Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The American Conservative Presidential Symposium

Two-dozen conservatives, libertarians, and independently minded progressives reveal how they look at the presidential election.

A good magazine presents a robust discussion of the national life, and The American Conservative has aimed since the beginning to show that conservatism cannot be reduced to a checklist or mere partisan formula. To that end, we have always encouraged a wide-ranging examination of the choices our political system offers—and fails to offer.

This symposium is not an endorsement and is not necessarily representative of TAC‘s editors or contributors a whole: rather, it’s a collection of viewpoints that encourage readers to examine the election from different angles and draw their own conclusions about Hillary Clinton, Donald J. Trump, Gary Johnson, Evan McMullin, Jill Stein, and other choices confronting America on Nov. 8.

Helen Andrews Daniel Larison
W. James Antle III Chase Madar
Andrew J. Bacevich Thomas Mallon
Gene Callahan Daniel McCarthy
Donald Devine Scott McConnell
Rod Dreher Noah Millman
Bruce Fein Daniel Oliver
Michael Fumento Gracy Olmstead
Philip Giraldi Gerald J. Russello
Paul Gottfried Jason Sorens
Leon Hadar Michael Tracey
Jack Hunter Eve Tushnet
Carol Iannone Robert VerBruggen

Helen Andrews

Here in Australia, conservatives thought the Tea Party was the second coming of Mosley’s Blackshirts, so you can imagine what they think of Donald Trump.

Their outsider’s perspective on American politics has a kind of purity to it, in that it is determined entirely by a hormonal instinct for which opinions carry high status. And who can blame them? Australians pay a social penalty for endorsing conservative positions in their own country’s politics, and disowning unfashionable figures in a foreign country replenishes their capital at no cost to themselves.

Americans who have been well-served by globalism are in the same position. On the benefit side, voting for Hillary brings them self-esteem and the esteem of their peers. On the cost side, they stand as much chance of being hurt by low-skilled immigration or cop-bashing as a Byron Bay yoga mum.

Self-interest of a more material kind motivates two categories of Clinton supporters. The first comprises the clients of our national patronage machine, a group that already includes an alarmingly high proportion of the electorate and will come to include a permanent majority if programs like free college tuition get through. (Boss Tweed would blush with envy.) The second is made up of the #NeverTrump professional conservatives who have noticed that if Hillary wins, they still have a job tomorrow, whereas if Trump wins, they don’t.

I will confess my own self-interest in this election: I would like to have an America to move back to. When I read about an opera company in Perth canceling a production of Carmen because its setting was perceived as pro-tobacco, or a Queensland college student sued for six figures over an innocuous Facebook post mischaracterized as hate speech, I tell myself it could never happen in America. That is precisely what sets America apart from superficially similar Anglosphere countries like Australia. They are all free countries, but from experience I can tell you, America is freer.

Voting for Donald Trump is a way of saying: let’s keep it that way.

Helen Andrews is an American living in Australia who has worked as an editor and a think-tank researcher.

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W. James Antle III

When Bill Weld became governor of Massachusetts in 1991, I wrote a series of essays comparing his election to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Democrats in the state legislature, led by gangster Whitey Bulger’s brother Billy, were the communist hard-liners.

This was the pre-C.J. Pearson era, so thankfully nobody published these essays. Five years later, I went third party rather than vote for Weld for Senate after he said something unflattering about Clarence Thomas.

I never thought I would have occasion to vote for Weld again. But I will be voting for Weld for vice president and Gary Johnson for president on the Libertarian Party ticket come November 8.

Not that Johnson seems to want my vote. He has failed to offer any meaningful concessions to social conservatives in a rare election where millions of our votes were actually up for grabs. In his zeal to ensure that nobody is denied the cake of their choice from their local religious baker, he has also made a hash of libertarian principles.

Johnson has bought into Weld’s view that there is a huge audience for fiscal conservatism unencumbered by social conservatives, even if Donald Trump’s success in the Republican primaries suggests the opposite. Johnson wants moderates and Bernie bros more than he wants disaffected conservatives.

I arrived at Johnson-Weld by process of elimination. Hillary Clinton is offering all the war and welfare our devalued currency can buy. I don’t trust Trump, a man who slandered Pat Buchanan (Pat has generously forgiven him) and would be advised by Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani, to make the GOP less neoconservative. Nor would I be proud to tell women I voted for him.

Darrell Castle will receive such a small number of votes that casting my ballot for him accomplishes little a write-in wouldn’t; as conservative disaffection with the GOP has grown, the Constitution Party has shrunk. Jill Stein is no Ralph Nader. Evan McMullin is as much a protest against what’s good about Trump as what’s bad, promising to return conservatism to its glory days under George W. Bush. No thanks.

McMullin is nevertheless doing the job Johnson wouldn’t do. Still, Johnson will get enough votes to be noticed but not so many he helps Clinton—the upside of his outreach to the left is that he will actually take some votes from her. Those votes will still mostly be interpreted as votes for less government and as dissent from the right, despite Johnson’s best efforts.

But I’m old enough now not to confuse Johnson-Weld with a world-historical event.

W. James Antle III is politics editor of the Washington Examiner.

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Andrew J. Bacevich

I am unwilling to vote for either of the two major-party candidates, viewing the one as utterly unacceptable and the other as quite undesirable. So I will cast my ballot in favor of one of the “third party” candidates. Doing so allows me to perform my civic duty while also expressing my dissatisfaction with a political process that presents us with such lousy choices. In a practical sense, it’s a completely meaningless gesture, of course. But I choose to see it as the path of honor.

Andrew Bacevich is the author, most recently, of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.

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Gene Callahan

November 8, my vote is for Jill Stein … but only because I live in New York, a state that is already decided.

