Conservatives still have an important choice to make about this election. And even many who have opposed Trump up to this point feel uncertain about it. Rightfully, many are thinking “Shouldn’t we vote for the lesser of two evils?”
The problem is, too many of us are weighing the evils with only basic policy issues plus the Supreme Court in mind, and only in terms of the next few years. That is not the full-range weighing of evils that the situation demands.
Last time (part five, below), I argued that an important aspect in trying to be comprehensive is taking the long-term development of the American Left into consideration. That development would have a lot to do with younger liberals, and with whether enough of them could get drawn into efforts to reform today’s dominant patterns of leftism. I posed this question: Will our corrupt Democrat Party become more vulnerable to taking a serious, perhaps even Reform-prompting, hit in the near future if Trump wins, or if Hillary does? We’ll be looking at a lot more questions this time, but that one does remain in the forefront of my mind.
Even if a President Trump has some real policy successes, he is not going to wear well with the electorate as a whole, and especially with younger voters. Week after week, his behavior will provide reinforcement of the idea that conservatism is a bitter, contempt-filled, and shamelessly amoral movement. To some degree the charges of racism and misogyny will be a part of that, and to some degree legitimately. Week after week, his behavior will energize what had otherwise promised to be, in the wake of the hopes stirred and then dashed by Obama, a remarkably demoralized, divided, and purposeless Left.
In such a situation, by 2020 the Democrats will likely put forward a candidate much more attractive than either Hillary or Bernie, and win decisively. They will win even if President Trump stands aside for a new GOP candidate, and even if his presidency has by some further miracle not divided the GOP more thoroughly than his candidacy already has. There is of course no possibility for Democratic Reform in that scenario, unless their 2020 nominee winds up being a genuine moderate, as opposed to the largely-fake one (outside economic issues) that Senator Kaine is. And that is extremely unlikely.
Or ignore my pet issue of Democratic Reform. What I’m arguing is that four years of Trump practically hands the Democrats the presidency for another four, at least. And since control of Congress will be more in play in 2018 and 2020, that also means the Democrats would be likely to win all three branches of government.
Think about it: the most important policy successes a President Trump might deliver, keeping SCOTUS from going full liberal and stopping the flood of illegal immigration, are by their very nature preventive. That means that for earnest young liberals, such successes would mainly serve to spare them from seeing the full consequences of what they have in fact supported by voting Democrat. They would not be successes felt by them or most Americans in the gut, and so they would continue to hate Donald Trump for being, well, himself.
Four years of Hillary Clinton added onto eight of Obama, however, will almost certainly force younger Democrats to really face the deep sicknesses of contemporary progressivism and their own complicity in these. They will not have “but Trump!” to excuse their participation in those sicknesses.
While President Clinton may step into office with a Democratic Senate, the Democrats are very unlikely to win the House, and cannot win a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Unable to pass non-bipartisan laws, she will feel she is forced into continuing and likely expanding Obama’s democracy-damaging pattern of Regulatory Agency Governance, and his baldly anti-constitutional pattern of Executive Legislating. Shockingly, she has already promised to do both.
She will not improve the economy. She will likely do nothing to reign in the excesses of BLM, the LGBT activists, and the campus protestors/administrators—nor would such heed her even if she did try. She will have to deal with the overseas threats to international order, including those that bring terrorism to America, that Obama allowed to fester and grow, and while she will likely do a better job with these than Obama has or Trump would have, her better actions will usually have to be “no-win” ones if considered from a purely political calculus.
And she still will be her imperious, unlikable, lying, corrupt, baggage-dragging, behind-the-scenes-bullying, and in public mush-speaking, self. She will not wear well. She will be categorically less shielded by the gender-card than Obama was by the race-card from intense criticism and scrutiny. She will be married to the same wonderful husband Bill Clinton. Her age is an additional disadvantage, and if she tries to strong-arm the Democrats into anointing some picked successor of hers after only serving four years, that will harm their 2020 chances all the more.
