For American conservatives who believe in Judeo-Christian values, Free Market Capitalism and Classical Liberalism, the 2016 election is already lost.
On the one hand, we have the Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton, who is perhaps the most corrupt figure ever to seek the presidency. Clinton is a serial liar and self-promoter who has compromised our national security and enriched herself by selling government favors – both on a scale so unprecedented in our national politics that they make the word "unprecedented" itself sound like a Clintonian misdirect. To the extent that Mrs. Clinton still has an ideological motive somewhere beneath her soaring self-regard, it is of so leftist a bent that it all but ensures the final destruction of what remains of our constitutional republic in favor of an authoritarian state in which anything that is not mandatory is illegal.
On the other hand, we have as the Republican nominee one of Mrs. Clinton’s financial supporters – has that ever happened before? – a man who actually sought Mrs. Clinton’s husband’s advice about whether or not to run in the first place (and received a positive recommendation, by the way). Like Mrs. Clinton, Donald Trump is a serial liar and self-promoter but with the added benefit of being a litigious, boorish vulgarian who boasts about bedding married women, plays footsies with overt racists, praises dictators, promotes conspiracy theories, suggests that Ted Cruz’s father may have plotted to assassinate John F. Kennedy and echoes the worst slander of George Soros that “Bush lied; people died.” To the extent that he has any ideological motive beneath his soaring self-regard, it is too obscure to make out, but all signs point to so decidedly a European right-wing (read, nationalist left-wing) bent that it all but ensures the final destruction of what remains of our constitutional republic in favor of an authoritarian state.
While Mr. Trump may have some utility in the fight against political correctness, actual correctness has also been a casualty of his campaign. And while some well-intentioned Republicans may have decided to support him because of his perceived strength or likely-empty border promises, most of us (as in more than 50%) opposed him.
But as the convention formally nominates Mr. Trump, those of us in the opposition have been left with very few choices – the most common of which seems to be to say you intend to reluctantly vote for Donald Trump, only to quickly begin advocating openly for him, downplaying his most egregious flaws, lashing out at the only people on earth who actually share your Deeply Held Beliefs ™, and using the techniques of third world despots and Democrats to suppress any parliamentary opposition to him. After all, the people have spoken. All 44% of them.
For those conservatives who wish to survive the election principles intact, however, the choices are really only two: Hold your nose and vote Trump to stop Hillary, or do not vote for president at all.
Both of these choices have the benefit of being moral and logical. Which is more moral and more logical? No one knows, and that is the crisis so many of us are trying to resolve, even while many of our long-time ideological allies mock and harangue us as though there were no crisis at all.
But the answer is in no way an obvious one.
The prevailing argument for "hold-your-nose" support seems to be that the country cannot survive four more years of leftist ascendency. No one knows that to be true, of course, but certainly we all agree that four years (or eight!) of Hillary Clinton at the helm would be disastrous to our experiment in liberal self-government. The second amendment, the fifth amendment, freedom of religion and speech, separation of powers, originalism on the Supreme Court, entrepreneurialism – all of the hallmarks of the American founding will be lost, or very nearly so, by the time she finishes her tenure.
The problem is that Donald Trump either is or has been on the same side as Mrs. Clinton on almost all of these issues. Mr. Trump has already bullied the NRA into concessions, called for the curtailing of speech with which he disagrees, supported the premise that men should be able to enter women’s restrooms – one of the defining religious freedom issues of our time – and called for higher taxes and an expanded welfare state – both in the form of continuing a status quo approach to Social Security and advocating for a European-style National Healthcare scheme. As a cronyist , he has used the protectionist policies that big government affords the very, very rich to his advantage. As for the courts, while we know what Hillary will do with the courts, we also know that even Reagan, who understood and desired an originalist court, failed in two-out-of-three at bats. Are we really to believe that Trump will get right by accident what Reagan and Bush failed to do on purpose? What if the Democrats take the Senate? Will the famous "deal maker" really stand against their filibuster, destroying his ability to build a legacy, in order to put “judges” on the bench who believe in some seemingly archaic concepts that he can’t even articulate?
Which leaves us with this question: If Hillary will send America barreling toward the cliff at such a clip that we can’t even survive one term of her as president, how many can we survive of Trump? Is she 50% worse than he? If so, we still go over the cliff, just six years from now instead of four. Is she twice as bad? Eight years.
But what if we have just a bit more life left in us than the worst-case scenario assumes? What if we can survive four years of Clinton, say, but not eight. Or eight, but not twelve?
In that case, it may not be the question of "how long can we survive with Hillary" that should be our focus, but rather, how long can we survive without a conservative who believes in Judeo-Christian values, Free Market Capitalism and Classical Liberalism.
And here is what we know: if Donald Trump is our president, we will not get another real shot at electing that kind of conservative for at least eight years, and almost certainly not for at least twelve. Are we going to primary a sitting president in four years when we won’t even allow him to be opposed at the convention today? And the notion that Trump might see the presidency as a final gem in his crown and bow out after one term is fanciful to the point of abstraction. Only men with the character of Washington surrender power. Which pretty much means only Washington. Donald Trump is no George Washington. With our party in such disrepair and our best voices no longer even championing our core values because to do so is to oppose our nominee by default, it’s hard to imagine we field a conservative again for half a generation or more.
Now that is a far more certain guarantee of our destruction as a nation than the prospect of four years of Hillary, no matter how bad she may be.
In truth, conservatism has done quite well under Barack Obama because in his overreach he has brought our values into sharp relief. We have seen the rise of the Tea Party, the flip of both chambers of Congress, and we have more governors and more state houses than we have ever had. And lest that seem trivial, we may very well be at a point in our history where only the states have the standing, power, and wealth necessary to check this out-of-control federal government.
But what if we have just a bit more life left in us than the worst-case scenario assumes?
Under Hillary, our ideology will continue to rebound and our movement will continue to ascend, albeit not at the federal level.
But with Trump as the president, usurping the party of Lincoln with his own nationalist brand, our movement will continue to devolve into a European-style, big government, protectionist nationalist party with no regard for the values of our God or our founding. We will become another party of the decline – even if it’s a slightly slower decline than the other party would ensure. Our cause will be lost for a generation – which means our cause will be lost for all generations.