Conservatives should not vote for Donald Trump. Not even in a general election matchup with Hillary Clinton.
Politics is about the art of the possible and often choosing the lesser of two evils. That’s why I have walked precincts in the rain for “Establishment” Republicans who don’t fully share my conservative philosophy and who, I knew, would disappoint me were they elected. My bar for who is acceptable has been low. But Donald Trump cannot clear that bar.
First, he begins as a liberal Republican, arguably more liberal than any other Republican presidential candidate in recent memory. He repeatedly praises Planned Parenthood. He has given lots of money to liberal politicians – including Hillary Clinton. He wants the government to run health care. He opposes entitlement reform. He supported the Obama stimulus spending plan, the auto bailout and the banks bailout. He opposes free trade agreements. Trump is much closer to the Democratic Party than the Republican.
And this is just the primary. I can only imagine how liberal he will become if he wins the nomination and pivots to pick up more General Election voters.
More importantly, Trump is a threat to our democratic republic. I am a constitutionalist. My conservatism runs deep, all the way back to the Founders. The democratic republic enshrined in our Constitution is precious to me. Popular sovereignty is all too rare in the history of the world. The Founders themselves knew how fragile it is and were less than certain that their Experiment would prevail. Lex Rex – that law is king – lies at the heart of our Republic, which is one reason the Obama administration’s various executive actions breaching the clear bounds of the law have been anathema to me.
Donald Trump shows signs of building on that ignominious precedent. He has vowed to require military leaders to obey his edicts, even when they are unlawful. “If I say do it, they are going to do it,” he said. These are the words of someone who thinks he is above the law, not an office holder beholden to the Constitution. Trump promises to be strong, but at the price of the constitutional order conservatives hold dear.
But, you may protest, what about the Supreme Court? Can conservatives vote against Trump if it results in Hillary Clinton picking Scalia’s successor? Replacing one or more conservative justices could lock in liberal judicial gains for a generation, perhaps ushering in even more deleterious decisions.
First, Trump has said his sister, a liberal judge on the Third Circuit who voted to strike down the Partial Birth Abortion ban, would be a “phenomenal” Supreme Court Justice. I have no confidence that a President Trump would make a good Supreme Court nomination. But suppose he’s likely to make at least a better pick than Clinton would. Isn’t that a reason to vote for Trump?
No. We would be gambling on a good Supreme Court nomination at the price of constitutional integrity – and this coming from a Republican President leading a party that prides itself on originalist jurisprudence. I do not trust him to bow to the authority of the Constitution or the laws of Congress. He is running on a platform of strength and action, and our Constitution was formed to hobble not just quick lawmaking but the very kind of strong-man governance Trump wishes to embody.
I suspect a sizable portion of the electorate is tiring not just of “Establishment Republicans” but with the inherent strictures of limited government, checks and balances, and the Framers’ predilection for compromise. As I first wrote 15 years ago, “culture is upstream from politics.” A divided country leads inevitably to a divided polity. And impatience with the messiness inherent in forging e pluribus Unum – “out of many, one” – may be leading erstwhile defenders of the American experiment to prefer the strong man who can get things done, constitutional limits be damned.
Finally, Trump is coarse and vulgar. He contradicts what I aspire to be and teach my children to be: careful, thoughtful, humble, fair, and civil. Trump reflects the worst of what American culture offers in the gutter media. And he is proud of it.
For me, voting against a Trump candidacy in November is an easy choice. If enough of my fellow conservatives agree with me, Trump’s defeat may well lead to the renewal of the Republican Party or the birth of a new party that appeals to “the better angels of our nature,” as Abraham Lincoln said in his First Inaugural Address. Either way, everything that first led me to the Republican Party leads me to vigorously oppose Trump, come what may.