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Is There a Good Argument for Trump?

Who to vote for in November? Neither presidential candidate particularly appeals to me. In the past, I’ve been tempted to [1] ignore the presidential race altogether, and focus instead on local elections this fall. Indeed, I still think that’s where my focus should be: there is a lot of work that can and should be done to revitalize our politics at the state and local level.

But if a good argument for either Clinton or Trump is out there, I want to consider it. Thus far, many of the most common arguments I’ve seen for Trump have seemed rather lackluster and unconvincing. I share the top two below, with a third that I take more seriously. If you feel you can trump any of the three (ha), feel free to share in the comments below.

1. “Yeah, Donald Trump has issues—but so does Hillary Clinton.”

When I posted a piece by Michael Brendan Dougherty [2] on Tuesday that pointed out the many concerns voters should have with Donald Trump’s character, my Twitter followers responded en masse with, “Yes—but look at Hillary!” I understand their concerns, but the flaws of the one do not excuse or negate the vices of the other. Or as Dougherty put it [3], Trump’s character is not the “differentiating factor”—but it is, or at least could be, the “disqualifying factor.”

You are entitled to say, “I find Clinton more offensive. Her email scandal frightens me more than anything Trump’s done. So I’m voting for Trump.” But someone else could easily point to a myriad of controversial or offensive actions and statements by Trump, and say that—because of these things—they’re voting for Clinton. And I can’t blame them.

For me, this vote comes down to some extremely difficult questions:

– Am I willing to overlook the blatant pro-choice past of both Clinton and Trump, in voting for one or the other?

– Do racist, misogynist remarks and past actions on Trump’s part have any bearing on his qualifications for the highest political office in the land? Is he the sort of person I want to be the diplomatic and domestic leader of our country?

– Do the alarming privacy and security stumbles of Clinton have any bearing on her qualifications for the highest political office in the land? Is she the sort of person I want in charge of our national security and military?

At least at this point, my answer is leaning toward “NO” in both cases. Which leads me to the next, all-too-common, argument spilling forth from the Internet…

2. “You have to pick your poison: Trump or Clinton.”

You have to vote for one or the other—to do otherwise is to “throw away” your vote, to automatically cast it for Clinton/Trump (whichever is, in your mind, the worst).

This idea that a presidential debate boils down to a “lesser of two evils” decision makes sense if you adhere to the pilot theory of presidential politics [4]. In sum: there’s going to be a pilot flying the U.S. plane for the next four years, it’s just a question of which you’re going to choose. If you don’t choose one of the two pilots offered, one of them is still going to fly the plane. So why not just pick one?

But what if the vote I cast now matters less for the here and now, and more for a candidate four or eight years down the road?

As David McPherson argued [5] in his piece for First Things about the American Solidarity party, it could be that—instead of “throwing away” our vote—we can be part of a reconfiguration of American party politics, making it loudly and abundantly clear that we refuse to ally ourselves with parties that refuse to look out for our interests or concerns. We can be a vocal minority with a mind to change the current political quagmire—looking to the future, as well as to the present. “If we are to work fully toward the kind of politics we need, we must first break from the political status quo,” McPherson writes.

It could be that, while we do not achieve what we would like in this election cycle, we could help push for more palatable and trustworthy politicians in 2020, 2024, or 2028. And that would be something worth voting for.

But there’s one argument for Trump that makes me question all that.

3. “It’s the Supreme Court, stupid.”

That’s the actual headline of a piece [6] in the Washington Examiner by Hugh Hewitt. He writes,

If Hillary Clinton wins, the Left gavels in a solid, lasting, almost certainly permanent majority on the Supreme Court. Every political issue has a theoretical path to SCOTUS, and only self-imposed judicial restraint has checked the Court’s appetite and reach for two centuries.

That restraint will be gone when HRC’s first appointee is sworn in. Finished.

This is not hyperbole. I have the advantage of having taught Con Law for 20 years, of having argued before very liberal appellate judges like Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the very liberal Ninth Circuit, of practicing with the best litigators in the land, and I know what a very liberal SCOTUS means: conservatism is done. It cannot survive a strong-willed liberal majority on the Supreme Court. Every issue, EVERY issue, will end up there, and the legislatures’ judgments will matter not a bit.

It’s actually one of the better arguments for Donald Trump, in my opinion—though as Matthew Lee Anderson argues [7] at Mere Orthodoxy, there’s no guarantee that Trump would pick a Supreme Court nominee who would make any substantive difference for conservatives. This month, Trump has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t intend [8] to passively kowtow to the GOP. What makes us think that he will adhere to their recommendations for a Supreme Court nominee, or take into account the wishes of pro-life voters who he has historically ignored or even sided against?

The argument that a Supreme Court nominee matters more than anything else, because it’s a lifetime appointment, does make sense. And it’s true that with Trump, there’s a chance that appointment would be more favorable to conservatives than anything Hillary would come up with. So I need to decide whether that one decision is more important than any other questionable decision—on national security, on domestic or foreign affairs—that could be made by a President Trump over the next four years. And that’s a tough gamble to make.

I don’t believe—can’t believe—that voting is merely a matter of picking your poison. That we are required to vote against our conscience.

“Why is a vote for your ticket not a wasted vote?” one person asked Gary Johnson during CNN’s Libertarian Town Hall [9] last night.

“A wasted vote is a vote for someone you don’t believe in,” Johnson responded. “If we’re going to continue to vote for a lesser of two evils, that’s still evil.”

33 Comments (Open | Close)

33 Comments To "Is There a Good Argument for Trump?"

#1 Comment By mrscracker On August 4, 2016 @ 6:44 am

They’re both awful but Trump has a good vice presidential candidate and there’s the small chance he would pick at least one decent Supreme Court justice.
If he and Hillary would step down and let the vice president candidates run instead, we’d have a better choice.

#2 Comment By Publius On August 4, 2016 @ 7:34 am

You all have the vapors. Trump already released 11 names of potential SCOTUS nominees. They’re solid.

Get a grip.

#3 Comment By Publius On August 4, 2016 @ 7:46 am

“I don’t believe—can’t believe—that voting is…”

Well, face reality a little while longer. If you cast a quixotic vote, especially in a swing state, you depress turnout for the only viable option for defeating your existential nemesis. Your self-satisfaction creates a cost the rest of us will have to bear. Cheap grace for you, fatal for the next generation. Hope you enjoy it, because your self-satisfaction will be short-lived, and the rest of us, who live in the real world of prudential judgment, will hold you responsible and accountable.

How can you call yourselves “conservative” if you cannot stand strong?

#4 Comment By Philip Giraldi On August 4, 2016 @ 8:12 am

There is an excellent argument for Trump. Hillary Clinton is the standard bearer for a militaristic interventionist foreign policy that would include unrelenting hostility towards Russia. Hostility towards Russia, which is already paranoid about US intentions, could lead to a nuclear war and many millions of Americans would die. Trump, unlike Hillary, seeks good relations with Russia and is dismissive of previous and current US military interventions.

I infer from your piece that you are at least somewhat focused on issues like “choice,” racism and misogyny in your disparagement of Trump and it certainly is your call to do so, but I assure you that Clintonesque brinkmanship that might lead to nuclear war would likely be regarded by many Americans as a far greater concern than a candidate’s social development and willingness to be politically correct.

#5 Comment By Kurt Gayle On August 4, 2016 @ 8:52 am

“..Many of the most common arguments I’ve seen for Trump have seemed rather lackluster and unconvincing. I share the top two below, with a third that I take more seriously. If you feel you can trump any of the three (ha), feel free to share…”

1. “Yeah, Donald Trump has issues—but so does Hillary Clinton.”
2. “You have to pick your poison: Trump or Clinton.”
3. “It’s the Supreme Court, stupid.”

I would add three other reasons to vote for Donald Trump:

(1) Trump wants to keep us out of more disastrous, unending Middle East wars and to spend the trillions of dollars saved to rebuild America.

(2) Trump wants bring back to the US millions of manufacturing jobs that were shipped overseas. Trump will protect the rebuilding of a strong US manufacturing sector by means of protective tariffs and re-negotiating bad trade deals.

(3) Trump wants to send back home 11.3 million illegal immigrants – 8.2 million of whom are currently taking jobs from Americans. A disproportionate number of these 8.3 million jobs will go to currently unemployed inner city black and Hispanic Americans.

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 4, 2016 @ 8:56 am

““A wasted vote is a vote for someone you don’t believe in,” Johnson responded. “If we’re going to continue to vote for a lesser of two evils, that’s still evil.”

Welcome to living in the world and hoping that one is not of it. Applying the term evil to politics is applying the word sugar to candy.

We have an evangelical in the WH but that didn’t stop people from engaging in all manner of evil, despite being christian, conservative or Republican. The democrats didn’t and haven’t stopped expanding “evil” policies. In my view, Mr trump does not reflect anything more despicable than was already a fixture of our politics. It’s just out of the closet so to speak. His revelations about how business was done among politicians was probably what really turned the elite upside down.

But many years ago when the revelations came out about the WH behavior as to relations during the Clinton Admin. I was more appalled by the behavior of supposed Republicans, christians, and conservatives. The entire mess was unseemly. It was sickening to listen to the them all but reveling in the mud. It was darkness and darkness. I could hardly stand to be among people of faith. Not because I was liberal, democrat, but because scripture lays out a very specific process for dealing this and not a single christian that I knew was on page with Christ. I thought I was in a another universe. And it was then I began to shrink from church life. I was of course disappointed in the President. And despite being on the opposite side of the fence. But it revealed a side on christians at least those involved in politics that was bit frightening. Fox news was in the gutter as much as every other news service.

The case against against Iraq sealed my position as most all church involvement. I was already distressed about their utter lack of conscience concerning police misconduct. But those days all became one large realization — evil has many faces. And it is no respecter of persons.

Christians have a much richer and deeper sense of conscience because of Christ. But in matters of faith related to politics — all of this hulla balloo about a moral high ground is a tough sell on me.

Look, the election of Mr. Trump is not the end of morality. For the conservative, for the person who claims christ and I make no great claims to either for the sake of Christ. I continue to help an institution that where the practice of evil abounds. I don’t think my small efforts my positions on questions of conduct with respect to: relations, marriage, lying, stealig, or anything change because I spend hours working with students who up departing don’t the will to stand beyond our time together. They don’t see that crossing the border is a violation of God’s commands – despite the fact that it is illegal without permission. We have people in this country that actually think killing a child in the womb is a morally healthy choice and they are in government and some claim to know christ. Anyone trying to make a claim that the advent of Mr. Trump is the harbinger of morality’s death nell is just playig an agenda card, not making a case for morality in the WH.

But then for people like me. The world as it is whether Hollywood or Washington — there are very few who who wouldn’t sell their mother’s for a slice of pie. Based on the way politics operates there’s enough room for “good arguments” for Mr Trump one could drive Jupiter through.

And as someone who is celibate and celibate longer than many here have been alive — one could drive an entire galaxy and then some through the same.

No. By the law there no good arguments, but whomever in politics has not sinned keep throwing stones about moral fitness around that mirror.

#7 Comment By JoaoAlfaiate On August 4, 2016 @ 9:12 am

Hillary wants to have a US enforced “no fly zone” in Syria. Has anybody noticed but ISIS and al-Qaeda don’t have air forces so Hillary’s plan is aimed at the Russian military presence in Syria and their air operations there. US jets versus Russian jets in the skies over Syria? Ms Olmstead, please explain to me what possible US interests in Syria justify the possibility of nuclear war with Russia. Hillary is a dangerous neocon warmonger and in that regard differs significantly from the Donald.

#8 Comment By Mario Diana On August 4, 2016 @ 9:18 am

I want to be brief. A Hillary Clinton presidency promises to be transformative, and not in a good way. Argument Number 3 (above), touches on that. But it’s more than that. If Hillary Clinton wins, she will have the full support of the Democrats in Congress, as well as the backing of the cultural and political progressives who dominate media and academia. Not only will the country shift irrevocably to the Left, the office of the presidency will become only more imperial.

A Trump presidency, for all the hysteria over “fascism,” will be nothing like that. Any outlandish ideas from Donald Trump would likely receive pushback from both Republicans and Democrats. If anything, I am cautiously optimistic that we could see Congress begin to reassert itself, the way the Article I branch ought to.

