A few weeks ago, at the state Republican convention in Dallas, a conservative asked me in confidence whether I thought Donald Trump would really be a worse choice for president than Hillary Clinton.
The question is one that many Republicans are grappling with in the wake of Trump’s emergence as the presumptive Republican nominee and because Clinton is almost certain to be his Democratic opponent in the general election. And it’s a question that I had been somewhat ambivalent about taking seriously. Trump is so ignorant, vicious, and volatile that he would strike me as a worse choice for president than anyone the Democrats could have nominated this year. and I have no doubt that some of the Republican “leaders” who would dispute me on that point in public would privately agree.
In this case, however, the conservative asking the question happened to be one I respect, and I had no doubt that his question was serious, so I answered it seriously. And a couple of days later, when I interviewed Ted Cruz, I came to appreciate, a bit, why other serious conservatives might be struggling with the same question.
Last year, as we all know, Cruz was unusually enthusiastic about Trump adding his voice to the Republican primary; I woodshedded him for that back in August, and would still describe it as an error of judgment on his part. But my sense, during the interview in Dallas, was that Cruz himself had come to see Trump in a different light over the course of the primary—that in addition to having made a strategic miscalculation about Trump’s prospects in the primary, he had made some overly naive assumptions about Trump’s character and competence, only to have some very unpleasant realizations, on both fronts, by the time we met in Dallas, in May. That trajectory would actually make sense. I know, because while I was one of the exceptions, most Americans were glib about both Trump’s character and his chances last year. Cruz’s initial error of judgment was not unusual. What’s actually unusual about Cruz’s situation is that, because he was competing with Trump, and doing so effectively, he was confronted with the unpleasant reality earlier than most.
In retrospect, I suspect, Cruz will come to look like the canary in the coal mine. And I hope his fellow Republicans consider that possibility before it’s too late. In the meantime, here are six reasons why Clinton, from a conservative perspective, would be a better choice for president—or, at least, a less grim one—than Trump.
Clinton is more psychologically stable than Trump.
Any president can expect to confront crises and challenges; to be met with ferocious political opposition; and to face constant scrutiny and criticism. That being the case, psychological stability and resilience are pretty crucial qualities in a president. Though we can’t say how anyone would handle the pressures of a job they haven’t actually held, there is ample evidence that Clinton is unusually well equipped on this front. She’s been living her life in public for decades as part of a high profile and controversial political couple. In addition to having logged years of experience in serious jobs—as a United States senator, as Secretary of State—she has, as a result of her marriage, spent years as the First Lady of Arkansas, a state she isn’t from, and of the United States, a country where a woman in that role can expect to be judged not just on her professional accomplishments, but her hairstyle, and cookie recipes.
Clinton’s success in each of those roles is subject to debate, but even conservatives, I think, can agree with the following: we’ve all seen Clinton stumble. We’ve all seen her blanketed with hostile and, at times, deeply personal criticism. We’ve all seen her dust herself off and get back in the game. That bodes well for her ability to be put through the wringer as president.
I would agree that Clinton’s response to her critics has at times been overly defensive, even paranoid, as when, in 1998, she referred to the “vast right-wing conspiracy” working against her husband. But again, she’s faced an inordinate amount of criticism, from both the left and the right, for decades. And she’s shown herself to be far more capable of handling pressure than Trump, as she herself noted in a speech last week.
Clinton, unlike Trump, occasionally shows respect for other people, including the Americans she’s seeking to lead.
One thing I noticed, while covering the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, was that Clinton’s stump speeches, while not as inspirational as Barack Obama’s, often included a reference to the exact number of jobs that had been lost during George W. Bush’s presidency, specifically in the county she was in at the time. It was a small thing, but one that made an impression on me, because by referencing conditions on the ground she was showing that she had done her homework about the conditions the voters in the room might be dealing with. In other words, Clinton was treating the campaign like a job interview; by taking the trouble to inform herself about the details, she conveyed respect for the public’s intelligence, and their specific, localized concerns.
During the course of this year’s campaign, Clinton has come under fire from critics who see her as having began the Democratic primary with the attitude that she was entitled to it, and I can see where they’re coming from given that she had most of these superdelegates all sewn up before the voters even had a chance to weigh in. But over the course of her life, Clinton’s proven herself to be an hard-working candidate who respects the public’s intelligence rather than merely expecting its support.
Trump, meanwhile, lives in some toddler-type state of mind. Not only does he expect everyone to serve his ego, he lashes out at anyone who declines to do so. I realize “takes the trouble to Google a few facts” may not seem like a particularly high bar here. But it’s much more than Trump, who recently asked a coal executive what LNG is, has bothered to do.
Clinton isn’t a misogynist, racist, nativist, or any other kind of bigot.
The conservative who raised the question about Trump versus Clinton was one of a number of men at the convention who quietly mentioned that they had noticed, somewhere along the way, that Trump appears to have a problem with women. All of them, it turned out, had recently heard their wife, or a friend, or a colleague, say that she would under no circumstances vote for Trump. Several of them added that, further to their surprise, these Republican women of Texas had gone a step further, and said they were planning to vote for Clinton.
As a woman, the puzzlement among the menfolk was slightly comical, but mostly poignant. The men in question weren’t misogynists; misogynists don’t brood about their wives’ opinions. But they were, through no fault of their own, men. Their antennae hadn’t been calibrated by years of life as a woman. Similarly, they were white; they were Texans; none of them were Jewish, or Muslim, or members of any of the other groups Trump or his supporters have spent months maligning. Accordingly they hadn’t been primed to see, as easily as many of their fellow Americans, that Trump is a misogynist, a racist, a nativist, and a bigot; and even now they hadn’t quite grasped that the Republican nominee is, in fact, all of those things.
