After decades of lackluster presidential nominees who embodied various diluted forms of center-right thought, this year we finally had an authentic, passionate movement conservative to rally around in Ted Cruz. Finally we had an opportunity to restore the Constitution, liberty, and prosperity; to take real steps toward ending the massacre of abortion, to shrink government rather than slow its growth, to turn the tide of America’s culture war and put the Left on the defensive for a change. Finally we had our chance to vindicate conservatism against the cancerous moderation espoused by the Republican establishment.
And we blew it. Thanks to a perfect storm of primary voters letting themselves be conned by a clown and divided among a half-dozen mediocrities and vanity candidates, and too few conservative leaders willing to show leadership and make clear that Cruz was the only serious choice, instead we’re now stuck with Donald Trump as the GOP nominee for President of the United States. A choice so manifestly terrible that it seemed inconceivable a year ago. Yet here we are.
So patriots have a decision to make: hold our nose and vote for Trump to protect the country from Hillary Clinton, or stay home to protest Trump’s lack of character, competence, and conservatism? My answer has wavered back and forth over the past year, so I hope this review of all the arguments for and against will help similarly conflicted conservatives find a definitive answer.
Before diving in, let’s dismiss two unserious options out of hand: voting for Hillary Clinton (such a despicable, asinine idea that those who’ve written and published it should be ashamed of themselves), and voting for a third-party or independent candidate (no, not even that obnoxious imbecile Austin Petersen who gives Glenn Beck such a tingle up his leg). It’s simply delusional to believe the latter could actually become president, so if you’re doing it for the symbolism it’s functionally no different than staying home. If you absolutely must put down another name at the ballot box, at least choose a deserving and likely future nominee by writing in Ted Cruz.
(Caveat: if by some bizarre, infinitesimal, miraculous twist of fate a quality conservative somehow uncovers the secret path for an independent candidate to reach the White House, I of course reserve the right to take that back and revise the conclusion of this post.)
That said, let’s begin.
YES: Trump at least has the potential to deliver several major conservative outcomes, including steps toward finally fixing America’s border security and immigration system (which would halt an existential threat to conservatism), signing a range of pro-life legislation, building up the military, cutting taxes, enacting right to work, repealing Obamacare and restoring more healthcare freedom to the states, blocking gun-grab efforts, abolishing the Department of Education and EPA (or at least pushing more education closer to the states), reducing economic regulations, and moving toward the gold standard.
Verdict: True. Trump has said he would do all of these things as president, and taken at face value it’s a pretty thorough conservative agenda. Even getting half of them would push America dramatically in the right direction.
Of course, “face value” is the problem…
NO: Trump doesn’t really believe in conservatism, and has a long record of taking left-wing positions on many (most? All?) of the items above. He could get in office and immediately turn against conservatives on any number of issues, or start out proposing conservative policies only to water them down and accept liberal ones over the course of negotiations in the name of deal making.
Verdict: True, but Overstated. Of course Trump is no conservative, and his horse-trading, exaggerate-the-opening-bid approach to politics is tailor-made for such capitulations. However, he’s not a true believer for liberalism, either; he simply parrots whatever’s personally expedient at the moment. That’s not what we should want in a president, but it does mean there are selfish incentives for him to satisfy his base and stay within the basics of GOP orthodoxy on the things his base is less passionate about (i.e., anything but immigration and trade). In fact, his clear disinterest in the nitty-gritty of policymaking means he’s largely going to outsource the details, and the people to whom he’s outsourced immigration, taxes, and pro-life so far have been encouraging.
YES: The possibility of Trump veering left on various issues is negated and outweighed by the certainty that Hillary Clinton will pursue the left-wing course on virtually everything, just as Trump’s poor character and dishonesty are canceled out by the alternative being at least as immoral, unethical, and dishonest.
Verdict: True. If the policies coming out of the White House for the next four years are your sole concern, then pulling the lever for Trump over Clinton is easy. Even if we make an extremely pessimistic projection that Trump’s presidency would be 75% liberal, that 75% would be a wash, and the added 25% we know for sure would be liberal with Hillary could make a great deal of difference.