Deciding who gets my vote to has been a long and difficult process. Early on, I determined that there is no issue more important than ramping back the aggressiveness of U.S. foreign policy: our policies have been wrecking the lives of millions in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, etc., and produce blowback here in America. So my first choice was Bernie Sanders, who seemed the most sane candidate on foreign policy who might also have a chance to win. (I disagreed with Sanders on many other matters, but priorities are priorities.)

When it became clear Sanders was going to lose, I watched Donald Trump’s campaign closely, as it appeared he might be the second least hawkish choice. Since Trump is always throwing up trial balloons to see how they play with voters, it was hard to get a good sense of what foreign-policy approach he would take. So I decided that my choice would hinge on his VP pick: if he chose a typical Republican hawk, I would have to look elsewhere.

And as Pence appeared to be, indeed, a typical Republican hawk, I looked at Johnson and Stein. Of the two, only Stein was consistently anti-interventionist, and so I decided that she is my candidate.

All that being said, if my state were in play, my decision would be different: Hillary Clinton has run the ugliest political campaign of my adult life, demonizing much of the American electorate as “deplorables” and inciting her supporters to bully anyone supporting Trump, sometimes violently assaulting Trump voters, sometimes destroying their property, and sometimes trying to deny them their livelihoods. It is essential we punish these bullying tactics, and to do so, if I were in a swing state, I would switch my vote to Trump.

Gene Callahan teaches economics and computer science at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn and is the author of Oakeshott on Rome and America.

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Donald Devine

Upon what standard should a conservative vote this November?

Fortuitously, I was recently reading one of the founders of the modern movement, Frank Meyer, who offered this principle for the 1960 election: “Should not the primary aim of conservatives be to consolidate and strengthen a conservative movement directed towards the recovery of the United States from control by liberal ideologues?”

Under that standard, the fact that Donald Trump is driving the nation’s cultural elite crazy with his attacks on political correctness is reason enough to vote for him. He undermines its overwhelming power over the national mind by his very existence.

The dilemma is that if one does not support the comic, he is stuck with the one who personifies the cultural blob. She might deep down be more conservative in some ways than Trump, but Hillary Clinton will be pushed far left by her mass and media base, especially if Democrats take both houses of Congress, which is quite likely in a landslide.

With the presidency and Congress, she could easily plunge the country into bankruptcy. And double that for the culture. Her foreign-policy romanticism and need to prove her toughness make her more likely to get into unnecessary wars.

Clinton is absolutely certain to move the country further into the social and economic void, while The Donald could do anything, offering some room for conservative maneuver.

He will not fix insolvent Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlements. He supports protectionism for his fellow crony capitalists. He is from a different planet than social conservatives, and originalist judges are more hope than promise. He says America First but also hits major powers like China and neighbors like Mexico. After Barack Obama’s generous use of the presidential “pen and phone,” it is improbable Trump will not continue building executive power.

If elected, Trump will not be conservative, but he will not be a puppet of the liberal monolith either. The best one could expect would be some rearguard blocking from the House, outside pressure by serious conservatives, and some base upon which to rebuild.

Donald Devine is a senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.

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Rod Dreher

For the third presidential election in a row, I am withholding my vote. But this time, I emphatically mean it.

I trust that I do not have to explain why I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton. There are a thousand reasons, none more important to me than the Supreme Court, especially with regard to religious liberty. There is no third party on my state’s ballot whose candidates I can support.

So why not Trump? To his credit, Trump raised issues of trade and war that the GOP establishment would not have confronted if he hadn’t grabbed it by the scruff of its flabby neck and rubbed its nose in them. Trump has all but destroyed the Republican Party, and boy, did the GOP have it coming. “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation,” said Burke. So too a political party.

The problem is Trump’s character. I don’t mind that he breaks with GOP orthodoxy on trade and foreign policy. My conservative convictions are primarily social and religious—and Trump would be an unmitigated disaster on that front. He is a narcissist with no self-restraint and is to traditional conservatism what France is to rock ’n’ roll. More to the point, his thin skin and his recklessness would put the nation at greater danger for war and economic instability than would the abominable Clinton. That risk is not worth the possibility of better Supreme Court nominations. Besides, if my support for the Iraq War taught me anything, it’s the danger of backing a politician to send a message to people I can’t stand.

Yes, I’ll still vote Republican down-ballot, but no matter who wins the presidency in November, America loses. Therefore, I choose to cease shoring up the imperium, and instead to focus on constructing local community by practicing the anti-political politics of the Benedict Option. It’s a localist, Christian politics committed to strengthening current institutions and creating new ones that give traditionalists the resilience to endure the tough times ahead.

The culture war is over, and my side lost. We are living in occupied territory. The long resistance we must carry out will not start in the Imperial City.     

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative and author of the forthcoming The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.

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Bruce Fein

The United States is at the precipice of total self-ruination. The crippling of liberty and benumbing government lawlessness have beset us for decades. The cause is our extra-constitutional foreign policy of perpetual, global presidential wars in a juvenile quest for world domination.

That foreign policy is fueled by a lavish multi-trillion-dollar military-industrial-counterterrorism complex against which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned over 50 years ago. It has saddled the nation with a staggering, climbing $20 trillion debt and hijacked the nation’s genius and talents from production to killing, at huge cost to prosperity.

The cure for our self-ruination is the Constitution’s foreign policy of invincible self-defense in which only Congress can cross the Rubicon from peace to war. It has done so only five times in 227 years, and only in response to an actual or perceived attack against the United States itself. (A treaty ratified by the Senate cannot substitute for a declaration, which requires the concurrence of both legislative chambers.)

That is why I will cast my 2016 presidential vote for Gary Johnson.

