The Corner

Politics & Policy

Bruce Thornton on Trump vs. Clinton

Hillary Clinton is much worse than Donald Trump, argues Bruce Thornton at Front Page, so don’t be fooled by those who say they’re equally bad. This kind of false equivalence, he argues, is rampant among Republicans who oppose Trump.

Maybe it is rampant, but the only supposed example Thornton puts forward of false equivalence isn’t one. Thornton objects to the first two paragraphs of this article of mine (to which he does not link), paragraphs that lay out some of the objections conservatives have to Clinton and some of the objections they have to Trump. Thornton writes, “Trump’s list presumably balances Hillary’s flaws, in order to make the point that both Trump and Hillary are equally distasteful, thus making the election a Hobson’s choice for principled conservatives.”

That “presumably” is there because I didn’t say that the lists balance, or that both candidates are equally distasteful. Thornton can’t find an actual quote from the article that makes the point he wants to refute, because it contains no such quote. What the article actually says is that conservatives have some valid objections to both candidates, and that reasonable conservatives can reach different conclusions about how to vote. (In part that’s because they can put different weights on different considerations, e.g., foreign policy and the courts.) I’d like conservatives to keep that truth in mind as they make their arguments about how to vote.

I wasn’t, in other words, trying to dispute Thornton’s conclusion that Trump is preferable to Clinton. As I note in the article, that’s where most conservatives are. But Thornton, by making unconvincing excuses for Trump, makes it too easy to reach that conclusion. “[H]is flaws of personality and character, like his rude bluster and outrageous claims, are not, alas, that exceptional or different from those of millions of other private citizens. . . . Intellectuals of more delicate sensibilities and refined manners may not like such déclassé qualities or grubby dealings, but most of them don’t live in a hard, risky world of tough negotiations and profit and loss.”

Thornton takes too low a view of most people and most businessmen. Plenty of people succeed in business without lying as routinely and weirdly as Trump does: How many Fortune 500 CEOs pose as imaginary spokesmen, admit it, and then deny it? He also understates what’s wrong with Trump. It doesn’t take refinement to refrain from mocking someone for being disabled. And I think Thornton overstates how “hard” and “risky” Trump’s life has been. (Inheriting a fortune, repeatedly stiffing people to whom he has made promises, trying to get a widow’s home taken from her, and so on don’t seem to have cost him too many meals.)

There are reasons to prefer Trump to Clinton, as I said in my article. I don’t see any good reason to pretend he is better than he is.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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