NO: If Republicans kept control of at least one chamber of Congress, they would be more likely to block liberal policies coming from a Democrat president than they would the same or similar policies coming from a Republican president, like how Republicans eventually forced Bill Clinton to accept a balanced budget and welfare reform, only to turn around and rubber-stamp George W. Bush’s spending and growth of government.
Verdict: False. This is, sadly, far less likely than #NeverTrump assumes. First, it overlooks the limits of an opposition party’s ability to protect the country from a negligent president; nobody would say Congress’s victories over Clinton were a fair trade-off for 9/11. Second, Republicans (after being pressured by constituents) did block Bush on a few things, including his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, amnesty, and the United Arab Emirates port deal. Third, Republicans standing up to Clinton is hardly a sure thing after watching them surrender to Obama on the Iran deal, spending, and defunding Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, and his illegal executive amnesty. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, signing bills is only half the danger of a Democrat president. The other half is all the ways Clinton would follow Barack Obama’s example and use the bureaucracy and executive fiat for countless additional outrages—dragging states into court over their voter ID laws, constantly redefining “discrimination” to control and punish private citizens, releasing detained jihadists and illegal immigrants, using the IRS to persecute conservatives…at the very least, these are things we can be sure Trump wouldn’t do. And fifth, this hope assumes that Republicans retain Congress—too big an assumption on which to gamble the fate of the country.
But there’s bad policies, and then there’s…
NO: Trump’s an authoritarian who doesn’t cherish liberty, respect the Constitution, or feel bound by constraints on executive power.
Verdict: True, but…Again, it’s a wash. Hillary is at least as bad on all those counts, and unlike Trump would be doing so with the full support of the American Left and its mouthpieces in media, academia, and pop culture. And there’s another key difference. While Republicans were too cowardly to impeach Obama, Democrats wouldn’t hesitate to impeach Trump—and if he deserved it, they’d certainly find enough Republicans to join them.
Speaking of the Constitution…
YES: The Supreme Court is too critical to let Clinton make it more activist, whereas Trump (who doesn’t have his own judicial philosophy) could dramatically reshape it for the better by simply nominating whoever the Right feeds him (the most liberal justices are the oldest, making it especially important that we be in a position to replace them with originalists).
Verdict: True. A Hillary win means that, at the very least, a judicial activist replaces Antonin Scalia, giving the Left a 6-3 majority…at best. Not counting the traitorous John Roberts, conservatives have only two reliable Justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, and they’re 68 and 66 (healthy, but not long-term locks). If Hillary gets the chance to replace at least one of them with a leftist, conservatism and liberty would be set back decades. Plus, even though swapping out Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer for newer models wouldn’t change SCOTUS’s balance, it would deprive Hillary’s GOP successor of the opportunity to shift it rightward (worst-case scenario: Hillary names four to six justices, too many for her successor’s nominees to negate). Even her replacing 80-year-old Anthony Kennedy would hurt us, since he’s at least erratic enough to sometimes stumble upon the right decision.
However, even more than that is at stake over the long term. For instance…
NO: Making Trump president will make him the de facto leader of the conservative movement, which will redefine conservatism for the worse, and tell the GOP they don’t have to run committed conservatives.
Verdict: Maybe, but…First, none of those effects will even come close to the powerless irrelevance conservatism will be reduced to if Hillary’s Supreme Court further forbids the elected branches of government from legislating conservative policies, or if Hillary imports, legalizes and naturalizes enough illegal immigrants to keep conservatives from ever winning a national majority again. Second, while there are some pathetic sellouts trying to spin Trump as a legitimate reflection of conservatism, most actual conservatives are smart and principled enough to know the difference between their philosophy and a temporary officeholder doing a job (after all, we’re supposed to be the side that doesn’t see politicians as grand conduits for the national conscience). Third, Trump is neither the first nor the biggest force clouding or diluting conservatism…just the only one we’re agitated enough to put our foot down against (see libertarianism, foreign policy incoherence, abandoning marriage, the open-borders crowd, & our high tolerance for establishment types). Clarifying and fortifying conservatism is a major, long-neglected process the Right needs to start anyway, and in the grand scheme of things Trump’s impact on it will be minimal.