Among all the candidates, only he has exhibited hints of understanding that the glory of the United States is liberty, not the global projection of force; that our salvation lies in the Constitution and due process, not limitless executive power to play judge, jury, prosecutor, and executioner—i.e., to kill any person the president decrees is endangering national security based on secret, unsubstantiated evidence; that the citizens’ right to be left alone from government snooping is the most cherished right amongst civilized peoples, one that should never be disturbed without a judicial warrant based on probable cause; and that our endless gratuitous presidential wars abroad are making us less safe by awakening enemies who would otherwise be diverted by internecine convulsions.

Only Mr. Johnson will keep us out of war with China over the South China Sea.

Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and a founding partner at Fein & Delvalle PLLC.

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Michael Fumento

That lever in the voting booth for presidential candidates? I’m not pulling it this year.

If I’m going to vote I want a choice—you know, like a democracy. What I see this year is not just a harbinger of the end of American democracy but rather evidence that it’s already here.

Democratic voters were actually offered only one Democrat, along with a self-declared socialist who presented no realistic competition. Then the party rigged the primaries against him anyway. GOP voters got plenty of candidates, so many that Trump’s opponents split their votes, saddling Republicans with a nominee most of them never wanted.

To my mind the last “presidential” president (although I didn’t like him at the time) was Bush the elder. Since then we’ve had three incredible losers—except in the literal sense. Each was elected and then reelected. Yes, I know that since the last of the founding fathers, lousy presidents have perhaps been more the rule than the exception. But we seem to have entered a phase where the system filters out candidates of genuine stature and competence. The cream sinks to the bottom. We have now endured 24 years of incompetence with at least four more to come.

Is this a drought or a permanently changed weather pattern? Are we getting worse politicians, or has the electorate changed? I’d say both. An oligarchy/plutocracy presents the limited slate, but the voters do choose from among them.

And lately, voters have been scared, seeing both economic and social decline and looking for a grand-slam batter rather than one who simply gets on base consistently. Someone who can reverse a half-century of slowing GDP growth single-handedly. That no president can do—but a dictator might. Hence the appeal of Trump’s promise to “Make America great again.” Hence the willingness to support such a stark authoritarian with the accompanying loss of freedom, as we did 15 years ago with the “Patriot Act” to fight the “War on Terror.”

With a most heavy heart and a desperate desire to be proved wrong, I believe that all too soon even the pretense of democracy in America will disappear.

Michael Fumento is an attorney, author, journalist, and former paratrooper who covered the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from the ground.

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Philip Giraldi

I will be voting for Donald Trump on November 8 even though I abhor his comments about Muslims and cringe over his tendency to shoot his mouth off regarding problems that he clearly does not understand. I am doing so because there are two major issues that particularly concern me. They are war versus peace and what to do about illegal immigration, which I believe is changing the culture of our country and not for the better.

On both of those issues Trump has been consistent. He would respect Russia’s Vladimir Putin and deal with him fairly in an effort to avoid conflict. As Russia is the only country in the world that could plausibly destroy the United States, that is the correct policy. On immigration, Trump would take the necessary steps to control our borders and enforce immigration law. He would also begin the process of repatriating those who are here illegally. If we are truly a country where the rule of law operates, that is the right thing to do.

Hillary Clinton is on the wrong side of both issues. She is surrounded by neocons who have defected from the GOP, and she has been threatening Russia over Syria and Ukraine while ignoring the fact that such provocations could lead to nuclear war. She has also threatened to ring nuclear-armed China with missiles. Domestically, she is promising amnesty for the illegals who are already here and would presumably follow the Obama precedent of selective enforcement of immigration laws, both rooted in what appears to be a cynical intention to create a Hispanic voting bloc loyal to the Democratic Party.

I also support Trump because he has been a richly deserved wrecking ball on the Republican Party establishment. The corrupt and largely ineffective GOP leadership has abandoned virtually every conservative principle that the party once stood for. It has embraced unending war, has surrendered regarding illegal immigration, has ceded the moral high ground on social issues, and has abjectly failed to protect American workers and the U.S. economy against globalism.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

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Paul Gottfried

Despite the fact that I helped launch a declaration of support for Trump from scholars (broadly understood), I’ve always regarded myself as a hesitant supporter of my candidate. I was initially a backer of Rand Paul, but when I saw that candidate and his campaign fading, I went over to Trump. (By then he had become the head of a much-needed insurgency against the GOP establishment.) I’m painfully aware of the Donald’s lack of discipline and staggering verbal ineptitude and have written articles about these worrisome problems. My fellow Trump supporters complain about my lack of enthusiasm for theirourcandidate, to which I respond that it’s my utter loathing for his opponent and for those neocons who have defected to her that keep me chained to his side.

I do have political hopes—for example, getting rid of government social engineering pursued under the banner of fighting discrimination, controlling our borders more effectively than either national party has been willing to do, and ending our crusade to impose our “democratic values” on those who don’t care to have them. I doubt that Trump will deliver the full package if elected, but I’m sure he’ll do a lot more than Hill to bring us closer to my goals. He’ll make some effort to protect our borders and get rid of felonious illegal residents. He may also mean what he says when he promises to try to cultivate better relations with the Russian government. But whatever Trump does in foreign relations can’t be any worse than what I expect from a Hillary presidency, particularly if the angry, righteous lady in the pantsuit surrounds herself with the likes of Robert Kagan, Bret Stephens, Max Boot, and Bill Kristol.

And, oh yes, unlike recent Republican presidential candidates, Trump looks like he’s interested in winning. He may sound crude and impulsive, but unlike Mitt and McCain, he delights in being confrontational with the Democratic smear artists and their lackey press.

Paul Gottfried is the author of Leo Strauss and the American Conservative Movement.

