On Friday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie endorsed Donald Trump, stepping on whatever debate momentum Senator Marco Rubio had and becoming the first major elected official to support the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for President. Conservatives lit up the Governor for his endorsement with some like Erick Erickson pledging never to support Trump. In fact, #NeverTrump was trending across the United States on Friday night as conservatives lined up against Trump, making the same pledge as Erickson. This is a mistake.
Let me be clear, I am not suggesting conservatives vote for Trump in the Republican primary as I am not a Trump supporter. I have supported Ohio Governor John Kasich since he announced last summer and continue to today (full disclosure: I have also donated to his campaign). I believe Kasich is the only candidate running today with any meaningful accomplishments in government, has an excellent record in Ohio, plays to our hopes rather than our fears, and is eminently electable. Across the board, Kasich is a better choice than Trump or Rubio or Senator Ted Cruz. I hope you vote for him in the primary.
That said, Trump is the clear frontrunner for the nomination (I would peg his odds at roughly 70%), and for the sake of argument, let’s assume he is the nominee. What should conservatives do in the General when he faces Clinton? Those saying #NeverTrump are pledging not to vote for him in that election, which is an error. Conservatives have five choices: stay home, vote 3rd party, don’t vote in the Presidential election but vote in down-ballot races, vote Hillary Clinton, or vote Trump. Hopefully, we agree staying home is the worst choice and a dereliction of civic duty. There are still important down-ballot races with qualified conservatives, and those candidates need our support. In the event of a credible 3rd party candidate (I would define credible as consistently polling in the 20’s), there may be a strong case to vote for that person over Trump or Hillary (I think this may happen with Mitt Romney possibly running as an independent conservative). Let’s set that scenario aside, as the question is whether it is wise to pledge never to support Trump, no if, ands, or buts. That leaves: Trump, Hillary, or blank ballot.
Ultimately, choosing a blank ballot or voting for Hillary makes it more likely she will be President by lowering the number of Democrat and Independent votes she must draw. I struggle to see how conservatives are better off with Clinton than Trump. Yes, Trump has changed positions on many issues over the years, but Clinton is a committed leftist who has moved further left to ward off the challenge from a socialist. On matters of policy, I am sympathetic to the notion Trump is a wildcard given his inconsistency, but is he going to be worse than Hillary? Yes, there is a risk Trump nominates a liberal to the Supreme Court, but is there any doubt Hillary would? Sometimes, you are better with the devil you don’t know than the devil you do, which would be the case in a Trump v. Clinton election even for conservatives more dubious of Trump than me.
In a vacuum, would Donald Trump be my choice for President? No, but general elections are choices. Not choosing one is a choice for the other; opposing Trump helps Hillary. Trump is a gamble, yes, but Clinton is a sure-fire losing hand. Relative to Hillary, the risk of a Trump Presidency is skewed to the upside. Trump is also not wrong on everything; he is right we need to be tougher on China. They hack our systems, steal our intellectual property, and are taking territory in the China Sea. He is right that the working class is being screwed; median wages are lower than when George W. Bush became President. Both parties are to blame. On foreign affairs, I would also note Clinton has not been a particular success. How’s the Russian reset? Or Libyan intervention? Or situation in Syria? I do think Trump is peddling some fiction to get elected (note: I am not excusing this behavior) and would govern more as a centrist technocrat, so I believe he would be a more competent President than Clinton. Even if you disagree with that assessment, which is admitted speculation, Clinton will be at least as damaging to the conservative cause as he would be given her platform. She will certainly push for leftist policies whereas he may not. His upside exceeds his downside relative to Clinton.
I would also note that much of what conservatives hate/fear (the Muslim ban, his insults, his comments on libel laws, his finger on the nuclear button etc.) are likely campaign bluster. Again, I am not excusing that behavior, but it suggests he could be a fine President. Even if I am wrong, our government has well-built structures that limit the power of the President, ensuring these positions could not become law. The strength of our institutions deserve more credit than some alarmists let on, further diminishing his downside. While Trump enjoys a Twitter tirade, he has a history of avoiding direct confrontation (with the exception of his personal punching bag, Jeb Bush) as illustrated by his handling of Megyn Kelly among others. I see no reason to feel less safe with Trump our Commander-in-Chief than Clinton.
#NeverTrump conservatives should also ask themselves whether his VP choice could sway them. Ultimatums made rashly can make one look foolish when one reverses or keep one anchored to bad positions out of an aversion to reversing. Does Cruz (or someone else) allay some concerns? If yes, perhaps, it is best to wait for him to make that choice. Assuming he is the nominee, who Trump picks as his VP will be fascinating and enlightening. If I were to make 5 guesses, I would go (in descending order of likelihood): David Petraeus, a business person (to emphasize the anti-politician theme—this un-named pick on my part is a clear cop-out), John Kasich, Bill O’Reilly, and Chris Christie. Who really knows though?
The General Election is a choice, and Trump is a better one than Clinton, especially as his worst ideas won’t become law with any reasonable congress if he even pursues them.
Conservatives could stand to benefit from some of Trump’s populism, and we do need toughness against China. He would also likely surround himself with smart people, providing wise council. A couple dozen people I know, whose judgment I respect and whose character is unimpeachable, are Trump supporters, and their support may have softened my opposition. The twittersphere showcases the worst of his support but is not representative of much of his base. Questions of moral fitness aside, I do think Trump, whom would likely govern as a centrist and pragmatist, would be a decent President, and the fact Clinton with her server and serial lying is equally unfit renders that concern moot in the General Election.
Conservatives have every right to oppose Trump in the primary. However should he be the nominee (very likely), we should be anti-Hillary in 2016, and this may mean voting for Donald Trump. Pledging #NeverTrump is a mistake.
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