After seemingly endless debates and primaries, the American people have spoken, and the two parties have presented us with a choice: Clinton v. Trump. What a choice.
First, it’s tempting to blast the system. When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both so widely viewed as seriously flawed candidates, it’s easy to conclude the system is somehow broken. It is perhaps more perceptive to ask whether we, the American people, are getting what we want – and deserve. I can only hope that our society has not deteriorated so drastically that we should expect our future choices to be this dismal.
As a conservative and a lifelong Republican, I stoutly resisted Trump’s nomination. First, I was for Scott Walker, then Marco Rubio, then Ted Cruz and finally John Kasich. Hence, my conscience is clear – I am in no way responsible for Trump as the nominee. But, alas, however we got to this point and whatever it means for the future, I’m left with the decision of Trump v. Clinton.
It’s tempting to continue to stand on principle and to vote for a third party candidate or to write in the name of a good solid conservative Republican – many come to mind. There is no third party candidate who really represents the traditional conservative policies of the Republican Party. Gary Johnson and William Weld, the Libertarian ticket, were two maverick governors – never really in the conservative mainstream. Furthermore, the American system has wisely channeled political life into two major organized parties; and, so long as our system of government endures, third party candidates and write-in candidates stand little-to-no chance of winning and certainly no chance of governing should they happen to win.
For conservatives, Trump has been maddeningly inconsistent – and sometimes downright heretical – on such core issues as limited government, entitlement reform, free trade, minimum wage policy and national defense. It is heartening for conservatives to see the 2016 GOP Platform as a genuinely conservative document, but Trump’s commitment to the platform is still suspect. Probably the most difficult call is on foreign policy.
Much has been said about Trump’s temperament and how he might interact with foreign leaders. Conservatives just don’t know what to expect from a Trump foreign policy, but I’m afraid Clinton would provide four more years of Obama’s retrenchment and decline. My best hope is that the core of the Republican Party and our leadership remain committed to basic conservative principles and can exert sufficient pressure on Trump as president to govern as a conservative.
On the other hand, Clinton and the Democratic Party have been thoroughly consistent in advocating policies that are anathema to any conservative. As Bobby Jindal noted recently: Trump is very unpredictable. Hillary Clinton is not. From a conservative’s viewpoint, there’s a chance that Trump might well do some good; there’s no chance that Clinton will. The direction of the Supreme Court is in the balance, and conservatives can be certain Trump appointees will be far more acceptable than Clinton’s.
As a Christian, this vote is also a tough decision. Trump is a twice-divorced, self-acknowledged adulterer who has, in the course of this campaign, uttered some of the most unkind, disgusting comments ever made by any American politician. Sadly, Clinton offers no personal moral superiority. Hers is a long history of scandal and inveterate lying. On the moral, political issue most important to Christians – abortion – Trump has a history of vacillation, although he is running now on a strong pro-life position. However, Clinton has never wavered in her support for expanding access to abortion. She advocates repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which is credited with saving the lives of over 1.1 million babies over its 40-year history.
It never feels very good to arrive at a decision via negative reasoning, but it’s far easier for me to commit never to vote for Clinton – and the 2016 Democratic platform – than it is to commit to vote for Trump. However, politics is always ultimately about pursuing the possible – not the ideal. For conservatives who could never vote for Clinton, the resulting by-product is necessarily a vote for Trump.
Conservatives agree the last eight years have set America on a dangerous path. We cannot afford four more years of economic stagnation, government expansion and foreign policy retreat. There is too much at stake not to vote for a change in course.
Garland S. Tucker III is a Raleigh businessman, historian and author.