Yes, one horrible price for these better 2020 prospects for the GOP is the damage she will do with her SCOTUS nominations. Another fear is that she will really open the illegal-immigration floodgates in a way that will grant the Democrats a sure-fire presidential-election majority for a generation. I suspect the latter fear is an exaggerated one, but I admit that I am no expert on either illegal immigration or voter-enrollment policy. Tell me in the comments if you think the fear of this possibility ought to be regarded as decisive, and why.
With the Supreme Court, a President Clinton would get a justice to fill Scalia’s place, and the elderly liberal justices Ginsburg and Breyer would get two to three safe years in which to retire. Then there is the possibility, albeit unlikely, that health issues could force one of the remaining three originalism-inclined justices to retire, particularly Thomas.
The Court was already 5-4 liberal on abortion, LGBT, establishment clause, and capital punishment issues even with Scalia still on, and given his slot’s being filled by a liberal justice in Hillary’s first year, what additionally would happen is that the 5-4 “conservatives-plus-Kennedy block” on issues like those raised in Heller and Citizens United also falls to a liberal majority. If the two elderly liberals both retire during her term to allow her to appoint younger replacements, and we might add the elderly Kennedy as a liberal-on-most-issues third, even conservative presidential victories in 2020 and 2024 probably couldn’t undo that liberal majority.
That is very bad. Very. Greater research into the more under-the-radar areas of jurisprudence would likely cause us to add another “very” to that. However, there are some silver linings to take into consideration.
First, my sense is that the public is growing more resistant in general to SCOTUS overreach—the automatic respect older generations of both parties had for its decisions is fading every year—and a reversal of certain decisions, especially Heller, could generate resistance of a truly massive sort. Especially with that ruling, there likely will be more hesitancy to overrule than most conservatives think.
Second, while the GOP Senators will feel obliged to confirm Hillary’s Scalia-replacement nominee, those Senators could decide to withhold approval for any other of her picks, unless they are moderate in some way. And if her election also regains the Senate for the Democrats—the likely outcome at present by a hair–, I think even she will hesitate before forcing something like a 52-48 confirmation vote. So the incentive for her to nominate “moderates” will be there. Scalia once rightly indicated that the very notion of a moderate judge is absurd, and Hillary will go for the faux-moderates, but still, we should not pooh-pooh what could be gained by cornering her into nominating some genuinely old-school liberal justice. There are actually many more of the old-school liberal types in the Democratic law establishment than in the liberal/progressive population at large. Such an appointment could put off the most explosive progressive abuse of SCOTUS authority that is likely, namely, the curtailment of religious liberty guarantees, for another generation at least.
Third, if the GOP holds the Senate, or takes it back in 2018, confirmation of nominees (after the initial one) could also be held hostage as a way of pressuring Hillary herself to stay within the constitutional lines. “Oh, you’re saying you’re going to do Big Amnesty (DAPA) II? Dear Colleague Letter VIII? Executive Revision of Obamacare XIX? Well, we don’t yet have the votes to impeach you—let alone to convict you–, Mrs. President, nor the votes to stop funding in key areas, but we do have the votes to withhold confirmation from all of your future SCOTUS nominees. For your term, we are perfectly willing to live with a Court of eight, seven, or six justices. Your choice.”
Both of these last two scenarios of course assume that Trump’s candidacy doesn’t lose us the Senate decisively, but the main point is that they indicate ways in which her overreach could provoke resistance that diminishes the damage she can do in four years. If the GOP can emerge from a 2016 defeat not too wracked by divisions, and having learned from the Trump-episode the necessity of having some backbone in Congress, she would have to keep 2018, judicial nominations, and even the possibility of an impeachment vote in the House, in mind every step of the way. Since so much of the Republican electorate, and so much of the flexible (i.e., “Professionally Corrupt”) side of the Republican Establishment, have shown they are so alarmed about the future of our republic that they are willing to go the extreme of supporting Trump, conservatives ought to be able to predict and demand greater GOP openness to such aggressive moves to defend the Constitution.