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Leon Hadar

Maryland is going to vote for Hillary Clinton, and since I assumed that my vote in this state wasn’t going to have any impact on the outcome of the presidential race, I initially considered casting my ballot for the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson. But his performance during the campaign failed to impress me, not to mention my growing differences with the libertarians on issues like immigration and trade.

Indeed, I believe that when it comes to immigration, trade, and foreign policy, the globalist agenda promoted by the two major political parties has harmed U.S. strategic and economic interests and benefited mostly the political and economic elites—who hope to maintain the status quo by getting Clinton elected.

I do think that advancing economic and political liberalism is important as a way of preserving individual identity and providing humans with wings to fly. But humans also want to belong to a group, to maintain a sense of collective identity, to have roots in the past. When these two colliding needs are not in balance, a political backlash to achieve new equilibrium is inevitable.

Trumpism as a movement represents this political backlash and an attempt to achieve this new equilibrium. As I wrote previously, I hope that Trumpism can evolve into “a new and inclusive political movement along the lines of a New Nationalism, an American Gaullism, or a modified version of globalism that places the national interest at its center.” A new nationalism that would not be based on racial identity, but reflect American historical and cultural identity, would have to be “more communitarian than libertarian in its general approach, more Hamiltonian than Jeffersonian on economic policy, and more Nixonian than Cheneyan on foreign policy.”

Donald Trump probably gets all of this, which explains why he won the Republican presidential nomination and has a chance of winning the general election. And his victory would clearly deliver a blow to the Washington establishment and open the door to political and economic change along the lines I described.

While I don’t believe that Trump is a racist, a nativist, or even a misogynist, I have been appalled by his occasional personal misbehavior and by some of the comments he has made. I would have preferred to see a highly educated and articulate gentleman occupying the White House. But facing the choice between Trump and his Democratic opponent, I plan to vote for him on November 8.

Leon Hadar is a senior analyst with Wikistrat, a geo-strategic consulting firm, and teaches international relations at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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Jack Hunter

The incomparable awfulness of the 2016 election was supposed to be a breakout moment for the Libertarian Party. The combined factors of Hillary Clinton being one of the weakest and most disliked major party candidates in history and Donald Trump turning the Republican Party on its head in the most polarizing fashion imaginable ensured that far more voters than usual would be desperate for alternatives.

On paper, Gary Johnson and William Weld looked like a great ticket—both former Republican two-term governors from blue states who might give the LP credibility and, hopefully, formidability. While I still believe the most obvious and politically serious vehicle for libertarian ideas is the Republican Party, a healthy LP could aid those efforts, and it might be beneficial for the liberty message to be broadcast by someone in the general election.

But the spectacular, high-profile education campaign many expected the Libertarians to deliver never materialized. The fault lies with Johnson, who after too many missteps proved he was not up to this messaging task. Even he has admitted as much.

Still, if I agree with Clinton on two or three issues, and with Trump on maybe a half dozen, I still agree with Johnson-Weld on probably 50 or more. As a libertarian conservative who disagrees vehemently with the LP ticket on abortion and religious liberty, the Libertarians are still the clear choice and will have my vote.

But I’m cognizant of these policy distinctions only because I’m intimately familiar with what Libertarians stand for. Most Americans aren’t aware. It was up to Johnson-Weld to make voters understand that they stood for less government, less war, and more tolerance, in stark contrast to what the two major parties were offering in 2016. Unfortunately, for them and libertarians, that never happened.

Jack Hunter is the politics editor at Rare.us and the former new media director for Sen. Rand Paul.

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Carol Iannone

This election is different from all others. The Republican candidate has had to endure not only the variegated leftist bias emanating from our media and elites but also vociferous opposition from a cohort of Republicans and conservatives.

Democracy is self-government. We cannot shirk our duty to take the best option under the circumstances and to prevent the worst—a continuation of the Obama years via Hillary Clinton, wedded to a program of taxation, regulation, redistribution, and enforced group equality, all of it “by any means necessary.” And make no mistake, anything other than a vote for Trump is a vote for her.

Trump is willing to cut through the stultifying smog of political correctness that has been choking off free discourse in our time, speak of American greatness, and act out of the enlightened self-interest in which the Founders believed.

The Democrats no longer even pretend to respect the rule of law, as they showed in their one-party machinations in passing Obamacare. For their part, the Republicans have been unable or unwilling to stop a president determined to go beyond his constitutional powers to advance the agenda of the authoritarian left. Our renowned checks and balances are not working.

At one time neoconservatives had all the right answers—on facing down Communism, on the need for greater market freedom, on the excesses of the welfare state and its spiritual costs. But then they started getting it all wrong.

Trump has seen that mass immigration, free trade, and the democracy project, all of which may have admirable aspects, need rethinking in light of what history is teaching us. Immigration has harmed many workers. Free trade has drained away jobs. All men may desire freedom, but not all cultures are prepared for it, as we saw in Iraq.

The middle-class culture and sensibility that supports liberal self-government is eroding. Multiculturalism is undercutting individual rights and individual responsibility. We are becoming a nation of group rights, with a fictive Marxist overlay of an oppressive dominant class purportedly suppressing the downtrodden minorities.

Trump is not the final answer for our brokenness, just the better answer today. We’ve had the Square Deal, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, and now we can get a better deal. And that’s a great deal for now.

Carol Iannone writes on literature and culture for a variety of publications.

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Daniel Larison

Traditional conservatives have almost no good choice in the presidential election this year. However, there is one party whose ticket most closely represents what I believe, and that is the American Solidarity Party, which is running Michael Maturen and Juan Muñoz. The Solidarity Party comes out of a tradition of Christian democratic and populist politics, and the party platform emphasizes a consistent pro-life ethic and a commitment to subsidiarity.  

