Before anything else, I’d like to congratulate my American Spectator colleague Jeff Lord for grasping, sooner and more comprehensively than any other thoughtful pundit I know, the viability and eventual popularity of Donald Trump in the Republican nominating process.
And I congratulate Mr. Trump for accomplishing something that few Americans thought he could. Many of us misunderestimated the breadth and intensity of Republicans’ seething anger with the “establishment” and with a Republican Congress that only gives us excuses for its inability or unwillingness to push back on the many tyrannical acts of President Obama.
While I shared much of that anger and frustration, I did not believe that a reality TV star with so few serious policy positions and even fewer demonstrated principles, much less conservative ones, would be seen by even a plurality of Republicans as the answer.
I wrote months ago and continue to believe that nothing, not even an indictment, will impede Hillary Clinton’s path to the Democratic nomination.
Therefore, in November, we’ll be facing the incredible prospect of choosing between a lying, incompetent, utterly corrupt Alinsky-loving influence peddler and a narcissistic loudmouth with no understanding of basic economics (despite his business success), a long history of liberal views, and the success story of a near-perfect “crony capitalist” (a term I don’t like because it falsely implies that buying politicians is actually a form of capitalism).
Sure, the likely Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, whom I had the chance to interview on Friday (podcast here), will be on the ballot in every state. But remember that in 1992, Ross Perot, with the support of nearly 20 million Americans, received more than 18 percent of the vote nationwide but won not a single electoral vote in what turned out to be a Bill Clinton landslide in the Electoral College. Johnson also ran in 2012, earning the most votes ever for a Libertarian, although at 0.99% not quite the highest percentage ever. (The Perot and Johnson experiences have me convinced that current daydreaming among a segment of the GOP elite about an independent presidential candidacy by a “viable alternative” is, at best, quixotic.)
During my interview with the very interesting former New Mexico governor — he has climbed the highest mountain on every continent and, nearly alone among politicians at the time, called for the legalization of marijuana nearly two decades before it actually happened here in Colorado — I told him that I had voted Libertarian for most of my adult life (every presidential election other than 1988 and 2012) and that I was likely to vote for him this year.
And so it began.
The phones rang, the e-mail inbox filled. Over the course of the day the reaction to my on-air statement of voting Libertarian included a modest number agreeing with me but far more saying things like “We have to unite,” “the Supreme Court is too important so I’m holding my nose and voting for Trump,” and — the issue which underlies so much of the criticism — “if you vote for a third-party candidate, Hillary’s electoral victory in Colorado will be on you.” Coming from a retired Army lieutenant colonel, this carried particular weight for me.
I considered the officer’s comment — of course it’s an issue I’d already thought a lot about — and find myself confident in throwing the BS flag: No, sir, a Hillary Clinton victory would not be “on me,” even understanding the fact that, as many listeners have noted, I may influence more than just my own vote with my modest literal and figurative media microphones. (As might the writings of two gentlemen whom I respect and who have staked out opposite positions on this issue, George Will and Spectator’s own Jed Babbin.) First, I object to the implication that Americans are so feeble-minded as to fully incorporate as their own the opinion of any one other person. I don’t even think that of most Trump supporters. Therefore, I am not responsible for someone else’s vote even if I influence it.
But more importantly, should the United States elect the most beatable Democrat since Jimmy Carter and the most corrupt since LBJ, it will not be due to the millions of Americans who, like me, find the stench of Mr. Trump beyond our ability to suffer through even while holding our political noses. The responsibility for a terrible candidate (whether he wins or loses) goes to those who supported him despite (or because of) his many glaring flaws. As it’s often put in the tech world, one man’s bug is another man’s feature.
I’m not saying that those who decide differently from me are certainly wrong in their political calculus; we are assigning different values to variables in the same equation. I can’t blame someone for supporting Donald “Big Hands” Trump because the vision of a President Hillary Clinton, or a Supreme Court packed with Hillary’s appointees, is too horrific to allow. It surely is.