In short, if Hillary Clinton wins, conservatives will be relegated to the loser status of European conservatives. (To hear Europeans tell it, our Democrats are to the Right of their conservatives!) After a Clinton administration, we will be living in a completely different United States.

Hillary delenda est.

#9 Comment By An Agrarian On August 4, 2016 @ 9:27 am

I agree w/ the SCOTUS argument as a reason to vote against Hillary. Consider the “ratchet effect” of progressive socialism via the courts – because we’ve made judicial precedent the consummate “truth”, SCOTUS findings are considered forever infallible. Some argue that a diabolical Hillary will usher in a new/improved conservative in 2020. Yet even a post-Hillary conservative administration would be stuck with progressive precedent. A Hillary-appointed Court would yield Roe v Wade writ large, covering every social issue in which the Court decides to dabble.

I really don’t think Trump is nearly as dangerous. He will be hemmed in by unfriendlies in Congress, as well as the enduring Executive bureaucracy that will always be working to thwart him (think State Dept, CIA, etc). Despite mainstream rhetoric to the contrary, I also believe Trump has the right instincts to keep us out of war, particularly with Russia. Hillary seems intent on continually poking the Bear in the eye, meddling in Ukraine, Syria – areas that are within Russia’s national security interests. She surrounds herself with similarly hawkish advisors, and was a tremendously reckless SecState … Obama may have been considered a good foreign policy President had it not been for her decidedly imprudent counsel.

#10 Comment By Charles On August 4, 2016 @ 9:41 am

Anyone else been looking at the Constitution Party? I thought about the Libertarians, but just can’t get past Johnson’s attitude on religious liberty.

#11 Comment By John Gruskos On August 4, 2016 @ 10:14 am

Unlike every other major party nominee in my lifetime, Trump can be trusted to enforce the immigration laws, avoid unnecessary wars, and reduce the trade deficit.

#12 Comment By John Gruskos On August 4, 2016 @ 10:42 am

Under President Hillary Clinton the factories and mines will close; the service, construction and tech jobs will be monopolized by low wage immigrants; the last vestiges of social conservatism at the state and local level will be swept away by Ginsburg’s activist court; and our best men will be sent to die for regime change wars in Syria, Russia, Hungary and Poland.

But hey, at least Smallville will have the best possible dog catcher thanks to the courageous activism of Mr. Olmstead.

#13 Comment By KevinS On August 4, 2016 @ 10:47 am

“Her email scandal frightens me more than anything Trump’s done.”

I admit her email issues bother me. But do they “frighten” me? Not really. Certainly not than more than having a thin-skinned, undisciplined and impulsive bully who sits around tweeting about FOX news correspondents at 2 a.m. having the military and nuclear weapons under his control.

#14 Comment By D-w-J On August 4, 2016 @ 10:55 am

Philip Giraldi (from the comments section) I enjoy the views you share here at the magazine. You are ready for Trump and the GOP to be in charge of our diplomatic efforts?

#15 Comment By Kurt Gayle On August 4, 2016 @ 11:37 am

Philip Giraldi is right: “Hillary Clinton is the standard bearer for a militaristic interventionist foreign policy that would include unrelenting hostility towards Russia. Hostility towards Russia, which is already paranoid about US intentions, could lead to a nuclear war and many millions of Americans would die. Trump, unlike Hillary, seeks good relations with Russia and is dismissive of previous and current US military interventions.”

Stephen Cohen, American scholar of Russian studies at both Princeton and N.Y.U., agrees with Philip Giraldi:

“…We’re approaching a Cuban Missile Crisis nuclear confrontation with Russia, both along Russia’s borders and possibly over Syria. There is absolutely no discussion, no debate, about this in the American media…Then along comes (unexpectedly) Donald Trump, who says something that suggests he wants to end the new Cold War, cooperate with Russia in various places. What we used to call detente, and now –astonishingly– the media is full of what only can be called neo-McCarthyite charges that he is a Russian agent, that he is a Manchurian candidate, and that he is Putin’s client. So the real danger is what’s being done to our own political process. This is a moment when there should be, in a presidential year, a debate. BECAUSE MRS. CLINTON’S POSITION ON RUSSIA SEEMS TO BE VERY DIFFERENT [THAN MR. TRUMP’S], has been a long time.” [My caps]

#16 Comment By mrscracker On August 4, 2016 @ 11:51 am

Publius says:

You all have the vapors. Trump already released 11 names of potential SCOTUS nominees. They’re solid.