And what does Trump gain us with SCOTUS? I assume, which maybe I shouldn’t, that he keeps his word and returns conservatives to the 2006-2015 “Scalia-plus-three” status quo of being losers on most key issues but winners on a few. Yes, if sometime during the first three years of his term Kennedy, Ginsburg, or Breyer were to retire or have a debilitating health-event a President Trump could even deliver an outright 5-4 originalist majority. But the odds strongly favor those justices being able to hold on for three years. So again, at best our gain here is a merely preventive one, which will make it invisible to much of the electorate. Things don’t get very bad, but the bad status quo remains. Don’t get me wrong: that is something. But it is not something which can outweigh all other factors, one of which, after all, happens to be the factor of how SCOTUS might be altered after 2020 Democratic victories.
Weighing the Evils
The other area in which a President Hillary would do a great deal of damage is in her appointments to federal agencies, particularly in her keeping many of Obama’s appointments on. However, in a lesser-evils analysis this is nearly a wash, since there is little indication that Trump understands the need for sweeping firings of the Obama-era appointees and those they hired in turn, and for aggressive discipline applied to all of the bureaucratic ranks, or that he would have the political pull and skill to even partially accomplish these goals in the face of the intense opposition they would provoke. Nor do we have reason to expect high standards of integrity and excellence for his own appointments.
I’ve been conducting the weighing of evils in a manner that gives Trump more credit than he likely deserves. I haven’t gone into the overall foreign policy approach of Trump, which is a very bad one so far as we can discern what it involves, nor into the de facto “liberal-tarian” dumping of social-conservative issues by Trump, which I of course bitterly oppose. However, I know that there are significant numbers of conservatives who like his stances in those areas. Nor have I gone into the fact that in his rhetoric, he is putting such high expectations upon what executive power can do that he seems nearly as likely as Hillary to take our government further into the anti-constitutional patterns of Executive Legislating and Regulatory Agency Governance. I do not even look into his troubling statements with respect to freedom of press and punishment of critics/opponents. Finally, I indulge in almost no consideration of and speculation upon Trump’s psychological make-up in this piece, other than stressing the obvious point that his personality is highly unlikely to wear well.
Again, if he wins, all of his negatives are going to become the burden of the Republican party, assuming it can avoid the even worse fate of splitting in two. But if Hillary wins, she is going to have to govern from within a very tight box of possibilities. And while she may be turn out to be more effective at that than I expect, there are ample reasons to be hopeful for 2018 and 2020 with her in office.
All in all, it ought to be clear that Trump’s presidency would be the greater evil than Hillary’s, and most of all from a conservative perspective. This would be so even if he managed to avoid causing some major foreign-policy disaster due to his anger and tongue-control issues (minor disasters I simply expect), and if he managed to avoid provoking a massive split in the GOP. Those are unknowns, but I honestly think it can be known as well as anything can be in politics that his becoming president would lead to huge conservative losses in 2018 and 2020.
I’ve gone on long enough, but read part four of this series below if you don’t understand that there is another fundamental question to consider here besides the “lesser of two evils” one. That is the one about whether there is a “floor” of unethical behavior and shamelessness on the part of a candidate for major office below which no genuine conservative can support the candidate.
And to repeat something else I said there, while the “imagine yours is the deciding vote” scenario has limitations, it is ultimately appropriate to consider. So I’ll wrap up by imagining what I would do in such a situation.
I admit that if I actually thought Trump was the lesser evil, I would nonetheless regard him as well below the ethical minimum. So with dismay, and some degree of uncertainty about my choice, I would still cast my vote against him.
But I believe that we can know that Trump is not only below that ethical minimum, but that his being president instead of Hillary would be the greater evil by far. So were it down to me—Trump or Clinton—I would choose her, and without hesitation. Given the circumstances, her very awfulness can aide my nation in the long run. His cannot.