“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
The previous five lines are the some of the most recognizable poetry in American cultural memory. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is frequently quoted in yearbooks, read in classes, and exclaimed in speeches. And despite literary analysis that says otherwise, the prevailing cultural attitude about this poem concerns having individual principle and the courage to not follow the crowd.
Choosing to not support someone like the nominee of the Republican Party did not look that hard last year. He insulted American prisoners of war and tweeted sexist remarks at a Fox News anchor, amongst other things that seemed presciently disastrous for a Republican primary candidate. Rivals pounced. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he has the temperament of a thirteen-year-old. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry called him a “cancer on conservatism.” House Speaker Paul Ryan frequently denounced his core campaign proposals. Florida Senator Marco Rubio called him a “con artist” that could not be trusted with the nuclear codes. These men, and countless others, now support the Republican nominee.
Some are enthusiastic and some are not. Some appear on cable news regularly and vigorously make their case. Some refuse to take questions until after the election. There are a few different justifications for their support, but most resemble either opposing the Democratic candidate above everything or respecting the will of the primary electorate. After all, it is a big deal to not support your party’s nominee for President of the United States. The same primary voters that chose the presidential nominee could easily turn on you as often as every two years. On the other hand, it is not easy to be an enthusiastic campaigner for the least popular nominee in recent memory. More often than not, House members in unsafe districts are simply staying quiet.
Political considerations motivate each elected official’s precise level of support. What does the primary electorate look like in my district? What does the general electorate look like in my district? Am I running for reelection? Do I have a future in national politics either way? These are all questions that politicians have asked of themselves, as well as of their countless strategists, consultants, and pollsters. Despite this, the weight of having a future president with a Nixonian “enemies list” and the position of the future Republican establishment apparatus is not something that one takes lightly.
The Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus warned certain Republicans of exactly this when he insinuated party interference in future presidential nominating contests. Despite heavy pressure to get on board, a few nationally prominent Republicans took Frost’s advice to heart. Former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney and Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush fall into this category. As does Ohio Governor John Kasich. While Romney and Bush are not likely to advance their political careers further, Kasich is a popular sitting governor of a large swing state and was the last Republican in the 2016 primary to concede defeat. He is also the most vocal opponent of the Republican nominee, choosing to boycott his party’s nominating convention in his home state. In most recent news, while most Republican surrogates are contorting themselves to put the “birther” issue behind them, Kasich is saying the Republican nominee should apologize to President Obama. While most Republicans are finding ways to oppose the President on every issue, Kasich went to the White House to advocate for a common goal. It takes tremendous courage to stand up to the majority of your party’s primary voters, elected officials, and leaders and resoundingly say “No—we are better.” Respect is earned on the road less travelled by.