I’m voting for Donald Trump in the election, and I have a conviction that it’s the right thing to do — not an easy thing, but the right thing.
There are four specific reasons for conservatives to support Trump, and then there is a broader reason.
First, on national security.
Trump has announced a plan for rebuilding America’s armed forces that on its face, sounds excellent. There is good reason to believe he will carry it out. I can well believe that Trump would instinctively want any organization he commands to be strong, fully resourced, and capable. If Trump is elected, and if he does produce a Reagan-era buildup of the military, it will be the most important contribution he could make to American security.
Military power is the key to deterrence, the foundation of all the tools of national influence, and the sine qua non of any foreign policy that has a realistic chance of protecting the United States and its vital national interests. Power is not enough by itself to produce success, but success is impossible without it.
Trump is much more likely than Hillary Clinton to engineer the kind of buildup we need. I think Clinton would probably try to increase defense funding enough to paper over the current readiness crisis in the military; but given the growing global risk, and the damage done to the armed forces over the last eight years, it won’t be nearly enough.
I have concerns about aspects of Trump’s approach to the world, and particularly his view of America’s alliance relationships. On the other hand, there is a reasonable chance that Trump would adjust his views on those points as he actually confronts the challenges of the presidency.
With Hillary Clinton, we know what we will get: a version of what we have had for the last eight years, with somewhat greater surface deference to the postwar foreign policy traditions. That would give the national security establishment better cover for arguing that America actually has a policy to protect its global interests (in contrast to the Obama years), but nothing big will change.
National security is the area of policy where this choice is the hardest. I have profound discomfort with both candidates, but if I have to choose, I’ll take Trump’s defense plan and hope that he gets better on the rest.
Second, on domestic issues.
If Trump wins, the Republicans will hold the House and, probably, the Senate. Under those circumstances, Congress will drive the lion’s share of domestic policy and will produce tax, regulatory, health care, and entitlement reform. Trump as President would, obviously, have input across the board, but he is nothing if not a dealmaker. Where there are differences between him and Congress, compromise will occur and Trump will sign the legislation that emerges. On immigration and trade, the process will occur in reverse; Trump will propose and push, and Congress will give him some of what he wants; the end product may actually be pretty good.
With Hillary Clinton, I see no realistic prospect of any change from Obama’s policies. Her regulatory agencies will continue to attack various sectors of the economy; entitlement and tax reform will continue to be stymied; her Justice Department will continue to be politicized; health care policy will continue to ignore reality; she will continue to address cultural issues in a way that divides our people and alienates all those of either Party who are not in lockstep with the Left’s agenda.
On this set of issues, the choice is clear. It’s Trump.
Third, on the Supreme Court.
A lot has been written about this, so I’ll just add one point. In the last 40 years, the Supreme Court has busied itself reading rights into the Constitution that aren’t there. That has been bad enough, especially because of the damage it has done to the credibility of the courts. But I greatly fear that a Court dominated by the Left — which is what Clinton has promised, and what she will deliver — will begin reading rights out of the Constitution that are there. Freedom of speech, the press, and religion, and the right to bear arms, are at stake. I hope I’m wrong — I’d like to think better of the Court, whatever its makeup — but don’t think I am.
Trump will appoint reasonable judges; they won’t all be conservatives or originalists, but they should at least be acceptable. And to the extent Trump takes a flier and appoints someone manifestly unqualified, the Senate would be much more likely to decline confirmation than it would if Clinton is President.
Fourth, on accountability.
If Trump becomes President, I expect a resurgence of constitutional checks and balances. I’m no fan of Congress — no one who served there could be — but our country needs a reassertion of legislative authority over the President and the agencies of the Executive Branch.
When Congress acts with some degree of bipartisanship, it is quite powerful; since Trump is to all intents and purposes an independent, he would not have a naturally strong partisan base in Congress to protect him from accountability.
In addition, if Trump wins, the media will once again decide that it needs to be a watchdog on the Presidency rather than its servant. We’ll hear a lot about the Imperial Presidency, while the abuses of the Obama years will disappear down a memory hole. The double standard will be nauseating, but I’d rather have a press that unfairly criticizes the President than one that actively covers up for his, or her, lies and misdeeds.
Hillary Clinton is a law unto herself. Does anyone seriously believe she will get better if she has a compliant press, the tools of the Presidency at her disposal, and congressional Democrats she can thoroughly whipsaw, as her husband did, to protect her?
Fifth and finally, the broader point.
Our whole model of governance — the welfare/regulatory state — has entered a period of profound crisis, not just in America but in all the western democracies. The center plainly isn’t holding; the people are dividing into tribes, and the tribes are demonizing each other. There are great and growing and obvious threats to our Republic, from within and without, and our leaders seem too paralyzed even to recognize them, much less address them.
I can’t avoid laying the blame on the highest level of our social elite. As a class — and to be sure, there are many honorable exceptions — they have become arrogant and isolated.
They live in gated communities while despising the anxieties and ambitions of the middle class. They disdain our religious heritage, our political institutions, and our cultural traditions. They have no devotion to the past and offer no vision for the future that is even remotely relevant to the rest of America, and they are blind to the contempt and outrage they have generated in so many across the political spectrum — and the danger that poses not just to them but to our way of life.
Trump’s character flaws are legion, but at least he recognizes that something has gone terribly wrong. I believe him when he says that. And whatever else Trump is, he’s a disruptive force at a time when the one thing we cannot do is continue as we are.
This is one of those moments about which Whittaker Chambers wrote, when “conservatives must decide how much to give in order to survive at all, how much to give in order not to give up the basic principles.” Trump represents risk, to be sure, but, if anything is certain in politics, the alternative to Trump is certainly the continued, and unchecked, corruption of our institutions and national life.
So while Trump is not the choice I wanted or worked for, he’s the choice I’m going to make on Tuesday, in the conviction that, all things considered, I’m doing the best I can for my country.