by Samuel Dale
Every Republican in the United States is being asked a very simple question that must be answered: will you vote for Donald Trump as president?
There are four approaches. First, total support as we have seen from Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. Secondly, qualified support as shown by Paul Ryan, John McCain and others who are holding their nose and voting for Trump out of party loyalty.
Thirdly, abstention and neutrality as backed by both former President Bushes, Jeb Bush, Lindsay Graham and others. Finally, outright rejection which is not currently a popular view but is backed by Colin Powell and other Republican mavericks.
These are the four choices that Labour members will face in 2020 when they are asked the same question: will you vote for Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister?
The Republican mess is a useful guide for how Labour members can handle the Corbyn nightmare in 2020 and how not to handle it.
1. Total support
Christie, Rubio and Carson look like the shameless job-hungry careerists that they are. They spent months claiming Trump was totally unfit to be President – not in the normal primary knockabout but seriously unfit to hold office.
There will be Labour total supporters come 2020 who fear for their role in the party if they show disloyalty to Corbyn such is his grassroots support.
This is the road to disaster. Members and MPs should think about the long-term future of Britain and how to install a centre-left government. Blindly backing Corbyn will taint supporters and the party for decades to comes, just as it will for some Republicans. Differences must be made clear.
2. Qualified support
This is perhaps the worst approach of all. Paul Ryan set out a seemingly sensible idea of being a critical friend of Trump, calling him out where needed and pushing his own conservative agenda.
But you can’t deal with incompetent, hot-headed extremists like Trump and Corbyn. Last week, Trump said that any judge of Mexican – or Muslim – heritage, including Americans, has an “inherent conflict of interest” against him because of his policies.
Ryan slammed him as a “textbook racist”, which should be applauded, but then repeated his endorsement for President Trump. Ryan is effectively saying that tax and social security cuts – the centrepiece of his insane right-wing agenda- are more important than racism. Madness.
The Labour problem with Corbyn has many similarities.
How can Labour moderates support a man who wouldn’t order police to shoot to kill terrorists on the rampage around London? Or backs nuclear disarmament? Or flirts with full pacifism? Or his temperament and competence to do the job? And how can anyone support Corbyn’s high tolerance for anti-Semitism but extremely low tolerance for any complaints about anti-Semitism?
Anyone who backs Corbyn will be repeatedly asked about his latest outrage and cock-up during the campaign and to defend him, just like Trump. When they criticize his positions again and again but still support him as PM then they will look as ridiculous as they do today.
There comes a point when the means cannot justify the ends. Tolerating anti-Semitism is not a price worth paying for higher welfare. A line has to be drawn in the sand.
Paul Ryan and the Republicans have reached that point with Trump and continued to support him.
It will taint the Republican party and all supporters to the moral catastrophe of Trump’s candidacy for decades. Labour supporters have the same choice in 2020.
This appears to be the most sensible approach but doesn’t work in the UK. Jeb Bush is able to say he will not vote for Trump but will campaign for Republican congressmen, Senators and governors.
There is no such luxury for Labour MPs and members when deciding whether to back Corbyn at the general election as the legislature and executive are inextricably linked in our system. If you support Labour MPs then you are backing Corbyn as PM.
Labour MPs could say they are running on a Labour ticket but will not support Corbyn as PM. This would cause a chaotic election where MPs disown a manifesto and leadership but remain members of the party. It would be constitutionally unprecedented and the consequences would be largely unknown but some can be predicted. Would the leadership try to expel them? Almost certainly. Would other left-leaning parties run candidates against them? Almost certainly. It would be a messy compromise that try to show loyalty to Labour and opposition to Corbyn. It wouldn’t work.
4. Outright opposition
This would be a pledge to vote for another party while still remaining a member of Labour. It would be a pledge to stop Corbyn.
It would almost certainly lead to expulsion in line with party rules and as such is the nuclear option. Yet for many it would be the only honest choice to make. If you believe that a Corbyn premiership would be a moral and economic disaster then it is insupportable.
This is by far the most principled approach and appears to be backed by Tony Blair who called a Corbyn premiership a “dangerous experiment”.
The problem is dislike of the other side. Many Republicans feel nauseous about holding their nose and voting for Clinton just as many Labour folk would feel sickened at voting for Boris or Osborne as PM. But holding your nose is the most honest way.
Put simply, it’s party versus country. Are Labour members – just like their Republican counterparts – going to vote for someone they find morally insupportable out of party loyalty?
By 2020, it will be time to make choice about whether Labour sinks with the Corbyn disaster or rescues what’s left of the party. If Corbyn remain in place then I will be voting for anyone else who can stop him.
Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist