09 May What to do now: Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Race
I never thought you would be reading this article, and I never thought I would be writing it. Like millions of other Americans, I never thought that the party of Lincoln and Reagan would go forward with nominating Donald Trump to be our candidate for the President of the United States. I have been heavily engaged in this primary, have written countless articles, posted and shared a plethora of thoughts, and invested significant time and treasure towards the outcomes I believed would be best for this country which I love, and the ideas of this country of which I am a devoted believer. My cause has lost the battle, for now, and it is only fair that I now publicly proclaim what path makes the most sense going forward for those of us who find Hillary Clinton contemptible, the further advancement of secular progressive liberalism unthinkable, and who believe in the basic principles on which our country was founded. Our cause does not have a candidate in this election, and that needs to be the first point made. I am not going through an internal debate over principle – neither candidate is even remotely in the stratosphere of what I believe in or want for America. The first step towards recovery is acceptance, and if you have not yet accepted this basic fact, it will be difficult to follow the remaining points I have to make. I am working through the best path forward for conservatives today under complete surrender to the reality that both candidates currently in this race are far, far outside the orthodoxies of basic, vanilla conservatism.
The need for me to write this article has diminished each day since Trump won Indiana and guaranteed a dismal 2016 result for our party. A plethora of posts have appeared that are far superior to what mine will prove to be. Some articles capture my feelings better than this will. If you still think Charles Krauthammer, Thomas Sowell, Andrew McCarthy, Jonah Goldberg, Kevin Williamson, Ben Shapiro, and Russ Douthat are better representatives of conservatism than Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, I suspect you have already read the best sentiments which my piece will be mostly re-stating.
Let me recap where we are, why I am writing this article, and who I believe I am writing it to. I am not writing it to make the case for why Trump must be stopped as the GOP nominee. I made that case for months and months, and I loved Marco Rubio as the Republican sword-bearer, and after he dropped out I got behind Ted Cruz. Trump won. I get that. I am assuming most folks reading this article are in the same camp: Trump wasn’t our choice, but now that he will be the nominee, what do we do? It is a fair question, and one I intend to answer with humility and conviction.
I suspect the basic thinking (with varying degrees of passion around some of these premises or the conclusion) is that Trump is a little wacky but he did win, the people have spoken, and Hillary is super-duper bad, so at the end of the day we may not like it but we just need to get behind the guy who won. Fair enough. He did win. A sufficient amount of voters in the GOP primary process did vote for him. Hillary really is bad. And as a general rule, “lesser of two evils” voting is exactly what we often have to do. I am not going to propose an end to “lesser of two evils” voting, but rather suggest to you that:
(a) Determining who is the “lesser of two evils” here is not nearly as simple as you may think, and
(b) The long-game here may provide a very different pragmatic twist than meets the eye. In other words, our cause may be irreparably damaged by a Trump win, where it could very well work out that a Hillary win will last for just four years
I have a high burden here, and I freely admit that I am writing this piece as a Californian where my vote will mean absolutely nothing. How I will vote or not vote is not very interesting. In order for this subject to have meat on the bone, we are really talking about who we should be rooting for on election night, or maybe how a conservative in a real battleground state ought to vote. A caveat is in order …
This entire article is unnecessary, in my honest opinion. I truly believe that all Trump foes (and especially all Trump supporters) are totally wasting their time as to what conservative Republicans ought to do with the November vote. Trump is going to lose so badly it will be stunning to all who have followed this process day by day. When I see that he has a six-point lead with Cubans in Florida, the smallest lead in the history of ever polling Cuban-Americans in south Florida (generally 70%+ Republican), I shudder at what could happen in November. When I see him tied in Georgia, and losing by 9 points in North Carolina, I wonder why we are wasting our oxygen on all of this. Trump supporters are quick to say, “well yes, he is losing, but if you all would get behind him he wouldn’t be!” Hogwash! He is down by the largest margin entering a general election contest since Dole/Clinton, and that ended really well, eh? He has the highest unfavorable in the history of Presidential politics. And his two worse demographics are the two that most have to shift to create an electoral shift: Hispanics, and suburban women. When you hear the argument that Trump puts states like New York in play, are you aware he is down by over 20 percentage points to Hillary there, and that in the primary the Democratic loser, Bernie Sanders, got more votes than Trump? We face an electoral bloodbath this fall, and when I see my conservative friends talk about the buzz, the rallies, the hype, the revolutionary change clamoring for an outsider, I just wonder why empirical data and basic common sense are all of a sudden supposed to be thrown out the window. But Hillary is beatable! Yes, she sure was. In fact, she would have lost to every single Republican nominee besides the one we nominated! But Hillary is crooked! By his own testimony, so is the one running against her (she took bribes; he offered them; potato-potahto). He will have six months to hammer her! And she will have six months to hammer him, and she will actually have a war chest with which to do it, and a media that is about to turn on Trump like Cleveland fans did when LeBron left for the Heat. Trump cannot finance a campaign, and do any of you believe he is going to find much success raising money after yelling for a year that he would finance his own campaign? What are the demographics that will give to this self-proclaimed billionaire? This isn’t going to be close.
So why write this article if I am so sure Trump will lose? Because (a) I could be wrong and he could win, and (b) We have to understand how much we have to gain and how much the Trumpkins have to lose when he does get creamed by Hillary, or if God forbid he actually becomes President. So whether it is A or B, our disposition now matters. Our integrity is on the line, but I respect that perhaps that is not your top priority right now. Our political future does matter, though, and it is my firm conviction that by opposing Trump from now all the way through the general election, whether he wins or loses, we position the conservatives for a re-grouping that can salvage the party of Reagan.
It is fascinating to me, by the way, that we conservatives are having this civil war. Where is the civil war on the left? How many of you believe the Bernie Sanders socialists will not show up and vote for Hillary? Bernie himself has been unwilling to remotely delve into Hillary’s sickening corruption as a public official, deeming her email scandal and Clinton Foundation filth “off limits” from early on. I may find the GOP nominee repulsive, but I have to say to my liberal and Democrat friends that your lack of conviction in condemning your own reprehensible candidate is stunning. This is a person who has no business holding the highest office in our land, and while Trump certainly does not either, at least there is a powerful and loud remnant of us on the right willing to say so. The left seems to have lost its soul. And anyone who thinks that my contempt for Donald Trump and the conflicted dunces who gave him this nomination means I am going to give Hillary Clinton a free ride are wrong. I frankly believe there is a small remnant of well-meaning (wrong), integrity-filled leftists in this country, and their radio silence on their party’s nominee is in stark contrast to the heroism of National Review and the earnest efforts of Shapiro, Erickson, Will, Sasse, Beck, Sowell and Kristol.
How can I say with a straight face that we do not know who the lesser of two evils is between Hillary and Trump? Isn’t she going to raise taxes on business owners? Trump said yesterday he will too. The one and only category I thought was a lay-up in Trump’s side of this calculus, he got rid of. Won’t she raise the minimum wage and put low income people out of work as businesses are forced to further automate or increase productivity with a smaller work force? Trump now says he will do the same thing, and reiterated the economically preposterous notion that the minimum wage must be a living wage. So far this “titan of business” is 0-for-2 in two pretty significant issues. What about free trade? Slam dunk for Clinton. She trounces him here, even with her disingenuous retreat from TPP during the campaign, she is eloquently able to defend the basic economics of free trade, while Trump sincerely throws around threats of a second Smoot-Hawley. National debt? Hillary continues to threaten big spending initiatives and is hardly acting like Joan of Arc with courage to take on the entitlement crisis, but which of the two candidates said this last Friday: “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal … And if the economy was good, it was good. So, therefore, you can’t lose.”
Got that conservatives? You can always just borrow into infinity, because if things don’t work out you just default, and if they do work out it is “all good.” Remind me never to invest in the bonds or stock of anyone who runs a casino or real estate empire this way, and while you’re at it, remind me to never vote for anyone for President who talks this way either. Do you believe that Trump is serious – that he actually thinks infinite debt borrowings are risk free for the future of our country, because we can just walk away as the debtor with leverage if we ever need to? I absolutely promise you he really believes that, and it is stunning that we are having this conversation amongst fiscal conservatives. Trump is being consistent with his own personal business history, which amounts to nothing more complex than a rich trust fund kid who got a ton of money from daddy, leveraged the hell out of it, walked away whenever things went poorly and brags to the point of nausea whenever things went well. Did you think your friends in 2002-2005 were geniuses who bragged about all the money they were making leveraging up flipper homes were geniuses? Did you think they were qualified to run for President? Trump is a brand-building marketer extraordinaire, but he has absolutely no framework of economics or fiscal management that anyone of us can objectively claim resembles our movement. Alexander Hamilton is appearing to me in dreams begging me to stop Trump. You just have to think this through.
No one has to defend Hillary to condemn Trump. She is going to be a disaster. We are going to suffer under her reign. But what is the category by which we believe Trump is seriously “better”? Maturity? Character? Seriousness of thought? I prefer P.J. O’Rourke’s assessment: “She is wrong within normal parameters.” She is the “devil we know”; Trump is “the devil we don’t.” They are abysmal choices, but it stretches the bounds of reason to claim that Trump is some vastly superior choice. With that said, they are the two running. What do we do?
Keeping in mind my earlier stated premises that Trump is going to get pounded, we have to start thinking hard about the differences between Hillary Clinton with a GOP Senate/House and Hillary Clinton with a Democrat Senate/House. What if we devote six months to winning or protecting challenging Senate seats around the country? Can Hillary put the capital gain tax rate at 44% if the Senate is still Republican-led? Of course not. Will she appoint a bad judge to replace Scalia? She sure will, but we can fight and fight to block and obstruct and insist on the best possible justice we can get. Will Hillary replace three more justices? I doubt it, but the most likely contenders for being replaced are themselves already far left (Ginsburg, Breyer). We can and will survive four years of Hillary. We cannot survive 25-30 years of liberal control.
And that is what we face if we do not stand in principled opposition to Donald Trump. The next President is going to be a one-term President. It is nearly impossible to think that we will go another four years without a recession, either a cyclical and natural one, or a self-imposed one behind stupid policy (trade war with China, anyone?). A conservative movement that gets in bed with Trump now will have no leg to stand on in four years when it is time to replace the White House occupant. The media will not let the people forget it. The party will be stained, and rightly so. A remnant is needed. A remnant that the Democrats will not have. Hillary Clinton is going to stretch for legacy, and do much harm to our great country. The people will need a replacement. That replacement cannot come from a movement that promoted a philandering reality TV star twitter hero for the Presidency.
Why not a third party run now? Very simply – it will lose, and then it will give the Trumpkins something to blame. Defending the Senate is lower hanging fruit for those of us trying to be strategic in this mess of a situation. I freely admit that if all of a sudden a totally viable third party option surfaced, and a real path to victory existed, I would be on board in this election cycle. Such is my fear of both Trump and Hillary. But until the facts change, I simply see no path for this to work. We are stuck, and our play must be on defending the Senate, and preparing to replace whichever of these two candidates is to be pulled from the dumpster fire presidency they are about to embark on.
Republicanism is merely a vessel for conservatism – a “bottle holding the wine” as Jonah Goldberg has recently said. Even with flawed candidates, the Republican party has been the best game in town for conservatives for many, many years. When I hear conservatives complain about how poorly it is done, I feel angst over our inability to demonstrate how much incremental progress has been made. These folks forget the state of the party just one generation ago. The caliber of many conservatives we have in the House and the Senate is unbelievable. “But they didn’t overturn ObamaCare?” Sorry, but they didn’t have the votes to do so, and every protest of Sean Hannity about how inept this group has been ignores the inconvenient reality of Madisonian separation of powers. Am I distressed that House and Senate leadership have not been better advocates of conservatism? Of course! Do I see the solution to frustrations with our party being in permanently sabotaging the movement our party is supposed to harvest? This is the greatest non-sequitur in the history of politics: “I am so mad about failed conservatives in politics, that I will elect a non-conservative, someone hostile to conservative principles, to be our Republican nominee.”
“But he will make American great again!” The messianic claims of the Trump-rallying advocates distresses me greatly. I actually believe conservatives owe this poor lady a huge apology, who famously said for 5 million YouTube viewers in 2008 that when Obama was President she would no longer have to worry about putting gas in her car. It was sad, uninformed, and somewhat funny, but what are we to say now about millions of people saying the exact same thing about Donald Trump, on absolutely no basis in evidence, policy, or substance? The Dems elected their cult of personality in 2008 and we rightly mocked them. How do you feel now that the shoe is on the other foot, and so many in our movement are doing the exact same thing? This insanity needs to stop.
Donald Trump is going to lose. I believe we will hear more and more, rightfully so, of the bat-*&^% crazy people Trump is affiliated with – conspiracy quacks and other such characters that until now no one has been willing to highlight publicly. Perhaps the Hillary Clinton campaign will take the same approach to Alex Jones and Roger Stone that John McCain took to Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers in 2008. If you believe that, you might just be a Trump supporter. No, in fact Hillary will do what no one at Fox News seems willing to do now – point out Trump’s utter craziness. Why not get this stench off of us now, and work to save the Senate? Hillary is going to replace Scalia. I hate that fact. But it is going to happen. We had every chance to see to it that Rubio or Walker or Perry or Cruz or any number of fine candidates stood in those shoes. Only one nominee was going to lose to Hillary, and that is who we nominated. There was only one real #NeverHillary movement, and it went by the name of #NeverTrump.
I respect my friends who believe that we just have no choice now but to close our eyes, plug our nose, and vote for Trump. I do not respect those who have carried Trump’s water, and advocated for him before we got to this mess in which we find ourselves. I have no respect for Sean Hannity, Eric Bolling, Laura Ingraham, or other folks who have, in my honest and humble estimation, totally lost the right to use the label “conservative.” This is not personal, and I frankly agree with my very dear friend, Larry Kudlow, that politics must never, ever be allowed to ruin friendships. I know it happens, but it shouldn’t. It won’t happen for me. I may be running a list of those in the public eye who I believe sold their soul over this Trump debacle, but those who are in my life who feel differently than I do about this are still my friends, even though I think they are just God-awful wrong on this issue.
What we face now is a matter of (a) Tactics, and (b) Integrity. I am advocating for a response to the Trump nomination that will not leave the stink on our bodies and souls when this man blows up (in defeat to Hillary, or in the snowball’s chance in you-know-where of a Presidential win). Friends, a Trump win is not going to be good. He is showing you day by day why you should be scared out of your wits about this. And then you’re going to own it, because you broke it. The Dems were down and out for a long time because they couldn’t stand up to Jimmy Carter. We simply must prepare ourselves for the fight ahead, which is in diminishing the power of Hillary Clinton by preserving divided government, and then in replacing Hillary in 2020 with a pro-growth candidate of character and seriousness.
And for my fellow political junkies suffering from the same malady I struggle with from time to time, wrongly but understandably believing that our politics will lead our culture, and not the other way around: No matter who resides in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this time next year, the problems in our society that cause us to nominate a Hillary Clinton or a Donald Trump are problems that must be fixed in the culture first, and then the politics will follow. This does not alleviate the burden those of us who care for the political sphere have, but it ought to re-center the priorities and better understand the real concern. A cultural deficiency created Donald Trump, not John Boehner. If you know nothing else, know this.
David French’s recent piece was reliably solid, and captures the essence of our personal responsibility in this whole situation:
” … conservatives need to live their values. If we seek integrity in politics, we should act with integrity in politics. Advocate limited government while helping your neighbor. Have the courage to fight the small battles in your community, but do so with grace. Defend religious liberty for the purpose of living faithfully. Leave self-righteousness to the social-justice warriors. We know — now more than ever — that a great nation needs good citizens. It’s our obligation to be the citizens our nation needs.”
I leave you with that. The Presidency is not so vital to American life that we must sell our souls by backing Donald Trump. Because my prayer is for a Republican party that carries the vessel of conservatism, even if it will often be a flawed or incomplete one, I cannot and will not pull a lever for Donald Trump. I urge all like-minded friends to join me in the cause of preserving a Buckleyite conservatism, and preserving the party of Lincoln and Reagan.
P.S. – I meant what I said. If a third party conversation starts getting legs, I am all ears, and all checkbook.