The Michigan primary is today (if you vote in Michigan and haven't gone to the polls yet, do — they close at 8 pm EST, I believe, and any registered voter can vote). The buzz is that the Michigan primaries will be rife with strategic voting by Democrats trying to mess up the Republican race. I know that the desire to do that exists, at least to a certain extent, among some Michigan Democrats. It's been exacerbated, apparently, by Santorum's active recruitment of Democrats to vote against Mitt as punishment for failing to support the auto bailout. (I'll remind any Democrats so-inclined that voting for Congressman Paul is also a vote against Romney. All but two of the delegates will be awarded based on the winners in each Congressional district, so Congressman Paul need not carry the state to hurt both Romney and Santorum.)
A few points need to be made about Democrats (and independents, Democratically-leaning independents, unaligned liberals, etc) voting in the Republican primary: strategic voting is unethical. Serious participation and voting for the best candidate is perfectly ethical and even, I would argue, an ethical imperative in a democracy, just like voting in the general election.
But if you're not convinced that strategic voting (voting for a weak candidate like Santorum to improve President Obama's chances of reelection in November) is unethical, it's a terrible strategy for anyone who cares about the country rather than empty partisan victories. A few points:
- Santorum is definitely a weaker general election candidate than Mitt. But that doesn't mean he'll necessarily lose. As scary as it is, there's a large enough group of people in this country who are irrationally angry at the president to vote for anyone else, even Santorum. And while President Obama would be significantly better for this country than Mitt would, Mitt would also be significantly better than Santorum.
- Elections are about more than just the presidential race. A Santorum win would encourage a significant number of Congressional candidates to swing right: and we're not talking the obstructionist-but-somewhat-sane-Tea-Party-right. We're talking hardcore social conservative right. Even if that results in a better result for Democrats (more seats in Congress) we've seen the damage that a small but committed and crazy group of ultra-conservatives can do in Congress.
- Elections are also about more than winners. They're about setting a message and affecting politics in this country for years to come. The more votes Santorum gets, even if he doesn't win, the more the national conversation will turn backwards. DADT may well end up back on the table. We won't be talking about repealing DOMA, we'll be talking about federal laws to prevent states from recognizing same-sex marriages within their own borders. We'll be talking preemptive nuclear strikes against Iran and bans on contraceptives for teenagers.
- And campaigns influence each other. The better Santorum does, the more Romney will have to swing right in order to counter him. And if Santorum wins, President Obama will be drawn far more to the right during the general election. Even if it guaranteed an Obama win, does it mean much if Obama ends up running on a conservative platform?
So, Democrats who haven't yet voted in Michigan (or who are going to vote in future primaries): don't vote strategically. Vote for the person you think would make the best President. And if that person's Santorum rather than Congressman Paul or Fred Karger, I have to wonder why you call yourself a Democrat.