In theory, this election should pose a significant dilemma for the Republican or the Republican-leaning voter. A plurality of the Republican party has foisted on the voters of America someone who is unfit for any office. If voters voted for the candidate who was closest to their position, Trump would be struggling to break 25% and would be potentially looking at losing every state. Instead he is looking at getting around 75-80% of the vote from Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (those who identify as independents but vote Republican in most races). There are multiple reasons for Trump’s ability to hold onto most Republican voters (which explain why the Republican Party is not yet at the point of splitting).
The first and most significant is party loyalty. Especially among those who opt to vote in the primaries, there is an investment in the party and its future. Participating in a primary is an implicit agreement with other members of your party that, as a group, you will put together a ticket — top to bottom — that will represent the party in the elections. The exact platform that the party will pursue in office will depend on the mix of candidates. If other factions do well in the primaries, that platform may not suit your faction’s wishes perfectly, but you will live with that and try to do better in the next cycle of primaries. It takes a dramatic change in the types of candidates who get elected (and typically several cycles) for a person to came to the conclusion that their party is no longer the party that they originally joined and that, on the issues that matter most to them, their policy preferences have no place in that party.
Second, the election system in most states really does force a choice between two parties. Most states for most positions use a first-past-the-post single member district — meaning that the party that finishes first wins. Voting for a party that is only going to get 10% — while valuable in terms of expressing the views of the population — is not going to swing the election result. What might matter to the election result (at the large number level if not the individual voter level) is voting for one of the two major parties in your district. Most countries with a first-past-the-post system have two major parties. To the degree that third parties have some degree of success, it is by developing strong support in some regions in districts — essentially becoming one of the major parties in those districts and regions (e.g., the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec and the Scottish National Party in Scotland). The Greens in Canada and the United Kingdom have had minor success by focusing their attention on a handful of districts where they have become competitive with the other parties.
In the U.S., so far, none of the larger third parties have been able to do what any of these successful global third parties have done. They have not found regions or districts that will support their party at significant levels. Even in the top two states (California, Louisiana, and Washington), these parties have not succeeded in identifying districts in which they can regularly compete to finish at close to the top two (and maybe even one day make it). Because these third parties are not really viable, Republicans dissatisfied with Trump really do not have any place to go other than to the Democratic Party. The difficulty in third parties succeeding also discourages dissident Republicans from attempting to form their own party. It takes total party collapse on the order of the Whigs in the early 1850s to allow dissidents to join together with other groups to form a new major party as the Republicans did in picking up the pieces in the mid-1850s.
Third, a significant number of Republicans have hated the Clintons for almost thirty years. There is nothing logical about this hatred as the Clintons have not taken any stand that different than other Democratic politicians. While the majority of Republicans do not actually support Trump, they do oppose Hillary. (Even among those who have said that they will not vote for Trump, a large percentage have said that they will not be voting for Hillary either.)
For those Republican leaning voters who refuse to follow their party over the cliff, the question becomes whom to vote for and the answer depends upon what type of Republican you are.
For those Republicans (a dwindling number) who in the 1970s would have been referred to as Rockefeller or Eisenhower or Nixon Republicans (think of Everett Dirksen and Howard Baker), the Republican Party has lurched so far to the right that the closest candidate to their position might be Secretary Clinton. Classic political science says that a party should nominate the candidate furthest from the center that should be able to win the election. This approach has led to the Democrats nominating candidates a little to the left of center. For slightly right of center Republicans choosing between a generally centrist Democrat and a wacky conservative Republican, there positions are now more like the Democratic Party’s agenda than the new Republican Party.
For your typical Reagan-Bush Republican (traditional conservatives in the Barry Goldwater model), the candidate representing this faction of the Republican Party is Evan McMullin. He is the only candidate that combines a strong pro-interventionist foreign policy with the traditional tax cutting approach along with a willingness to spend as necessary.
For the Ron Paul types, the preferred general election candidate is clearly Gary Johnson. He may be clueless on foreign policy, but these folks do not want the U.S. to pay a lot of attention to foreign affairs.
For the social conservative, anti-government types, the candidate of choice is probably Darrell Castle. The pro-life, anti-gay, anti-Federalist agenda of the Constitution Party is similar to the positions taken by Christian Conservatives within the Republican Party.
Finally, there are the spiritual heirs of the Dixiecrats of the late 1940s and American Independence Party of the late 1960s. For those folks who think that the danger to this country is that women and minorities are taking over the country (the Strom Thurmond and David Dukes), you have found your candidate — Donald J. Trump. The rest of us may be puking when we hear tapes of Trump saying that women getting pregnant is a burden on business, that Mexico is sending their deplorables across the border to terrorize America, and that America is the victim of a conspiracy by international (Jewish) bankers, but he fits your anti-science, conspiracy driven view of the universe.
While Donald Trump sickens most Republicans as much as he sickens Democrats, their refusal to stand up for what is right leaves it up to us. We have just over three weeks left in this campaign to get the message through that this country can be something much greater than the cramped vision of American greatness at the center of Trump’s campaign. With dedication, we can elect not only a Democratic president but also a Democratic Senate and just maybe a Democratic House that will allow us to accomplish our agenda over the next two years.