A Social Conservative Case Against Trump
Yesterday I laid out a rationale for social conservatives voting for Trump. Today I will do the same for social conservatives to vote against Trump (and therefore for one of the other GOP candidates). I’m going to start with the premise that you, the social conservative, are alienated from the Republican Party and tempted to vote for Trump to send a message, to blow up the system, or some related reason. Here is a case for not doing that — and remember, like yesterday’s post, this is a thought experiment. Don’t assume that you know what I plan to do based on yesterday’s post or this one.
Assume: You have decided that voting for one of the non-Trump Republicans is a vote for the same old same old. You believe that they are all in the pockets of Big Business. You think that they pay lip service to social conservative causes, and are tired of voting Republican because they aren’t as bad as the Democrats on the things you care about the most. You believe that little meaningful progress is possible on abortion at the federal level, and that gay marriage (alas!) is a settled issue because of Obergefell. You believe that whatever they say, the Republican Party in Washington is going to be soft on defending religious liberty, because of Big Business and donors, and they will also do nothing meaningful on immigration because of same. So why not take a chance with Trump?
1. Because he is a man of low character. He’s a bully. He’s unashamedly prideful, has no sense of decorum, and is proud of his spitefulness towards enemies. We have elected men like him before, but Trump is a new thing: a bad guy who wears his low character as a badge of honor. To put a man like that in the White House would desecrate the office and lower the morals of the nation. Didn’t we learn anything from Bill Clinton, who at least had the decency to pay tribute to virtue by playing the hypocrite? Granted, we are electing a chief executive, not a pastor, but character matters, because character is destiny. Do we want to lash the fate of the nation to such a character? How could a social conservative say yes? His poor character means that…
2. He speaks to what is worst in us. Trump has done the Republican Party a favor by forcing its leadership to come to terms with issues it has tried to avoid for a long time. Good for him. But he really does energize our hatreds and resentments, and thrives on that dark energy. A Trump presidency may release some demons that we will come to regret, and this will completely obviate any positive change that might have come out of electing him. And therefore…
3. A President Trump would find it impossible to govern. He is not a man of the system, and that’s what people love about him. But the American president is not a king. He can’t simply order people around. He has to work with them. President Trump is a pragmatist, it’s true, and would probably be more ideologically flexible than, say, Ted Cruz. But he is an extremely polarizing figure. Every Democrat in Washington would hate his guts, and most Republicans would too. That might not be the worst thing if he had the backing of the American people, like an old-fashioned sovereign against the aristocracy. But he doesn’t, and he won’t. He is far, far too abrasive for that. Washington under Trump would mean constant chaos. Is that what social conservatism wants, that kind of radical instability? And because of this…
4. When he can’t deliver on his empty promises, what happens next? Let’s say Trump wins. He’s not going to build a wall with Mexico, and he’s not going to get the Mexicans to pay for it. Most of these things he’s bragging that he’s going to do, he can’t do. Having raised expectations so high, and then having failed to deliver, what will he tell his followers? What will they believe? What will they do? Most important: who will they blame, which is to say, scapegoat?
5. He’s unpredictable. There is no reason to believe that he really does believe what he says, because his past is so erratic. Second, he is deeply undisciplined. When the president of the United States shoots off his mouth, trying to be a tough guy, wars start. Social conservatives ought to know in their bones how destructive people like that can be.
6. Administrative staffing. Overnight, a reader who is a law professor wrote to say:
It is important to remember — and many conservative commentators I read seem not to — the role that the President plays in staffing the executive branch and the administrative apparatus. There can be no doubt that Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz would fill the mid-level but crucial positions in, say, HHS or the DOJ or the DOL or . . . with people who are far more likely to give some effect to conservative concerns than either Hillary or Trump. I’d urge you, when “talking” with your readers about the various considerations that weigh in the balance, to go beyond the judicial-nominations issue (which is also, in my view, crucial and an area where, again, the GOP is clearly far better) and remember (i) executive orders; (ii) staffing; and (iii) rule-making.
7. He’s from New York City. Another reader, a native New Yorker, wrote overnight to say:
I think you’re really, really wrong that Trump might do as much to protect religious liberty as any of the other candidates. Now, of course, I hate Trump. But I’m just saying this as a New Yorker. Even what passes for a “conservative” in most of Manhattan has zero support for religious liberty. None. Moreover, they really can’t fathom why you would want it. As long as you get to say whatever prayers you want at church on Sunday, you have no right to complain. And really, they probably wouldn’t get too exercised if the government started policing sermons, either–only for really important things like racism and homophobia, of course, and are you really saying that the right to liberty includes the right to be homophobic while enjoying a tax exemption? Are you nuts? They wouldn’t infringe your right to believe those things, just for a pastor to say them in a tax exempt institution. The only people on the East Coast who are going to sign onto a religious liberty fight are Catholics and Orthodox Jews.
As president, or for that matter, as a general election candidate, Donald Trump is going to do nothing to advance religious liberty. In fact, it’s one of the first issues that I’d expect him to hurl overboard as he goes hunting for a bigger coalition. Trump is interested in policies that poll majorities but the elite of both parties is refusing to touch–what you might call the Gilens policies. Immigration and trade are on that list. Religious liberty is not. He will not act to protect religious liberty, he will not look for judges who will do so, and he won’t really understand why anyone would expect him to just because he said he would earlier in the campaign.
8. A Trump nomination would mean a Hillary Clinton win. Your heart tells you that you want Trump, but you had better think about this harder. He has consistently shown that he has a ceiling in the polls. He is a long shot candidate, even as the Republican nominee. A vote for Trump in the GOP primary almost certainly means a win in November for Hillary Clinton, which would mean disaster for abortion and religious liberty concerns. A reader writes:
I’d also point out that on abortion, your post suggests that it’s a binary between the status quo, and legalizing more abortion restrictions. You’ve left out what is now going to happen with the court if liberals appoint another justice, which is that the court will sweep away all the restrictions we have. Maybe that doesn’t matter–maybe the abortion rate will stay the same. But cold economic logic suggests that if you make something easier to get, you get more of it.
9. He’s a classic demagogue who will set a very dangerous precedent. A Trump figure can thrill us by saying what’s on his mind, but there is nothing in the man respectful of democracy and democratic ways, which includes respect for the rule of law, and one’s opponents. A social conservative should fear a man of his temperament in the presidency, if only for how it would weaken our democracy.
CONCLUSION: Trump is right about some important things. The Republican Party really is a mess, and has brought this calamity onto itself. That said, social conservatives would be better off with the devil they know, who is at least predictable, than the devil they do not. Trump has no discernible moral compass, Trump often speaks to the devils of our nature, Trump won’t be able to govern, Trump has no instinctive feel for the things that drive religious and social conservatives, Trump may well throw us overboard when we become inconvenient to him, and a Trump nomination would almost certainly mean a Hillary Clinton victory in the fall. It’s too risky to go with Trump. We don’t live in a perfect world, and he’s the worst of all the possible choices.
That’s a social conservative case against Trump for social conservatives who are sick and tired of the Republican Party. Again, as with yesterday’s post, don’t assume that you know which one I personally believe. This is just for discussion purposes.