The Solidarity Party opposes military action that violates just-war principles and holds that “a less aggressive foreign policy will reduce the threat of terrorism within our borders.” They reject the use of torture, they favor closing most U.S. military bases overseas, and they call for the repeal of the Patriot Act. They offer a platform that is socially conservative and economically populist in other matters, but one that is also arguably more libertarian in its foreign-policy and national-security positions than the Libertarian ticket.

The Republican nominee can’t be trusted to do anything he says, and the Democratic nominee represents most of what is wrong with our current political class. Even if that weren’t the case, I have never cast a vote for a major-party nominee, and I see no reason to do so this time. Since I happen to live in a state (Pennsylvania) that accepts the Solidarity Party ticket as official write-in candidates, I have the opportunity to vote for the party that most closely aligns with my views. I’ll be writing in Michael Maturen and Juan Muñoz on Election Day.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative.

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Chase Madar

One of the few constants of Hillary Clinton, in all likelihood our next president, is a militarized response to any foreign-policy problem. What are the chances of antiwar Trumpistas and Berniebros pushing her administration into more pacific statecraft, perhaps even out of the seven (at last count) countries where we are now waging war? Me, I’m optimistic.

It’s true that the surprisingly vigorous primaries in both major parties were fueled, as ever, by domestic concerns. But there were contrasts in foreign policy too. Trump roundly condemned the Iraq invasion—a major violation of GOP etiquette—and (falsely) claimed to have been against that war from the beginning. Trump is also more pacific than Hillary on the Ukraine crisis.

How much do Trump’s dove noises mean? Not a lot: George W. Bush, after all, campaigned on a “more humble” foreign policy and disavowed nation-building. I expect Trump, given his erratic and authoritarian personality and style, would be even more of a war risk than Hillary. But his attacks on Hillary’s knee-jerk hawkishness, however contradictory and opportunistic, are at least putting the message out in the conservative-populist precincts of the public sphere, where they have already gained traction, for instance in the #DraftOurDaughters meme blasting Hillary as a warmonger.

As for Bernie, though he voted against the Iraq War, he is hardly a bold voice for peace, as seen in his support for the Libyan war, drone assassination, the Afghan war, and ongoing patronage of Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Even so, his overall foreign-policy position—essentially the same as Obama’s—is significantly less militaristic than Hillary’s. In the debates, Bernie condemned Henry Kissinger, called for the normalization of diplomatic relations with Iran, and spoke of Palestinians as human beings. Bernie’s followers tend to be dovish, but they are animated mainly by a social-democratic agenda at home, to which they correctly see Hillary Clinton as a major obstacle. This preexisting hostility to Madame President is easily convertible into opposition to her next act of war, whether a no-fly zone with expanded airstrikes in Syria or armed escalation in Ukraine. Clinton, who represents anything but fresh hope and new ideas, is not going to get the same honeymoon from progressives that Obama enjoyed (and abused).

All right, smart guy, so whom are you voting for? I’m in deep-blue New York, so it doesn’t matter, but if I were voting in my native Ohio, I’d hold my nose and choose Clinton, whom I see as a more manageable problem than Trump. I am genuinely looking forward to a broad antiwar coalition constricting Hillary’s pro-war reflexes, a coalition that is more than a little deplorable. Do the liberal hawks and neocons clustered around Hillary know what a rough ride they’re in for?

Chase Madar is an attorney in New York and the author of The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story Behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower.

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Thomas Mallon

I intend to cast a write-in ballot, which will somehow both remove me from and allow me to participate in a competition between corruption (her) and monstrous absurdity (him).

A friend has suggested that I write in George H.W. Bush, a fine old fellow and a quite solid president. I didn’t think this possible until the friend reminded me that GHWB, having served only one term, is not prohibited from running for another by the 22nd amendment. Alas, whatever pleasure I took in the thought of writing in Bush’s name was quickly snuffed by the realization that this means Jimmy Carter also remains eligible for a second stint in the White House.

My current plan is to enjoy casting my first presidential vote for a woman. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has been strong and clear-headed in her denunciation of Trump. She calls him, with accurate economy, “cruel.” She is a bit more liberal than I am on one issue or another, but she is an excellent public servant, and I could leave the voting booth with my head high after writing in her name.

If Trump wins, I’ll be down at the Board of Elections the following morning to withdraw my registration as a Republican. If he loses, I hope that every Republican who supported him and inflicted this nightmare upon us will engage in shame and soul-searching. If the Republican Party undergoes a rebirth into something morally and intellectually sound, that will be grand. If it fails to do so, then let it, as the first Republican President said, perish from the earth.

Thomas Mallon, a novelist, essayist, and critic, is the author of, most recently, Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years.

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Daniel McCarthy

Twenty-five years ago, America’s leaders made a catastrophic decision. As the USSR dissolved, they continued to pursue the creation of a world systema global order of democratic liberalism policed by U.S. military power. During the Cold War, the realities of the superpower conflict checked the ideological excesses of liberals and democracy-promoters. That was true with respect to their ambitions abroadmost Americans did not imagine the whole world would become like us; the thing was to prevent it from becoming like the Sovietsand also of their domestic objectives. America had to remain strong as a nation-state, economically and culturally, to resist not just Soviet military might but also the allure of the socialist ideal.

Once the Soviets were out of the way, however, our liberal elite was released from its constraints: they were free not only to remake the world in their image but to remake Americans as well. For two decades, Republicans and Democrats, Clintons and Bushes alike, waged wars and employed all the soft and hard power at Washington’s disposal to transform everyone everywhere, from Moscow to Moscow, Idaho. For a while, ordinary Americans believed their leaders’ promises: the new global order would mean endless prosperity and a safer world.

