(NY Times) — Republican voters who refuse to vote for Donald J. Trump are in a bind. They could vote for Hillary Clinton, but that means supporting a candidate whose positions likely run counter to their beliefs. Or they could vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, whose positions might be closer to their own but who stands almost no chance of winning a single state, let alone the White House.
Fortunately, there’s a precedent, and a solution: vote trading, which was first attempted during the 2000 election and which, thanks to today’s more robust internet, could make all the difference in a tight race.
Sixteen years ago, the concern was that votes for the left-leaning third-party candidate, Ralph Nader, could siphon off critical support for Al Gore in swing states like Florida. Gore supporters begged Naderites not to “throw away” their vote — an insinuation that Nader voters found offensive.
As the election neared, though, “Nader Trader” websites emerged. The idea was simple: A Nader supporter in Florida, where every vote mattered, could promise to vote for Mr. Gore — and, in exchange, a Gore supporter in a Democratic stronghold like Washington, D.C., would promise to vote for Mr. Nader.
It was a good idea, but in 2000, it didn’t work. Word didn’t spread fast enough, and the internet was still in its infancy. But it’s worth revisiting.
First, consider the size of the #NeverTrump Republican vote. In 2012 Ohio Republicans went 94 percent for Mitt Romney; President Obama received 5 percent of their votes and 1 percent went to “other.” This year, because of Mr. Trump’s candidacy, the percentage of Republicans who have indicated they are voting for Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Johnson or are unsure is 18.2 percent.
The problem is that in many close states, the number of Republicans who say they will vote for Mr. Johnson or stay at home is larger than the difference in support for Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. Again, in Ohio, if the election were held today, polls predict that Mrs. Clinton would win 6.1 percent of the Republican vote and Mr. Johnson would win 6.2 percent (the additional 5.9 percent is undecided). This could decide the election: The latest Quinnipiac University poll in Ohio has Mr. Trump up by a point, 46 to 45.
Gary Johnson won less than 1 percent of the vote in Ohio in 2012. Has he done anything in four years to improve his lot with Republicans, other than forgetting (or never knowing) about Aleppo, Syria? The only reason for his rise is that so many Republicans back him as a protest vote against Mr. Trump.
At the same time, we hear from many Republican friends in our home states of Louisiana and California, as well as former colleagues here in Washington, that they would vote for Mrs. Clinton if their vote “mattered.” Too bad they are in deep red or deep blue states, in a system where a handful of states will decide the fate for the country.
In other words, it’s 2000 all over again. Mr. Johnson could deliver the election to Mr. Trump. Would-be protest voters should choose tactically instead and become a Trump Trader.
Today our organization, R4C16, is starting the first online resource for Trump Traders, focused on five swing states: Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Yes, Texas, where, despite the Lone Star State’s recent history of being dependably Republican, there is momentum against Mr. Trump. Both The Houston Chronicle and The Dallas Morning News (a paper that has not endorsed a Democrat for president in over 75 years) have endorsed Mrs. Clinton.
The system is simple. If you are thinking about voting for Mr. Johnson and live in a swing state, contact a friend who is voting for Mrs. Clinton in a safe state, and trade.
Or, since it’s 2016 and not 2000, we recommend the new #NeverTrump app, which will organize your contacts into safe states and swing states, enabling an easy trade. The safe-state friend will vote for Mr. Johnson, and the swing-state voter picks Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Johnson still gets a vote, but not at the expense of a major Electoral College haul for Mr. Trump.
Trump trading is based on the honor system. But for that reason, it’s also perfectly legal: It’s simply a matter of voters publicly expressing their political preference, so it’s protected by the First Amendment. After the 2000 election, the National Voting Rights Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California brought a case on behalf of three Nader Trader sites — Votexchange2000.com, Voteswap2000.com and Nadertrader.com — resulting in a Ninth Circuit ruling in Porter v. Bowen that the Nader Trader exchanges in 2000 were constitutionally protected speech and conduct.
Republicans everywhere should show up to vote, and those in swing states should vote tactically, for Mrs. Clinton, and for Republicans down ticket. But for voters who can’t quite stomach pulling the lever for the Democrat, offsetting that choice with a pledged vote in another state may make all the difference.
By voting tactically in 2016, conscientious Republicans can still prevent the worst-case scenario: Mr. Trump taking over the White House, and the G.O.P.