Get a grip.”
******************************
That’s about the only reason why most folks I know are considering voting for him. But assuming he’ll keep his word is assuming a lot. Then again, what other choice do we have? Secession?

#17 Comment By John Uebersax On August 4, 2016 @ 2:08 pm

Here’s another theoretical advantage of Trump relative to Clinton.

Trump represents a great deal of pent up resentment by the American middle class. This resentment is *not* going to go away, unless and until certain excesses of the liberal establishment are addressed.

Now Trump is tough-talking, New York feisty, undiplomatic, and given to speaking without thinking. But he is not a fascist. The danger is that if Trump doesn’t win, then the middle class anger will only increase, and potentially emerge in a much darker form 10 or 20 years hence.

#18 Comment By Captain P On August 4, 2016 @ 3:15 pm

Don’t forget the issue of staffing. Would you rather have Pence, Gingrich, Sessions, Christie, and Flynn filling out the administration, or Panetta, Nuland, Sidney Blumenthal, Robert Kagan, etc.?

#19 Comment By David Yuhas On August 4, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

Trump has no moral compass, no regard for truth or decency, no respect for others. He is a narcissist. He will do more damage to America than even Clinton. There is no argument whatsoever to be made in his favor.

#20 Comment By Robz On August 4, 2016 @ 6:47 pm

It’s interesting how people arrange impossibly contradictory things in their heads in order to justify a vote for Trump but in the end, Trump is still going to get pasted.

#21 Comment By robz On August 5, 2016 @ 9:44 am

The fact that Scowcroft favors Clinton is a huge plus for her in my mind. The fact that Stephon Cohen doesn’t like her is also a plus.

#22 Comment By Dave On August 5, 2016 @ 9:47 am

The decision of whom to vote for is not a tough gamble based on Trump’s various comments about nuclear weapons. It won’t do any American any good to have a favorable religious climate and a favorable Supreme Court if our President has started a nuclear war.

#23 Comment By Fred Bowman On August 5, 2016 @ 11:56 am

Fact of the matter is, the POTUS can nominate who they want for the Supreme Court, but it’s still up to the Senate to confirm them. Which leads to the question, if Trump is refusing to support various Republican Senatorial & House candidates who he disagrees with, then how is he to effectively govern if elected? Without at least some support in Congress his hands are tied in getting any significant legislation through. Trump supporters need to get over their “Magical Thinking” and starting thinking the “Reality” of how Trump is to govern.

#24 Comment By Rich On August 5, 2016 @ 2:57 pm

It’s all about the supreme court.

#25 Comment By Barry On August 6, 2016 @ 12:48 pm

“A wasted vote is a vote for someone you don’t believe in,” Johnson responded. “If we’re going to continue to vote for a lesser of two evils, that’s still evil.”

That’s the classic cry of a third-party candidate.

#26 Comment By Barry On August 6, 2016 @ 12:51 pm

Hugh: “This is not hyperbole. I have the advantage of having taught Con Law for 20 years, of having argued before very liberal appellate judges like Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the very liberal Ninth Circuit, of practicing with the best litigators in the land, and I know what a very liberal SCOTUS means: conservatism is done. It cannot survive a strong-willed liberal majority on the Supreme Court. Every issue, EVERY issue, will end up there, and the legislatures’ judgments will matter not a bit.”

This is the same guy who thought that Bush was an unappreciated genious?

As for conservatis not surviving a liberal SCOTUS, one wonders how it survived earlier?

However, I will give him credit for one thing. A ‘liberal’ (actually, not right-wing) SCOTUS will enforce the 14th Amendment. Since the GOP’s hopes are clearly staked on voter suppression, that will really hit them.

#27 Comment By Barry On August 6, 2016 @ 4:40 pm

John Uebersax says:

“Here’s another theoretical advantage of Trump relative to Clinton.

Trump represents a great deal of pent up resentment by the American middle class. This resentment is *not* going to go away, unless and until certain excesses of the liberal establishment are addressed.”

Pre-emptive surrender to avoid defeat?

I’ll pass.

