suspect about Republicans. And he is a loose cannon—basically in the Sarah Palin wing of the party. A person who lacks the basic qualifications (sanity) to have nuclear weapons.

“I would vote for HRC, no doubt. I think she’s smart. I think she won’t blow up the economy like Sanders would. But she is basically a corrupt politician. On a human level she bothers me because I can see how full of shit she is, but she won’t ruin the country. If Bloomberg ran, I would vote for him. If Sanders is the Democratic candidate, I’d vote a write-in. Trump and Sanders are absolutely unsupportable in my view. “

Who: CEO of a corporate consulting firm, male, 63, Florida
Voting background: has always voted GOP in previous presidential elections
What he’ll do if Trump is the nominee: probably vote for Trump … or wait, change that, Hillary

I first talked to this man Thursday, and this is what he had to say:

“The crux of the problem for people like me is how can we vote for Hillary but how can we vote for Trump? I’m damn near close to not being able to vote. With Trump, there’s no substance there. No accountability in terms of anything he says. He’s reckless, he’s dangerous, he’s egocentric, he’s childish, he’s petulant. What he’s capable of, that’s the frightening thing. He’s just such a loose cannon, he seems to do or say anything he wants. I hope some of that is positioning on his part and would come under control. I haven’t researched Trump’s positions enough yet because I’m so opposed to him. But in the end, if I don’t discover anything new about him that I don’t know now, and if I’m being honest about how I feel about Hillary versus perhaps a somewhat muted Trump, I would have to hold my nose and vote for him against Hillary. It’s conceivable, if Hillary was indicted and Democrats came up with someone other than Bernie, someone more moderate—I might even give Joe Biden a second look over Trump.”

A few days later, he changed his mind:

“When we talked on Thursday, I was right at the tipping point, but I was hoping that Trump might start acting differently, toning it down and creating a little more credibility, so that I could take a risk on him. But in fact what he did is go the other way. It gets worse day by day. Throwing the water bottle. The David Duke thing—a white supremacist, and then Trump thinks he can lie about it after. It’s a farce.

“So I don’t want to be that guy that says I’m not going to vote and not take that responsibility. Hillary is the tallest midget in the room. At least she’s not an impractical ideologue, and I think she’d operate with some level of common sense. I think we have a responsibility to vote, and if push came to shove, I could not take the risk of putting Trump in that position.” 

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 presidential election.