That Hillary Clinton would make a better president than Donald Trump should be evident to any mammal. Substantiating this assertion does not require one to make a positive case for Clinton, so disqualifying are Trump’s many negative qualities.
Clinton does not challenge freedom of the press or threaten her political opponents with jail time. She is not a sociopath. She does not call for banning members of an entire religion from entering the country, or killing the families of terrorists, or any number of other blatantly unconstitutional measures. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has since endorsed Trump, previously said that the Republican nominee was an “erratic individual” who could not be trusted with the nuclear codes. Whatever one thinks about Clinton, launching a nuclear strike against another country out of pure spite is difficult to imagine. The case for Clinton, then, boils down to one’s appreciation for the democratic values to which all of our elected officials, from city councilor on up, are expected to adhere. Clinton respects those principles, and Trump does not. The case for Clinton transcends ideology because Trump’s strongest convictions have nothing to do with standard political principles and everything to do with sheer self-aggrandizement. What’s most important to Trump is Trump.
Many conservative writers and intellectuals recognize this, which is why so many of them, along with former Republican administration officials, have endorsed Clinton, however grudgingly. Nonetheless, a significant number of conservatives and Republicans who realize the awfulness of Trump – including many of those who have signed up to the amorphous #NeverTrump movement – refuse to endorse the one candidate actually capable of beating him: Hillary Clinton. Operating under the delusion that Trump and Clinton are equally bad options, some anti-Trump conservatives have refused to vote, or pledged to support a third party candidate.
As much as some of its denizens might wish to deny it, the conceit behind #NeverTrump (and the independent conservative campaign of Evan McMullin that arose from it) is effectively pro-Clinton, diverting elsewhere votes that would normally go to the GOP nominee. But at the end of the day, a posture of #NeverTrump that does not acknowledge the preferability of Clinton is a cop out, particularly for people who work in and write about politics. Come Nov. 8, either Clinton or Trump is going to be elected president, and it’s the job of people who opine about politics to inform voters which of the two options is better.
That some cannot testifies to just how poisonous is the partisanship in our country, to the point where even those conservatives who acknowledge Trump’s unfitness cannot bring themselves to admit that Clinton represents an even marginal improvement.
American conservatives still wavering about supporting Clinton can look to an unlikely historical parallel for moral guidance: the French Socialists in 2002. That year, Jean-Marie Le Pen, then-leader of the far right National Front, won a surprise second place in the presidential election, defeating the Socialist Party candidate and entering into a runoff against center-right incumbent Jacques Chirac. In the second round, Socialist voters held their noses and rallied to Chirac, their longtime political adversary, helping deliver him an 82% victory. In so doing, they not only beat Le Pen, but sent a message to the world that, when threatened by a populist movement from the authoritarian right, France would defend its republican values.
Just as French citizens from many different political tendencies backed Chirac as the democratic alternative to neo-fascism in 2002, so today must those Americans who support liberal democracy – conservatives included – hope for a Clinton victory. Granted, the analogy isn’t perfect. In France, Socialist voters were forced to choose between a center-right candidate and an extreme right one, whereas here conservatives are being asked to vote for a mainstream Democrat over a nominal Republican. On the other hand, Trump has a far greater chance of winning the presidency than Le Pen ever did, making the role of right-of-center voters even more consequential to his defeat. Ultimately, the basic principle in both elections is the same: small “r” republicans must support the democratic option over an explicitly authoritarian one.
Some #NeverTrump Republicans, in an attempt to nourish their belief that the Republican and Democratic nominees are ethically equivalent, cite President Obama’s executive overreach as cause to believe that Clinton would be just as destructive to the rule of law as Trump. They’re right to be concerned about these tendencies, but would executive orders on immigration and overzealous implementation of Dodd-Frank financial regulations really compare to a politicized IRS that rivals that of the Nixon administration, or a Justice Department war on the news media, or a Russian invasion of Eastern Europe while the U.S. is under a president who says NATO is “obsolete?”
Considering what the world would look like with a President Trump, complaining about Clinton’s faults (and they are many) is a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Any conservative alert enough to have joined #NeverTrump must wake up and realize that it’s his or her civic duty to protect the country from the ravages of a megalomaniac by voting for Hillary Clinton.
James Kirchick is a fellow with the Foreign Policy Initiative. His book “The End of Europe” is forthcoming from Yale University Press.