But casting my ballot for a man whose principles I cannot confidently determine, much less share, whose policy positions I find on a range between silly and repugnant, and who I believe is doing great harm to the country and the party he aims to lead, is not something I can live with. I did not help nominate him and the burden of gaining my support, the burden of unifying the party and the people, is, as Paul Ryan correctly noted, on Mr. Trump himself.
If, for example, Trump reverses his position on free trade and deporting 11 million people, and stops his mindless rambling about buying back federal debt for less than par and encouraging more nations to acquire nuclear weapons, that would be a good start toward opening my mind to his candidacy; those policy areas demonstrate complete ignorance of the real world, a sort of ignorance that is neither cute nor brave but could cause incredible turmoil for the global economy and stability without any corresponding benefit for the United States.
But he will not flip-flop on those positions, particularly not on trade or immigration, the way he already has on the minimum wage and taxes because the most unrealistic policies (especially the ones where Trump sets up an “us versus the foreigner” straw man) are the ones that most enthrall his supporters.
Therefore, while I’m theoretically open to rational policy overtures from The Donald, I’d be shocked if he actually offered any. And at some point (a point long passed, actually) the Zlata-like flexibility of his beliefs would leave me skeptical that even he believes a word he says.
As to whether I should vote for Trump simply because Hillary is worse, it would be a weak argument even if I were convinced of its truth. The alternative is not really the point when I believe that the two major parties’ candidates are arguably equally damaging to the nation, the Constitution and, less importantly, the Republican Party (of which I have not been a member since 2008 but which I value for the potential of beating Democrats).
The best argument in favor of Mr. Trump is the duration of the harm Mrs. Clinton would wreak upon the nation through appointments to the Supreme Court. It’s a valid and important point.
But I can envision two plausible scenarios, the difference between which may trump even that concern:
If Hillary Clinton is elected president, it is likely that she will be an even bigger failure than Barack Obama has been. In 2018, Republicans reclaim the majority in the Senate (likely to be lost this year), pick up seats in the House, and unseat her in 2020 with a clear conservative mandate.
If Donald Trump is elected president, defying current betting odds nearly 3-to-1 against him, Democrats take full control of Congress in 2018 and in 2020 beat Mr. Trump (if he even runs for re-election), giving them full control of the federal government, much as Barack Obama had during his first two years in office. In the meantime, Trump all but dissolves the GOP.
As radical as it may seem to most Americans, the Pelosi/Reed/Warren left are upset that Barack Obama was not liberal enough during his time in office, or at least did not accomplish as much of the Progressive agenda as he should have given Democratic super-majorities in both houses of Congress in 2009 and 2010. They will not make that mistake again. Four years after Donald Trump wins election, we would see a Democratic rampage that makes the Obama years seem positively Reaganesque, and a defeated-from-within Republican Party unable to stand against it.
People are telling me to vote for the lesser of two evils. But I prefer not to vote for evil. And I’m not sure whether Hillary or Trump is the lesser evil on a time scale longer than two years.
Now that Mr. Trump is the Republican nominee, whatever the reason many of my friends (that means you, Jeff Lord!) decide to vote for him in November, I won’t criticize them for it. I understand the arguments and am not absolutely certain of my analysis.
But one thing I am certain of: No matter how many votes I may influence, if Hillary Clinton beats Donald Trump, it’s not “on me.” It’s on those who nominated Trump, those whose understandable anger with the establishment and business as usual caused them to believe that someone like Trump is a solution to the nation’s problems.
My life and the nation’s life will survive, albeit not unscathed, a President Clinton or a less likely President Trump. So I will not be cowed by voices crying “It’s on you” if the cost of silencing them is being unable to look in my children’s eyes and explain why I voted for a man whose behavior I would never tolerate from them, whose policies I think are somewhere between unserious and cataclysmic, and whose political impact is likely to empower Democrats for years to come.
To Donald Trump and all of you who supported his quest to become the Republican nominee I say: Sorry, but when Hillary Clinton wins by 200 electoral votes, it’s going to be on you.