The case against President Trump’s re-election

Several of my friends and family are lifelong Republicans who voted for President Trump in 2016 and are uneasy about doing so again. A few have asked “give me the case for a Conservative not voting for President Trump again” and then further, “the case for voting for Joe Biden instead of sitting out the election or voting for a third party candidate.”

A reasonable request. My quick summary. First, I think of the job of any President as having three parts: (1) picking people to serve in the Executive branch; (2) policy preferences; and (3) ceremonial duties, particularly in times of crisis.

My policy preferences are different from folks who voted for President Trump in 2016, though I have noticed some who share my key policy goal of developing basic health care coverage for everyone, and they express support for key elements of Obamacare. President Trump is arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court on November 10, 2020 for the entirety of Obamacare to be thrown out—pre-existing coverage protections, keeping your adult child on your health insurance until they are 26 and no lifetime coverage maximums—all of it. Here is the brief that President Trump’s Solicitor General will argue from the week after the election. I agree that Obamacare needs revision, but the best first step is not starting over, and Republicans have had a decade to come up with an alternative they could support, and they failed to do so even when they had complete power in Washington; 2016-2018, for example.  

The President has trouble putting the interests of the country and defending the Constitution of the United States (the oath he took) because he always puts his personal self-interest first. Everyone is self-interested, but the President seems to think the national interest is the same as whatever is in his best self-interest. The use of the White House for a Convention speech. Calling the Press, protected by the 1st Amendment the enemy of the State. Saying anything that is not helpful to him politically is fake news. Sending persons with no experience to run communications at Health and Human Services during a pandemic. Getting involved in scientific matters at the FDA like no other President has, reducing trust in public health and institutions like the CDC. I agree that candor is winsome in politicians, but much of what the President is open about is putting himself above the national interest and that is not what we need in a leader.

The President has trouble showing empathy, and this keeps him from doing the ceremonial part of his job well. Even if you like the President’s policies, he does not do a good job of carrying out the ceremonial aspects of his job, again because I think he has trouble seeing any difference between what is in his best interest and the best interest of the country. We only have one President at a time, and they must serve all Americans, not just those who voted for them. A great example of this was President George W. Bush meeting with the family members of soldiers killed in Iraq individually, and allowing those who needed or wanted to vent and blame the President personally to do so—including yelling and screaming to his face. This would be very hard to do, but he did it because it was best for these families and the country, even if it was bad or hard for him. President Bush understood that as America buried our War dead, defending his policies and seeing to his popularity for his re-election bid was not always the most important thing. Families that grieved needed to be allowed to do so in their own way, and so he took the direct criticism. The President is supposed to show up when terrible things happen and calm and soothe both individuals who have been affected as well as the entire nation. I don’t think President Trump is capable of being a selfless leader and this has hampered his COVID19 response efforts because all he could think about was how it affected his re-election chances.

The President commonly undermines key norms of law and order and democracy. If the President said one time “maybe I will have a third term” it might be a joke. However, he has consistently said this type of thing. During this election season, he has often said the only way he could lose would be in the Democrats cheated, and he hurls charges of massive voter fraud that have been debunked. The President seems most interested in keeping power, as he showed when he filed for re-election the day he was inaugurated on January 20, 2017—most Presidents wait to start the next campaign for at least a couple of years. The American transition of power in a peaceful manner is unique for its 25 decades of existence, but it depends upon people following of norms that put the good of the nation above the good of any one person. I worry that President Trump in incapable of making this distinction and his rhetoric sounds more like a dictator of a small nation rather than the most powerful person in the World.

Not voting or voting for a third party candidate is better than voting for President Trump, but there are only two people who could be President on January 20, 2021, and if you do not think President Trump should be, the clearest way to show that is voting for Joe Biden. This election is not about policy, but about restoring the idea that the President serves us, and not that the nation serves the President.

Respectfully submitted,


About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute), and Chair of the Academic Council at Duke University . I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy. My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

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