Every day, I run into Republican friends who can't stomach a vote for Mr Donald Trump but don't know what to do.
Vote for Mrs Hillary Clinton, who has trouble with the truth, wants to raise taxes and opposes free trade with Asia? Vote for the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, an outlier who once ran a marijuana business and embraces isolationism? Or not vote at all, maintaining a certain purity but allowing others to decide the next US president?
I face these same choices myself. I have voted for every Republican nominee for president since 1980, but I will not this time. Mr Trump's appalling temperament renders him unfit to be president, and his grotesque policy formulations mock the principles of liberty and respect for the individual that have been the foundation of the Republican Party since Abraham Lincoln.
Even before Mr Trump entered the race, I saw this coming.
I worked to open a pathway for an independent - a solid third candidate who would attract the votes of the roughly two-thirds of Americans in the centre. A serious contender would force the two major party candidates to compete for votes in the middle, rather than appealing to the wings. I spent 11/2 years on the project, but a month ago threw in the towel.
The deck is stacked by the parties against anyone but a Republican or Democrat. An independent has to run an expensive gauntlet to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot in all the states, suffers a severe disadvantage in fund-raising, and is effectively barred from the presidential debates by a commission loaded with party stalwarts.
Through much trial and error, I learnt that this is, whether we like it or not, an election between Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton, period. And that means that if you want to stop Mr Trump, you have no choice but to vote for Mrs Clinton. There's no sitting this one out.
It's simple maths. Consider a swing state like Ohio. Assume, for argument's sake, that there are 3.1 million Trump voters, three million Clinton voters and 200,000 others who will never vote for Mr Trump
but have reservations about Mrs Clinton. If this last group doesn't vote - or votes for Mr Johnson, or another third-party candidate - then Mr Trump wins the state. If the group votes for Mrs Clinton, then Mr Trump loses. A vote for Mrs Clinton neutralises a vote for Mr Trump; an abstention allows that vote for Mr Trump to stand.
For this reason, I strongly disagree with my fellow Republicans - many of whom I served with in the George W. Bush administration - who say they won't vote for Mr Trump because he's a threat to the republic, but won't vote for Mrs Clinton either because she'll raise taxes. Neither is appealing, but one is clearly a worse choice than the other.
Last month, 50 former officials from Republican administrations issued a scathing indictment of Mr Trump, saying he would be the "most reckless president in American history". Yet only a few of these Republicans have so far said they will vote for Mrs Clinton.
I have some sympathy with this position, but it is a cop-out. If you think Mr Trump is so lacking in experience and judgment that he shouldn't have his finger on the nuclear trigger, then you are saying he is not just a bad candidate but also a threat to the nation. You have an obligation to defeat him, no matter what you think of Mrs Clinton.
I'm voting for Mrs Clinton because, despite her deficiencies, she will make a better president. But I have another reason. Defeating Mr Trump soundly will help save the Republican Party. If he wins, a party built on freedom and internationalism will become entrenched as a party of authoritarianism and isolation, which means that within a few years it will atrophy and die.
This year, Republican Senate candidates who should be winning are in deep jeopardy. I'll be working to elect these candidates, and after Mr Trump loses, I'll work to rebuild the party in hopes of running a strong and sensible nominee against Mrs Clinton in 2020.
Unfortunately, the Trump campaign has already cost the Republican Party its credibility. Out of some twisted notion of loyalty, party leaders previously seen as devoted to conservative ideals and policy are now viewed widely as unprincipled cynics. And they deserve to be. How do you recover from that?
For a Republican to vote for a Democrat - and publicly declare it - involves a cost. You can lose business, or lose friends. You won't get a job in a Clinton administration, and certainly not in a Trump administration.
But if you really think that Mr Trump is a threat to your country, the right thing to do is to take the next step. Don't just say you won't vote for him. Vote against him.
NEW YORK TIMES
- The writer was the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs in the George W. Bush administration.