On the flip side…
YES: Even though Trump’s tough stands against illegal immigration and political correctness are almost certainly insincere, winning the presidency after running on them would be a seismic rebuke to inane GOP conventional wisdom that has led so many candidates to campaign and govern like moderate cowards.
Verdict: True, up to a Point. This isn’t a guarantee—Trump could revert back to his pro-amnesty ways, and we know the GOP establishment bet on their hope that Trump will leave more of the status quo standing than Cruz would have—but as long as he at least continues to campaign on those two things, countless Republican candidates would see unmistakable proof that everything they thought they knew about electability, messaging, and running to the center was dead wrong. That desperately overdue message could be a game changer.
Finally, what I consider the strongest #NeverTrump argument…
NO: If the GOP’s embrace of Trump to avoid Cruz’s principled conservatism was punished with resounding electoral defeat, it would bring the Republican Party closer to its destruction, and we desperately need to replace this craven, failed institution with a serious conservative party.
Verdict: Sadly False. This is what kept me on board #NeverTrump the longest. I am thoroughly convinced the Republican Party is beyond saving. If this actually happened, four years of Hillary Clinton might be worth it…but looking objectively, I have to conclude that Trump losing wouldn’t make it happen. First, party leadership and elites never learn the right lesson from defeat (or victory) anyway, so don’t expect them to do anything with a Trump loss except spin it as a reason the next nominee needs to be more moderate, especially on immigration. Second, with the primary electorate being so divided and 80% of Republicans now wanting the party to support Trump, the contingent of the party alienated enough by Trump to bolt if he loses simply isn’t big enough to topple the party. Third, even if a new party did arise, as discussed above Hillary has the potential to make it irrelevant through amnesty and the judiciary.
But most importantly, conservatives haven’t come close to laying groundwork for a replacement party, or even reaching a consensus on the principles and priorities for such a party. Which of the Right’s foreign policy or immigration factions would dominate? Would it have a pro-life litmus test? Would it demand all its legislators be comfortable with exercising Congress’s power of the purse? Would it prioritize the defense of marriage? How would it craft a tent that’s big enough for strategic or pragmatic differences, but small enough to establish unity on the issues? These and dozens upon dozens of other questions would have to be hashed out, which is going to be a long and contentious process. Hell, the Right doesn’t even have a consensus that we need a new party. Many still cling to the idea that the GOP is salvageable.
So yes, the GOP needs to be burned to the ground, but we have to build conservatives’ new home before striking the matches, or we risk immolating conservatism alongside it.
And so with great reluctance, I conclude that to protect my country from the incalculable devastation Hillary Clinton will rain down, and to preserve conservatism against the threat she poses to its future viability, I have no choice but to vote for Donald Trump.
I’m sure this will surprise and disappoint some friends and readers, at least initially (others may wrongly assume it was inevitable). Frankly, for a while the opposite call was easy for me to make without much self-reflection, because I figured Trump’s chances of winning were so low anyway that I might as well stay home and look ahead to Cruz 2020. But with the possibility of him actually being competitive against Hillary arising, I had to honestly, objectively confront my own assumptions, and I truly believe this is the only responsible course given what’s at stake.
This does not mean I’m embracing Trump or his sins. I continue to believe he is an embarrassing wretch of a human being. My anger at Trump for his misdeeds, and at those who sold their souls to push him ahead of Cruz, has not cooled one degree. So you will never hear me insult your intelligence by claiming Trump is a good man, a conservative, a patriot, or a competent statesman (on that note, don’t sugarcoat him if you really want to convince skeptics to vote for him; you’ll just harden their opposition). I will continue to objectively judge his every move. And I can’t blame or judge anyone who still feels so morally and intellectually repulsed by Trump that they can’t bring themselves to vote for him.
But I’m not voting for a standard bearer, a movement leader, or a voice of the country. I’m voting to grab the only weapon remaining within reach, a blunt force instrument with which to keep the Left from tearing America apart.
I fully expect Donald Trump to be a terrible president, but I know that a Hillary Clinton presidency would inflict vastly more suffering on the country, and potentially end conservatism’s ability to set things right. Donald Trump will not Make America Great Again, but right now he’s our only shot at keeping a path open long enough for a future president, most likely Ted Cruz, who will.