But it was all a self-serving lie by a self-deluded ruling clique. The 9/11 attacks, the Afghan and Iraq wars, massacres in Europe, and perpetual chaos in the Middle East proved that globalism does not mean a world at peace. The Great Recession discredited the dream of perpetual growth. And all the while, the nation’s cultural cohesion frayed, as citizenship became less important than playing the role assigned by Washington and Wall Street.

Donald Trump represents a rejection of the path America’s leaders have followed for a quarter-century: a change in basic attitudes toward our role in the world and the relationship of citizens’ national interests to elites’ financial and ideological interests. Trump’s flaws are obvious, but those who fear that he’s too radical or authoritarian misjudge the danger: the system we presently have, unrestrained ideological left-liberalism, is radical and authoritarian in its unchecked excess, and if a force like Trump isn’t available to correct it, a more dangerous counterforce threatens to arise on the left or the right.

Trump and his ideas should not be unconstrained themselves, of course. But it’s clear where the constraints on him will come from: from the media, from business and financial elites, from the opposition party, and even from his own party. That’s if he wins. More likely he will lose; but the better he does, the stronger the rebuke to the bipartisan elite, and the greater the chance they will begin to restrain their ideological rapacity.

Daniel McCarthy is the editor of The American Conservative.

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Scott McConnell

I will vote enthusiastically for Donald Trump. If I lived in a swing state, I might have to consider the real possibility that he wouldn’t be able to govern successfully. But I don’t. Meanwhile, the core elements of Trump’s campaign—support for immigration levels based on immigrants’ ability to assimilate and help the American economy; trade deals judged by a realistic weighing of their impact on American manufacturing; skepticism about military intervention (and opposition to the Iraq War); rejection of the exceedingly dangerous Beltway groupthink moving us toward confrontation with Russia—are as important as ever and ought to be primary concerns of the GOP going forward. The larger Trump’s vote, the more likely they will be.

Of course Trump has been a poor representative of Trumpism in numerous ways: his propensity to personalize issues; his failure to prepare for the personal attacks to which he was vulnerable; his failure to acquire or display much policy fluency; his penchant for crude “Jacksonian” hawkish statements. Nonetheless, Trump has achieved something truly historical. His primary victories exposed how disconnected was the Beltway conservative establishment, which opposes Trump on every one of his core concerns, from the broad majority of GOP voters. Because attacks on Trump’s person, rather than his policy positions, defined Hillary Clinton’s campaign, it seems that Democrats are none too confident that many of their voters aren’t latent Trumpians either. That’s an achievement to be celebrated and built upon.

I hope Trumpism and “the American Greatness agenda” find new, less flawed tribunes. For Donald Trump to have made it this far—against GOP, Democratic, and media establishments combined against him to a degree I’ve never witnessed in my lifetime—required levels of personal courage and self-confidence that are difficult to match. Because he shattered so many molds, those who follow in his footsteps won’t need to.

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.

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Noah Millman

When Donald Trump entered the primaries, I thought he was, if not quite a breath of fresh air, then a blast of gale-force wind that might finally force the GOP to repair its rickety house before something terrible happened to it. Instead the house collapsed, and The Donald is lord of the ruins.

Trump raised some absolutely essential issues in this campaign and exposed the emptiness of many political shibboleths. But he has not distinguished between those shibboleths deserving of scorn and the vital norms that underpin any democratic system. Moreover, he is manifestly unfit for the presidency and plainly has no actual plans to address most of the issues that he raised. I believe he would be a singularly disastrous president.

As for Hillary Clinton, I have never counted myself among her odiators. She is not very good at wholesale politics, and she wins no prizes as a manager. But on a retail level she can be quite effective—she was a very good Senator for my home state, for example. Not all of politics is understanding how the machinery of the regulatory state works, but some of it is, and Clinton has demonstrated a more than competent mastery in that area. Donald Trump, by contrast, has been singularly inept at every activity except self-promotion, a conclusion evidenced by the entire scope of his business career as well as the conduct of his campaign for president.

Some of Clinton’s domestic priorities I agree with; others I disagree with. I would like to see a candidate who was more forceful in addressing climate change, and I would also like a candidate who was more critical of a trade regime that benefits corporations and hurts workers (one of the issues that Trump has raised forcefully, as did Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries). But Clinton is a creature of the center, and while the center unfortunately does not always hold, it is perfectly capable of moving when necessary. Clinton moved to the right on crime and welfare reform when the politics of the 1990s demanded it. I have no doubt she will move where the politics of the 2010s demand she go.

My primary reservation about Clinton involves her foreign policy instincts, which I believe are distinctly bad. She is an American primacist with a genuinely disturbing lust for military action. She was wrong on Iraq, wrong on Libya, and wrong or Syria. I expect her to be wrong repeatedly and in a similar fashion during her administration. I have deep concerns about her approach to both Russia and Iran, problematic actors on the international stage that require deft diplomacy rather than reflexive hostility. She is the most belligerent Democratic nominee since Johnson, and I would not be shocked to see her presidency end in a similar fashion to his.

But Trump provides no responsible alternative, just as Goldwater was not a responsible alternative to Johnson. Trump’s notion of an “America First” foreign policy is neither a restrained, Jeffersonian conservatism of the heart, nor a cool, calculating Hamiltonian conservatism of the head, but an unbridled Jacksonian conservatism of the testicles. I am confident that in the best case a Trump presidency would seriously damage American interests. The worst case is difficult to calculate.

I considered voting for a third party candidate, and might have done so if any had presented a compelling proposition with a chance of affecting the course of politics going forward. In my opinion, none has.

On November 8th, I will be voting for Hillary Clinton.

Noah Millman is a senior editor at The American Conservative.

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Daniel Oliver

First, let’s dispose of some of the reasons for not voting for Trump.

