Peter has made his decision, as announced on the recent podcast. In his view, a national election is indeed an A-B test, and he’s choosing, well, T. He’s with James Taranto and not Kevin Williamson. He’s not going to slink around apologizing for it anymore.
This isn’t surprising (he’s been reasonably clear about his views for awhile) and it’s not my place to scold him. I do think a respectable case can be made for voting for Trump. But I can’t resist the urge to point out that the way Peter has come out for Trump, to me, confirms exactly my reasons for not supporting Trump, and not believing that this can be as straightforward as the A-B test.
The best case for #NeverTrump has always been, in my mind, the Not My Monster argument. At this point is seems mostly settled that a heinously vicious and dishonest person is going to be America’s next president. Would we prefer, then, that that person be ours, or the other party’s? It’s actually a difficult question.
Our monster will, we hope, be at least a bit more susceptible to conservative influence, and a bit more congenial to our ideals and policy agenda. (That’s not certain, but at least it is possible.) The other party’s monster will be more absolutely hostile, but at least that gives us the advantage of being able to remake our party and agenda without the heavily compromising influence of an awful leader. Also, if Washington is a mess over the next four years (likely), it will be easier to win the next election if the monster in the Oval Office isn’t ours. In troubled times, voters tend to let the parties take turns in the executive office. Is it worse to give the Democrats two turns in a row, or to waste one of our turns on Trump?
Honestly, I vacillate week by week as to which candidate I hope to see win. I’m not voting for either, but I wouldn’t condemn everyone who is. Having said that, Peter’s attitude towards Trump these days is troubling.
It’s one thing to stop slinking, but it’s another entirely to stop frowning. It struck me how Peter repeated, I believe, three times in the podcast (but without much vehemence) that no, Trump is not the next Reagan. I thought: the next Reagan? He’s not the next Mitt Romney. He’s not the next John McCain. He’s not even the next John Boehner. We had seventeen choices and he was the worst. It wasn’t even close, in fact. Peter makes a negative comparison, but by choosing the conservative icon of the last four decades for contrast, he leaves the strong impression, “This outcome isn’t ideal, but basically, things are okay.”
Things are not okay. Trump is not just utterly untrustworthy and an awful person; he is also hostile or indifferent to most of the most critical planks of the conservative agenda. And he is running explicitly as a Caesarist, effectively promising to expand the abuse of executive power. It’s hard to decide whether to be dismayed or pleased by the overwhelming impression of incompetence and ignorance in all matters of state.
I was also struck by the way Peter was optimistic about Trump’s SCOTUS list, reasoning that Trump will be unable to violate his promises without totally alienating his voting base. That’s true, of course, and for most politicians it would be a compelling consideration, even for a politician of bad character. But Trump is not only vicious, he is also a complete outsider with no history of allegiance to either Republicans or conservatives. To put the point bluntly: Does he care? He seems to be the kind of guy who enjoys negative attention as much as positive, and his personal friends surely lean leftward. He might be entertained by the howls of betrayal after he picks the next Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
To be clear, I’m not saying with confidence that this will happen. If we were just nominating the selector of the next Supreme Court justice (or two, or three), then yes, I would prefer Trump to Hillary. He might betray us, but then again, it’s possible he won’t. What troubles me is how Peter talks as though he sees Trump’s betrayal of conservatives — in the one thing we most want from him — as a fairly outside possibility. Everything we know about the man suggests to me that it’s a very live possibility, and certainly one that should be considered if we’re discussing electoral SCOTUS implications.
To my mind, this shows exactly the reasons for rejecting the “A-B test” view of elections. If a vote is really just an expression of preference between A and B, it is perfectly possible to choose one without any appreciable level of support for either one. But once we decide to support a particular candidate, we tend to adjust ourselves psychologically to thinking of him as the sort of candidate that merits our support. It’s very hard to make that transition without compromising ourselves and our agenda, potentially quite severely.
Here is my final example, taken from a comment of Peter’s in the thread following that podcast. Peter is explaining that, however bad he is, he can’t be as bad as Hillary. In that context, he writes:
Hillary may be polished where Trump is vulgar, but that’s purely a matter of taste.
I thought I was losing the capacity to be amazed, but I admit that I was quite thunderstruck. Trump publicly insults women. He winks at white supremacists. He speaks gleefully about torture and war crimes. He discusses the size of his manhood in nationally televised debates. His remarks on immigration are so offensively nativist that Texas Democrats have successfully shrunk the Republicans in that state simply by playing tapes of Trump on the radio. I could go on but it’s all too familiar by now, and to this, the genteel and civilized Peter Robinson says: a matter of taste?
I appreciate that even this level of offense must sometimes be borne when the options are so exceedingly poor. But even if we have to live with it, we should at least try to resist the normalization, shouldn’t we?
Vote for Trump if you must, but please, not this! At least do us the favor of publicly holding your nose!