Also, the GOP is clearly hurting on demographics, hence the wave of voter suppression attempts. IIRC, the white vote is declining by 2% every four years. Given the current GOP efforts to alienate so many segments of the American people, they’ll have to work very hard to keep up.

#28 Comment By cecelia On August 7, 2016 @ 1:36 am

re: supreme court -0- you should all keep in mind that Roe v Wade came from Casey – a republican appointee to the court.

#29 Comment By Moone Boy On August 7, 2016 @ 4:36 am

Don’t blame me – I voted for Kodos!

#30 Comment By JonF On August 7, 2016 @ 2:39 pm

Re: Under President Hillary Clinton the factories and mines will close;

Are you posting this from 1980? Because in 2016 that’s already history: the factories were shuttered (visit any Rustbelt city and suburbs) and the jobs sent to China. And yes that was a bi=-partisan project, with the Left uttering platitudes about a stronger safety net and job retraining (which never quite happened) while the Right distracted everyone with the fuss and furor over gay marriage.

#31 Comment By Charlieford On August 7, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

Folk may be interested in this discussion of how much sense it makes for social conservatives to base their vote on future SCOTUS picks by the candidate:

[10]

#32 Comment By Charlieford On August 8, 2016 @ 2:56 pm

There’s also a not altogether fantastical argument for trying to make sure Clinton’s victory is decisive and overwhelming: A narrow loss by Trump may lead to a rejection of the result, and civil unrest, possibly even civil war. Law professor Joel Garreau walks us through the scenario:

[11]

#33 Comment By Frank On August 10, 2016 @ 4:49 pm

This is in response to Charlieford above. If you really believe that Hillary will be able to swing massive numbers of people to her side who strongly support Trump, I would say that you don’t have a clear sense of the extremely deep divide in this country.

The political “Divide” in the USA is not simple or maybe even possible to “fix”. This divide exists around fundamental and basic value differences including morality. It should be evident by now that this is a very special and different time for most of us in terms of the political unity of the USA. The populace of America — the part that cares — has been growing apart for 5 decades now and basically that divide centers around the fact that citizens are deeply divided about who should get the benefits of the government and who should pay for them.

Our society’s multicultural and diverse admixture has taken away what we once had in the way of commonality of purpose. Absent the commonality of purpose, compromise is impossible. Compromise in American politics requires unity of purpose, and as such is a virtue that is distinctly American.

Compromise is only possible among competing interests when they can agree on an overarching goal. That has been, and will continue to be, impossible in the USA.

The problem with politics isn’t Washington but the electorate. Members of Congress are behaving in a perfectly rational way when they avoid cooperation with the other party and instead try to build support within their own party.

If polarization is rooted in the electorate, then Congressional gridlock is simply a fulfillment of legislators’ representative responsibility. Institutional and procedural reforms that incentivize negotiation and compromise will have a minimal impact if partisan voters punish “moderate leaning” elected officials at the ballot box. And because factors such as education, income, geography, and race all contribute to intense partisan divisions, it seems unlikely that institutional reforms alone can mitigate these structural causes.

This is not my theory. This comes from the field of group dynamics and is always true. If those in power desire compromise they must find partners who are seeking the same destination as they are. Absent the commonality of purpose, compromise is virtuously impossible.

At bottom line, it appears more clear by each passing day that nobody is going to “unify” the country. The basic moral and value differences in the current divided US population are simply too great. Regardless of who wins in November, the winner will face a crisis of legitimacy, as the losers will regard the government not just as opponents, but as enemies and occupiers.

What we may really require is someone or some system that will allow the US to “Balkanize” in an effective and organized manner and try to avoid a second US Civil War.

#34 Comment By chris403 On September 27, 2016 @ 12:05 pm

Reasons to vote for Trump:

1. Deport illegal immigrants and allow fewer legal immigrants, especially from Muslim countries.

2. Renegotiate trade deals to better reflect the interests of American workers, rather than the interests of American Capital and consumers.

3. Rewrite American laws to punish American companies who outsource at the expense of American workers.

4. The Supreme Court. This is yooooouge.

5. Law and order, although that’s a tough sell coming from Trump. Certainly race riots in multiple American cities proves we are badly on the wrong track.