1. Claim: Trump’s an American Hitler.

Response: No, he’s not. And even if he were, America is not that far gone. If he wins, every Democrat and probably most Republicans will be salivating to impeach him as soon as possible—though probably not till January 23, unless Congress wants to work over the weekend.

2. Claim: He’s a boor and he gropes women.

Response: So what? Is he going to make rap music worse? Would you rather have a boor or a crook? Hillary Clinton is a certified crook (certified by the FBI, even if not prosecuted) who, like her husband, will do serious damage to the rule of law (Where law ends, tyranny begins.—John Locke). And doesn’t groping sound like a high crime or misdemeanor to you?

3. Claim: A Trump victory will badly damage the Republican Party.

Response: Not clear. The damage may already have been done. But just as likely, his loss will put some moxie into the party, which if it had had any at the Republican National Convention would have denied him the nomination.

The affirmative case:

1. He’s not Hillary Clinton. Case closed?

2. His list of Supreme Court nominees is very good. Case closed?

3. Although his immigration policy, as stated, may be completely unrealistic, it shows an understanding of the concept of a country: borders (of the enforced variety) and determination by the country, not by affected individuals, of who gets to be an immigrant. Case closed?

4. Trump says he believes in federalism. In response to Obama’s edict that public high schools “may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity,” Trump said: “I think the states should make the decision.” Yes! Case closed!

Daniel Oliver is chairman of the board of the Education and Research Institute and senior director of White House Writers Group. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Ronald Reagan, he was executive editor and subsequently chairman of the board of National Review.

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Gracy Olmstead

Some have argued that we must choose “the lesser of two evils” in deciding between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. They say that to vote third-party is to waste one’s vote.

But both candidates support the idea of a strong, interventionist executive. And Trump, while making some promises to conservatives on issues like abortion and foreign policy, has not demonstrated enough consistency to inspire confidence. What’s more, he seems to foment the worst instincts of his nationalist base, while reinforcing the racist and misogynist stereotypes so many use to wrongly castigate conservatism.

If there were ever a year to vote third party, this seems to be it. America’s party system—broken as it is—might emerge from this strange year with some motivation to change, to foster new leaders, and to build more appealing party platforms.

I have waffled between the American Solidarity Party and independent conservative candidate Evan McMullin. In many ways, I agree more with the platform laid out by the American Solidarity Party. They present a pro-life platform that is unequivocal, extending from before birth until natural death. They affirm principles of subsidiarity while not ignoring the plight of poor and vulnerable Americans. They break party stereotypes in every way.

In some ways, McMullin seems to be an establishment Republican. However, he’s a staunch pro-life candidate, supports criminal-justice and immigration reform, and advocates deregulation and decentralization of the federal government. His foreign-policy stance seems more interventionist and hawkish than I would like, but he has called the Iraq War a mistake.

The American Solidarity Party does not yet have a strong presidential candidate people could rally to. A vote for them may not send the message that a vote for McMullin might—especially considering the following he’s garnering in conservative states like Utah and Idaho. So this year, I’m voting for Evan McMullin.

Gracy Olmstead is associate managing editor at The Federalist and the Thursday editor of BRIGHT, a weekly newsletter for women.

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Gerald J. Russello

A good friend once remarked to me as we were discussing some recent outrage that “it is always later than you think.” And so it is with this election.

We are faced with a choice between two authoritarians, and while I understand the pro and con arguments for each, I think the belief that one is marginally better than another can can give us only so much comfort. What this election has shown more clearly perhaps than before is that we the people are choosing merely a master, not an elected magistrate; in fact, we are choosing only a functionary who will appoint our true masters, a “swing” justice or two on the Supreme Court; our real, permanent government of unelected bureaucrats abides. That this in no way reflects the system envisaged by the Founders or our founding documents is beside the point. The founding generation knew free government could not survive if the people do not want it. And most of the people do not want it.

Authoritarian government has its advantages, but they are not so great that I will exercise a choice of one form of over another in the largely mistaken belief that this is a democratic process. Clinton is (probably) not going to allow her progressive minions to drive all religious people completely from public life. Trump is (probably) not going to destroy our global prominence in a fit of mindless chest thumping. But this is small beer. One speaks the language of a smothering bureaucrat. The other, that of a street bully. Neither befits a free people.

I often wonder whether the Romans knew, and if so how, that the empire and culture was in eclipse. Partially from their example, we do not have the luxury of their ignorance. And so that ancient wisdom becomes more important: put not your faith in princes. As Russell Kirk often advised, we must put our communities first, and find our salvation outside politics. Accordingly I will not be casting a vote this November.

Gerald J. Russello is editor of The University Bookman.

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Jason Sorens

Every election is a wearying affair, but this one more than most. The vast majority of voters will, understandably, hold their noses and vote for either the corrupt, cronyist insider or the bigoted, authoritarian demagogue. Yet the only truly ethical vote in this election is for Libertarian Gary Johnson. Whatever his flaws, Johnson is the only candidate unlikely to commit any gross injustices or subvert the remnants of the constitutional order if he is elected. His willingness to admit his flaws and seek advice, and his humility about what the U.S. government can do both at home and abroad, are welcome but all too rare traits in politicians. Since by most estimates Hillary Clinton has more than an 85 percent chance of winning the election, a vote for Johnson will be a safe vote as well. If he wins more than 5 percent of the vote this time, the Libertarian Party will qualify for matching funds and ensure that an alternative to the duopoly plays a prominent role in 2020.

