As most people reading this know by now, the Republican Party of Virginia has decided to require voters in its February 12 primary to sign the following statement: “I, the undersigned, pledge that I intend to support the nominee of the Republican Party for President.” If you don’t sign, you don’t vote.
The problem with this oath is that it elevates party above freedom of conscience. Adult citizens of a republic have the responsibility to vote for the candidates whom they believe will best serve the just interests of the people of the nation as a whole and of their jurisdictions. There are some people who sincerely believe that those best candidates are invariably whomever the Republican Party nominates, no matter how pro-abortion, pro-tax, pro-regulation they may be. We can discuss the tenability of this position later.
The question here is why the (dis)loyalty oath is so bad. The answer to that question is that, by imposing this oath, the Party has made it impossible for some citizens to exercise their republican duty according to the dictates of conscience.
There are equally sincere people who cannot state an intention to support an undetermined candidate. Some are conservative republicans, like me, whose candidate of choice is running for the Republican nomination. Others are independents and maybe even conservative democrats for whom the same is true. But we can’t pledge intent to support some unknown nominee who might hold positions anathema to our principles.
Some will surely counter that the Party doesn’t want anybody who won’t sign a my-party-right-or-wrong statement. It’s obvious that such a position will turn many would-be republican voters off. But worse, it excludes people of principle from involvement.
The Party claims that it’s important to prevent partisan Democrats from meddling in a Republican primary. Yes, that’s a reasonable objective (though hardly a first principle). But as a defense for the oath, it smacks of gun-grabber logic: Democrats intent on fouling up the Republican nomination process will keep the pledge, just like criminals will obey gun laws.
Even the oath’s proponents agree that compliance can’t be guaranteed. In fact, the most disheartening aspect of this whole debate has been the emphasis on the unenforceable, even “figurative“, character of the oath.
But for people of principle, a pledge is not unenforceable and certainly not figurative. And the Party is zipping its big-tent flap to these people, people who believe that Truth matters, people who believe that signing a false statement of intent is an affront to God and to human dignity, people who believe that dismissing a pledge as “unenforceable” undermines virtue and individual accountability, people who believe in the things that the Republican Party should stand for.