In a White House race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I’d prefer Clinton, just as I’d prefer Malaria to Ebola.
In most cases, Malaria is curable. Ebola is more often deadly.
This is not an easy admission for me to make. As a conservative opinion journalist and commentator, I have been harshly critical of Hillary Clinton my entire career. Corruption follows the Clintons like cable news follows Trump, and I believe Hillary’s policies would do serious damage to the U.S., both at home and abroad.
But as bad as Hillary would be as president, there is little threat another Clinton presidency would end the American system as we know it. You can’t be so sure with Trump. What are the odds a President Donald Trump would attempt to become honest-to-God American dictator? Five percent? Ten percent? No one can say for sure, but certainly greater than any other presidential contender in my lifetime.
I am not the only conservative to declare they would vote for Hillary if the race was between her and Trump, or at least suggest they would contemplate it. In February, Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle asked those part of the #NeverTrump movement to email her why they arrived at their decision to never support Trump as the Republican nominee. She reported she got hundreds of emails. “They wrote in the strongest possible language, and many were adamant that they would not stay home on Election Day, but in fact would vote for Hillary Clinton in the general and perhaps leave the Republican Party for good,” she explained.
Red State editor Leon Wolf wrote in March that in a Trump-Hillary race he “will either not vote, or will watch to see if Donald can successfully push me into voting for Hillary (he’s trying very hard every day but I’m resistant).”
Ben Howe, who also writes for RedState, took it one step further, pledging to “phone bank for Hillary if Trump is nominated.”
These are not the type of faux “conservatives” who supported Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008. These are people who would readily cast a ballot for someone as conservative as Ted Cruz if he won the Republican nomination. For some, Trump represents an existential threat to the conservative movement. For others, like myself, it is more that the Republican front-runner is a potential threat to the American system.
Throughout his life and during his campaign for president, Trump has expressed admiration for the raw exercise of power, viewing some of the most disgusting displays of force by dictators as beautiful demonstrations of strength.
It is one thing to reluctantly recognize that in pursuit of our national interests, the U.S. has to tolerate and sometimes even ally with some very odious regimes, at least temporarily. It is a far different thing to express respect for murderous despots for the very acts that make them so despicable.
“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it,” Trump said in an interview the year after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, where the Chinese regime killed as many as a few thousand pro-democracy protesters. “Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak.”
When asked by Joe Scarborough on “Morning Joe” in December to respond to Vladimir Putin’s praise of him, Trump stated: “When people call you ‘brilliant’ it’s always good, especially when the person heads up Russia.”
When Scarborough and Willie Geist jumped in to point out that Putin kills journalists, political opponents and national boundaries with impunity, Trump was unfazed.
“He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” he said.
Confronted with these past comments at the last Republican presidential debate in Miami, Trump argued he wasn’t necessarily “endorsing” the regimes by noting their strength. But any fair reading of his words suggests otherwise.
Like most aspiring despots, Trump can’t stand criticism and has declared on a number of occasions that he would support weakening the First Amendment’s protection of free speech as president.
“One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do, and we’re certainly leading, is I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” he said during one rally. “We’re going to open up those libel laws so that when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”
The United States has survived as the oldest constitutional Republic in the world in no small part because it has had political leaders of all ideological stripes who accepted the results of elections. Trump seems to be an entirely different animal. Already he is hinting that his supporters may “riot” if he is denied the Republican nomination. Trump campaign ally Roger Stone has threatened to reveal the room numbers of delegates in Cleveland who won’t back The Donald. Even after Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election, Trump took to Twitter to demand a revolution.
There is little evidence that Trump has much understanding of America’s constitutional system and even less evidence that he has any abiding respect for it.
Trump promises he will make America great again through competent management and by surrounding himself with the best people, but so far he has surrounded himself predominantly with incompetents and, more alarmingly, thugs. His lawyer Michael Cohen threatened to sue a reporter “for every dollar he still doesn’t have” and “mess [his] life up… for as long as [he’s] on this frickin’ planet” if he published an article unfavorable to Trump, and his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has been accused of a number of disreputable acts, including grabbing and bruising my girlfriend, former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, while she was attempting to interview Trump after a campaign event. Just imagine if Trump and his not-so-merry band of bullies had control of the IRS and the FBI?
The best argument for conservatives to get in line behind Trump if he wins the Republican nomination centers around the judiciary. “We know who Hillary Clinton will nominate for the Supreme Court,” the argument goes, “at least there is a chance Trump will nominate originalists.”
Given that the next president might be in a position to nominate two or more Supreme Court justices and shape the trajectory of the court for a generation, this would normally be a compelling argument. But the concern many conservatives have is not just that Trump is an ideological phony that can’t actually be relied upon to appoint originalists to the court. It is that Trump’s authoritarian tendencies could actually threaten the American system no matter who he picks for the Supreme Court.
Could Trump actually seize dictatorial powers? America’s institutions are probably strong enough to prevent any attempt a President Trump might make to consolidate power. But the fact that this question even has to be raised is a strong enough argument to never cast a ballot for him.
What’s more is that Trump may actually have worse economic and foreign policies than Clinton, which is saying something. Despite his bombastic rhetoric about “bomb[ing] the hell” out of ISIS, Trump has mainly articulated a “come home America” non-interventionist foreign policy. Economically, Trump has proposed raising tariffs on China and Mexico, which economists of nearly all-political stripes believe would devastate America’s economy.
For all Hillary Clinton’s many, many domestic and foreign policy faults and failures, she has not proposed dismantling the national security infrastructure America has built up since World War II or initiating destructive trade wars. Make no mistake, a Clinton presidency would be bad for the Republic. A Trump presidency would be potentially cataclysmic.
So if forced to choose between the Malaria and Ebola, I would hold my nose and pick Malaria. America can recover from political Malaria. It’s not so clear it can recover from political Ebola.Fortunately for conservatives (and America), there is a chance this unpalatable option is not all that’s offered in November, which is why only a few conservatives are readily volunteering they would vote for Hillary, or consider voting for Hillary, in such a scenario. Cruz’s loss in Indiana functionally assures Trump will be the Republican nominee. But there is still a chance a serious conservative third party ticket would emerge that would present a more palatable option for conservatives than either Clinton or Trump.
But if it’s Trump-Hillary with no serious third party option in the fall, as hard as it is for me to believe I am actually writing these words, there is just no question: I’d take a Tums and cast my ballot for Hillary — and I suspect so would many other life-long conservatives, whether they are willing to admit it now or not.