Whatever one’s choice in the presidential election, the more critical races might actually be down-ballot. Voters need to educate themselves on what their statehouses have been up to and their state legislative candidates’ knowledge of and positions on the issues. The federal government is a hopeless cause for reformers of any stripe, but especially for conservatives and Republicans. In 1992, Republicans held a one-point advantage in party identification among voters under 35; today, they suffer from a whopping 30-point disadvantage, according to a recent University of Massachusetts-Lowell poll. George W. Bush and Donald Trump have ruined the Republican Party’s name for an entire generation of voters, and we can expect Democratic domination at the national level for some time to come as a result—though it may be concealed in 2018 and 2020 with a backlash against an unpopular President Clinton. (That voters become more conservative with age is a myth.) It is only at the state and local levels where committed activists can make a difference.

Jason Sorens is a lecturer in the Department of Government and program director of the Political Economy Project at Dartmouth College.

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Michael Tracey

I’ve opted not to vote. The term I prefer for this is “conscious abstention.” Not voting marginally diminishes the overall rate of turnout, thereby delegitimizing the ultimate outcome and constricting the winner’s claimed “mandate.” The idea, theoretically, is to increase the likelihood that the winner will be removed from power at the earliest possible juncture. This tack is slightly unexpected for me because I used to be one of those who’d proclaim that voting is every citizen’s solemn duty. Now I’d say it’s a civic duty to refrain from legitimating the process that produced the situation we are now beset with.

Trump might be better than Hillary on foreign policy (my top issue), but he’s far too volatile to conclude that with any certainty, and he may well end up being catastrophically worse. The Clintons’ outrageous stoking of a war fervor over Russia is quite simply depraved and should disqualify them from reentering the White House.

Hillary’s ever-growing tangle of legal problems was long ago written off by Democrats as a “nothingburger,” but now it could cost her the election. There’d be some poetic justice to this eventuality, even if the consequence were the empowerment of an ill-tempered ogre who could easily take the country over the cliff with a single late-night tweet.

It’s possible that Trump could revert to his pre-campaigning days and again become a “New York City moderate” type, governing without any allegiance to movement-conservative orthodoxies and even potentially partnering with the left. Hillary would almost certainly be hobbled from day one by ethics investigations from Congress and the FBI, making her tenure truly a throwback to the scandal-plagued 1990s, which culminated in Bill Clinton’s impeachment. I wouldn’t rule out that same fate befalling Hillary.

Democrats deserve punishment for nominating a candidate with such severe legal problems, stifling a genuine populist insurgent in the most craven possible fashion (I supported Bernie Sanders but find his recent hectoring pro-Clinton conduct highly off-putting). Their shambolic, “rigged” primary process can’t be countenanced, nor can the 2016 electoral debacle as a whole, so I’ll do my small part in rejecting this horror show by declining to vote.

Michael Tracey is a journalist based in New York City.

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Eve Tushnet

1. A few years ago a friend summarized the worldview of both major political parties as, “Would it help if we killed your children?” I’m pro-life and dovish almost to the point of anarchism; I want decentralization of power and less punishment and control. You tell me who the hell I can vote for. I hope you don’t vote for Donald Trump. He will betray every position he claims to share with you. Whoever you are, he has shown contempt for your community and he does not care what happens to you. Otherwise, I don’t even know: Vote for the abortion hawk and her Catholic accomplice if you must. Vote for Gary Johnson, whose main distinguishing feature is a relatively restrained foreign policy, so it would be real nice if he knew where places like Aleppo were. Vote for the CIA guy, yeesh; Mormons are the new Catholics and I guess I hope it works out well for them.

2. The last vote I cast in a presidential race was my 2000 vote for George W. Bush, the pro-life candidate with a “humble foreign policy.” You’re welcome, America.

3. Contempt for your political opponents is sinful—even if they hated you first. Part of Hans Fallada’s greatness was his ability to see people who were literally becoming Nazis as members of his community. Love your enemies; bless those who curse you. Point #1 shows I’m great at this.

4. Contemporary conservatism swoons for ugly authorities instead of beautiful ones. Among other things, we lack artistry. Where are the satirists and portraitists, the anti-rationalists, the fans of useless suffering, those who know deserved punishment isn’t the opposite of mercy but its prerequisite? Whom should I be reading?

5. I’m probably voting for DC statehood because retrocession to Maryland isn’t on the ballot.

Eve Tushnet is a writer in Washington, DC.

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Robert VerBruggen

I’m writing in David French, the National Review scribe who briefly flirted with a third-party bid earlier this year.

French was right not to run. He lacks the needed experience. But the point of my vote isn’t to elect the president; it’s to send a message to the major parties. Here’s that message in essay form, because Virginia won’t even count my ballot.

Whatever good he could do if he were sane, to steal a wild counterfactual from Peggy Noonan, the risks of granting Trump the world’s most powerful office are simply too great. Clinton will drag this country as far to the left as humanly possible, pausing occasionally to kick it in the gut with corruption scandals. Gary Johnson is a joke unworthy of the vote I am throwing away. Evan McMullin hints too strongly at a return to the GOP status quo, which cannot be the way forward after Trump.

Why French? I do have a connection to the man: he contributed to NR’s now-defunct Phi Beta Cons blog, which I edited for a few years, and we’re still linked on social media. He is by all accounts a decent person, and he’s worked as a lawyer defending free speech and religious freedom.

More importantly, though, he has spent his life immersed in the biggest challenges today confronting the party and the country. Living in Kentucky and Tennessee he’s seen the decline of the white working class firsthand. He and his wife adopted a daughter from Ethiopia, and he has written unflinchingly about both of the fundamental facts underlying American race relations: whites still treat blacks unfairly, and the black community is plagued by high rates of violence and lagging educational performance. He’s a veteran and takes foreign entanglements seriously.

The post-Trump GOP will need someone like David French. Plus it would be pretty cool to be Facebook friends with the president.

Robert VerBruggen is managing editor of The American Conservative.

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