Holding the hand of grown adults as they come to learn unpleasant facts about our world isn’t actually my job. But I do hope that conservative readers who are still in denial about Trump’s character will believe me when I say that I really don’t cry wolf about such things, and I’m warning you right now that if you vote for Trump, you’ll be voting for a man who thinks women, including your mother, your wife, and any daughters you might have, are effectively objects for men to acquire, consume, and dispose. Actually, conservatives, let me put this to you even more bluntly: Is your daughter’s body attractive enough to elicit Donald Trump’s sexual arousal? If that question offends you, I’d recommend that you don’t vote for a candidate who would use that standard to determine her value as a human being.
And, conservatives, if you’re somehow okay with Trump’s slurs—or have even convinced yourself that they’re an auspicious measure of his willingness to stand up to “political correctness”—you should, of course, be aware that you’re associating yourself with everything that has emerged, and will, from this man’s psyche. Trump spent the past year baying like a wounded animal about all the people who threaten his fragile ego. The kind of divisiveness that Trump is engaging in has long been evident, and so has the racism, nativism and anti-Semitism his campaign has roused in the country. If you throw in with Trump, you now know—or should know—the ugliness you’re associating yourself with. It’s simply not credible, at this point, for Republicans who’ve declared their support for Trump to denounce anything he says as “unacceptable,” as Newt Gingrich did this weekend. Gingrich had already accepted Trump’s racism. Learn from his example.
Clinton is less risky than Trump.
A lot of Republican leaders have said that they are reluctantly compelled to support Trump, despite the various principled qualms they would like the public to give them credit for in the future, because he is the alternative to the Democratic nominee and the nation can’t afford four more years of Obama. I realize those leaders have incentives that make it tempting to cast a politically expedient decision as a principled one, but anyone who believes that Clinton represents an existential threat to the republic has succumbed to hysteria. In fact, we can be fairly confident that the nation can straggle through four more years of a Democratic presidency, because we’re currently in the eighth year of one. I continue to hate Obamacare, but I can see that the nation it’s been inflicted on still exists.
Meanwhile, Trump’s own supporters will be happy to tell you that they see his candidacy as an exciting chance to shake up the snow globe. There’s no reason for other conservatives to follow their lead.
The risks of a Clinton presidency are more or less known, and known to be tolerable. Yes, she’s a Democrat. Yes, she’d probably appoint Democrats to the Supreme Court. Republicans should have thought about that before settling on Trump as the man to oppose her in November. As it stands, conservatives can take comfort in the fact that Clinton, as a graduate of Yale Law, has at least heard of the Constitution, and that at the end of the day, her views are almost certainly more aligned with those of her life partner, Bill, than Obama’s. She’s a politician, so it’s hard to be sure, but it is demonstrably the case that in 2008 she made a very serious effort to thwart Obama’s efforts to become president in the first place, and almost succeeded.
It’s true that Clinton will likely pursue some policies as president that conservatives find suboptimal. But there’s also a chance that Trump would do the same—not to mention the possibility that he would undermine the rule of law and some fundamental institutions of American democracy, as some conservatives and libertarian legal scholars are now concerned about.
Clinton is more conservative than Trump on a number of key issues.
Clinton, as noted above, is to all accounts less leftist than many national Democrats. Many progressives who voted for Obama in 2008, or Sanders in 2016, would be happy to tell you that, at length. Beyond that, she’s arguably more conservative than Trump, whose political views are to all appearances derived from his personal interests and unruly feelings, and therefore don’t really map onto any kind of philosophical framework.
I’ll just give one example, because it’s a dispositively clear example. As a fiscally conservative Texan, I obviously care about a candidate’s views on trade. It is something I’m generally in favor of, and know to be a crucial pillar of the economy of the state in which I live. It used to be the case that most Republicans pretended to hold a similar view of the subject, and so it’s astounding to me that the Republican Party would nominate a candidate who is anti-trade. Trump has, in fact, specifically vowed to “beat Mexico at trade,” which would not only devastate Texas’s economy, it would create the kind of insecurity along our southern border that Dan Patrick has nightmares about.
Clinton, by contrast, is generally pro-trade. And conservatives are well within their rights to vote for the candidate whose beliefs are more closely aligned with their own. The Republican Party has abandoned conservative principles. That doesn’t mean conservative voters have to do the same.
Clinton is a Democrat.
If Clinton becomes president, Republicans will be members of the opposition, meaning they can oppose her agenda openly and even, despite this Trump disaster, with occasional credibility. If Trump becomes president, they’ll be the loyal members of a party led by a dangerously impulsive president. They’ll be chronically torn over whether they should summon the temerity to express their discomfort with whatever Trump decides to do in response to something mean he saw someone say about him on the internet, or to accept the reality that he is their leader, and they are tools he feels free to use to serve his ego. I know which lifestyle I’d prefer.
So there you go, conservatives. Six reasons. And though I could go on, I suspect any of you who’ve read this far could use a break. But that does bring up one more reason conservatives should hope Clinton beats Trump: if she does, that’ll likely be the end of Trump’s career in politics. And so I’d have no more reason to write about him, or the many Republicans humiliating themselves on his behalf, ever again.