The Corner

Neither Character nor Conservatism

Peggy Noonan wrote a book called “When Character Was King.” It is about Ronald Reagan. In nominating Donald Trump, the Republican party removed character from the equation. But there were supposed to be compensations: In these parlous times, character was a luxury the nation could not afford. We needed a big strong conservative who would fight and tell it like it is.

So, if you don’t have character, do you have conservatism? In May, after he clinched the nomination, Trump said, “Don’t forget: This is called the Republican party. It’s not called the Conservative party.” True enough.

Trump promises, “I’m gonna take care of everybody.” On the trail recently, he said, “We have 41 days to make possible every dream you’ve ever dreamed.” That is one of the least conservative notions ever dreamed. Even Obama, with his “Hope and Change,” might shake his head.

Years ago, WFB edited a book whose title he took from a popular song: “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?

Trump condemns conservative health-care reform as “heartless.” He says that Hillary Clinton’s proposals on infrastructure spending are insultingly small. “I would say, at least double her numbers. And you’re going to really need more than that.” He will not countenance the reform of entitlements, saying that we can save the system by rooting out “waste, fraud, and abuse.” (I remember the same claim from Dukakis.)

He tells us that Saddam Hussein was an ally in the War on Terror. (In fact, he was an ally of terror.) He threatens NATO. He has said this, for example: “You always have to be prepared to walk. It’s possible. Okay?” He is warm toward Putin’s Kremlin.

His feints toward social conservatism are a joke. (Donald Trump against abortion?) He promises conservative judges — fingers crossed. He also promises a wall. A big, beautiful wall, and all that. Again, fingers crossed, if a wall is your bag. (I can certainly see the argument for one, and have for years.)

If you’re going to throw away character, at least get something for it, maybe. What did the GOP get? Such a bad, bad deal. An even worse deal for conservatives.

Bring up the issue of character, and critics may well fault you for “moral preening.” Speaking for myself, I don’t demand a Lincoln. You get one every century, if you’re lucky. But maybe some minimal standards, some loose connection to right and wrong?

I regard the choice of Hillary or Trump as a nightmare one. A true pick-your-poison moment. There is the alternative of Evan McMullin. A vote for him would not be a winning one. But it would be an honorable one. And sometimes a speck of honor is all that’s available.

I understand conservatives who are voting for Trump. I even understand conservatives who are voting for Hillary, believe it or not. I certainly understand conservatives who are voting for neither. To go a little bit kumbaya on you, a little understanding goes a long way, especially in the crucible of election season.

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