In 1980 I voted for Ronald Reagan for president, someone whose campaign I’d written press releases for in my congressional district during the run up to the 1976 Texas primary. Choosing Reagan was easy for the simple reason that I believed in the same things he believed and judged him a man of such character that I took it for granted he would do his utmost to fight for conservatism.
2012 was not as happy a moment as 1980 had been—not for me—but I checked off Mitt Romney’s name and not because he was the lesser of two evils. Mitt wasn’t my first choice before the convention; I’m not prepared to say he was my second choice. But, again, judgment came to the rescue.
Here was a man of undeniable decency and competence; unlike his execrable opponent there wasn’t a demagogic bone in his body. I didn’t look for miracles from him, but he seemed—and I think appearances matched reality—a man who saw with sufficient clarity and sense the dangerous state of the Middle East as well as the growing danger of Russia. Moreover, Romney was manifestly one who knew that a business or a country couldn’t indefinitely spend what it didn’t have. The vote for Mitt proved relatively easy.
Over the course of the 2016 campaign, I have read essay after essay, at least by those who aren’t thoroughly enamored with him, that conservatives, moderate Republicans, and independents must cast their votes for Donald Trump because he is the lesser of two evils. I even heard one Fox News commentator declare that all elections resolve themselves on settling that simple proposition: Who is less evil?
If there is any indicator of the desperate state of our country, it’s the cynical view that we no longer have moral, qualified, and patriotic men fit for office. We’re left with the doleful choice of the more or less marginally disastrous. A few voices at National Review Online (Victor Davis Hanson, Jeremy Carl—omitting the cheerleading Conrad Black) and recently here at The Christian Review, the litany of Trump as the lesser of two evils has risen to the level of political wisdom. At Fox News Sean Hannity cited Bill Buckley in urging #NeverTrumpers such as I to vote for the most conservative candidate that could win.
My answer to all of these men (who are sincere and, with perhaps the exception of Hannity, would love to see a different nominee) is simple: Trump is not the most conservative candidate that can win because he is not a conservative. Anyone who takes a careful look at his past or for that matter his present will be hard-pressed to find any dedication to conservative principles: the belief in limits of the state (based on the limits of man himself) and fidelity to the institutions designed to safeguard our God-given liberties in the Constitution.
In the place of American political wisdom, what does Trump propose? Simply himself. He’ll “fix” things; “trust” him. He’s a businessman; he’ll bring the sense that has made him a success to Washington and make our economy “better than ever.”
Suppose for a moment that Trump is not a celebrity; that he’s just a man with a track record sans the millions he got from his dad’s real estate business. He comes to you for a job, assuring you that everything he does will be incredible, terrific, better than it’s ever been. Do you take him at his word or do you look at his resume? If you have any sense, you’ll do the latter, and what you’ll find is at best a spotty record of success and failure in which the successes amount to excess glitz (Trump Tower, the “Taj”) and the failures to multiple bankruptcies.
Keep in mind that under this scenario the relatively recent resurgence of Trump’s fortunes stands on the rickety scaffolding of the Trump “brand,” itself somewhat suspect. (When’s the last time you ate a Trump steak or drank an overpriced Trump wine?) Some resume! Would you hire him?
Is the United States to be the next failed enterprise with the Trump label on it?
Ah! But what about Hillary? If we don’t vote for Trump, we’ll get her: a “terrible” (Trump’s lingo), ruthless, leftist harpy (my lingo). (Funny, by the way, how seldom Trump attacks Hillary for her political principles.) To be sure, she is frightening. She’ll wreck the Supreme Court for a decade or more, unless the Senate puts its foot down and, for a change, refuses to ratify a nominee who clearly won’t uphold the Constitution. (But maybe they will.) She’ll throw fuel on the Middle Eastern fire she helped build. She’ll open the borders.
My question is, what will the lesser of two evils himself do? Extinguish the fires of ISIS? In his mind he will; however, Trump is a multi-billionaire in his mind too, but where are those tax returns? Will he scrap NATO, cut Japan loose, rattle his sabre at the Chinese, hug Putin? Is that a recipe for foreign policy success or a stable world? Domestically, does he know a hawk from a handsaw when it comes to nominating potential Supreme Court justices? Look at the men he’s surrounded himself with: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Corey Lewandowski. Do they inspire confidence? Or do they and fearless leader conjure up a rosy picture of the United States marching to the tune of the Chiquita Banana song?
On the desktop of my computer, thanks to a Jonah Goldberg link, I have a picture of Alexander Hamilton with this quotation superimposed: “If we must have an enemy at the head of government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible, who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolish and bad measures.” Disgrace and foolishness are Trump’s middle names; they stem from a defective soul and a dearth of identifiable principle. The lesser of two evils? Maybe, just barely. But evil is evil. As Christians, conservatives, and men of good will, we should never feel obliged or called to endorse it. Endure it, yes, when we must. Let’s do so with a clear conscience.