Note: All articles pertaining to the 2016 US elections contain the views of the writer only, and do not reflect any editorial position of The Mallard, whichever has remained neutral.
Stay strong. We are nearly there. A final night of speculation, polling and worried faces, and Pepe memes will finally give us the answer that America has been searching for for over a year and a half: Trump, or Clinton? This is far from the most appealing choice that conservatives have to face, but a choice necessarily implies a superior option, and for conservatives the answer is clear.
The quadrennial cycle kicked off with a months-long series of primaries and caucuses that was gripping and dispiriting in equal measure. Compelling political talent and nuanced argument gave way to populism and grievance. Populism is no bad thing when harnessed correctly, but spat out a Republican candidate with little political credibility and almost resulted in a woefully unfit dogmatist winning the Democratic nomination. The Democratic contest suffered greatly, although with little notice taken, when former Virginia senator and distinguished Vietnam veteran Jim Webb (the only Democrat I would seriously have considered supporting) burned out long before the first votes were cast, leaving voters with the perennially dishonest, scandal-riven Clinton and an at times even more dishonest, proudly socialist ultra-partisan with little sense of depth or self-awareness. Indeed, Bernie Sanders is perhaps the only politician in political history who could make me sympathise with Hillary Clinton.
Perhaps it was the absurdly long campaign he continued to run, presumably driven by an increasingly inflated ego and a tsunami of donations, or perhaps it was that he used innuendo and insinuation about Clinton’s Wall Street ties but was always too cowardly to make a direct allegation. Perhaps it was how he was regularly portrayed as a paragon of honesty and virtue by media desperate to generate headlines about a mythical close race. Or maybe it was just having surely the most irritating, vicious, sycophantic online following in political history. For whatever reason, mea maxima culpa, I became strongly rooted for Clinton to win the nomination if only to crush his seemingly everlasting campaign and delusions of grandeur, complete with news cycles that forever parroted the same tired soundbites of ‘$27’, ‘top 1%’, ‘millionaires and billionaires’, ‘political revolution’ and so on ad nauseum.
Meanwhile, the roller coaster that was the Republican nomination delivered one of the greatest Presidents that America will probably never have: Rand Paul. If you have not read his book ‘Taking a Stand’, please do. Sadly, 2016 was not a year in which silly little ideas like liberty and justice held much stock. Having watched all Presidential debates in both parties’ contests and the general election, it is my humble opinion that Trump was consistently the least knowledgable and politically intelligent among the candidates. He was not without his good moments: for example, suggesting a more neutral position in the Israel-Palestine deadlock, and advocating for state-sponsored healthcare for those without means to pay for insurance, a move that staunch conservative Ted Cruz blasted as ‘socialist’. Both were brave statements in Republican debates, but far more often the headlines that Trump generated were due to insults and moments that left the mouth open.
From accurate if careless language about illegal immigration to insinuations about killing Clinton, via a Muslim ban, arguments with a fallen soldier’s parents and much more, Trump has provided a treasure trove of bungling statements that in any sane political season would be gold dust for an opponent. Far gentler remarks about 47% of Americans dealt a killer blow to Mitt Romney four years ago. Yet so numerous have these controversies been that there is no defining controversy that the Clinton campaign has successfully attached to Trump; rather, they have accumulated to a haze of controversy synonymous with Trump that, counter-intuitively, serves to help his tell-it-like-it-is image among voters tired of quotes and policies washed through focus groups and layers of advisors. Recent Wikileaks disclosures show emails within the Clinton campaign discussing the wording of a single tweet, supposedly signed as direct from Hillary, as though it were laser eye surgery.
Then there’s the lewd stuff. Trump’s campaign took a hard blow when a 2005 tape of his less than gentlemanly language emerged, and has never truly recovered. Though in an election of such historic political import, it is a scandal in itself that this features so highly. Talk of grabbing pussies and hitting upon married women is revolting, but anyone who has attended a secondary school for seven years, particularly an all-boys’ one, will tell you that such language would be considered gallantry. And while one can only imagine how President Kennedy might have spoken in private about women, given his highly unfaithful behaviour, none of his philandering denies him his place as one the near-universally recognised greatest Presidents that America has seen.
There is also something a little sinister about castigating an individual for their private remarks. Unless the subject directly concerns a matter of policy – immigration in Gordon Brown’s “Bigot-Gate”, or economic policy in Mitt Romney’s 47% remarks – off-colour language has no bearing upon the efficiency of a President, nor have I seen any serious evidence to suggest that Trump’s words ever translated into action. If someone must always fear their offhand remarks, however rude, being broadcast and assume no privacy, are they truly free? Nor let us pretend that the Clintons are angelic in private. During Bill’s tenure as governor of Arkansas, they were often curt to those beyond their useful inner circle, and made the Governor’s mansion a virtually Republican-free zone, when people of all political stripes had attended fayres and dinners at the mansion under other governors.
In any case domestic improprieties and personal character serve as little more than sideshows when there are issues to be dealt with. It would be better to have four or eight years of a President that spent every afternoon making extensive use of Playboy magazine and hesitated on a single drone strike on an innocent person than a personally immaculate President that killed a single additional civilian.
And, for all the bluster about Trump’s temperament and unease about his use of the nuclear button, it is Clinton that has a far more hawkish view of interventionism. The is the crucial vote to authorise President Bush to invade Iraq is a case in point. Just as it has been in foreign interventions since, the overwhelming informed opinion within the White House, the wider administration, and Congress was to invade. Clinton had had a front row view of foreign policy as First Lady and was a respected and knowledgeable Senator. Barack Obama was serving in the Illinois state Senate, while Bernie Sanders was a Congressman, and both had considerably less first-hand experience of foreign policy than Clinton. Yet Clinton was rightly admonished for her vote by both of these men in 2008 and 2016 respectively. ‘I question her judgement’ was usually Sanders’s only response to questions of foreign policy in debates when against a candidate with foreign policy experience that dwarfed his. And right he was, too.
Why has caution consistently been vindicated against hawkish experience on both sides of the Atlantic since, be it in Libya, Syria, or Iraq? This is why Trump is far better for peace, or at least less horrible war, particularly for those of us worried about potential escalations with Russia. I have read Hard Choices, Clinton’s book on her time as Secretary of State, and found it to be enjoyable and richly informative, and a fine exhibition of her talents and intelligence. I would recommend it to anyone looking for an insight into US foreign policy. Yet all her understanding and intellectual grasp of smart power cannot erase the disastrous bombing of Libya, or stupid blunder of using a private email server. For those with a distaste of bombing foreign cities, Clinton is an unacceptable prospect. Even Green Presidential candidate Jill Stein has suggested that Trump would be preferable to Clinton with respect to foreign policy.
Closer to home, the classic issues that serve as a litmus set for conservatives are as relevant as ever. The appointment a Supreme Court justice is perhaps the most important power beholden to the President, and, whatever Trump’s distinctly far-from-conservative manner, his list of prospective justices should be red meat to Republican voters. It is why scepticism should be applied to even the most respectable Republicans who refuse to endorse Trump, including every nominee this century until now. Clichéd though it is, there has perhaps never been a more crucial year for the Court, with a vacant seat, and religious liberty and the right to life under as great assault as ever. If the prospect of Justice Scalia being substituted for Justice Obama does not chase Republicans to the polls, then Lord knows what will.
This is not a happy election. Trump’s discourteous treatment of anyone who has crossed him politically is simply not how conservatives behave, and respect for the political process and the notion of respectful disagreement ought to be characteristics of any conservative. And while his lightning-quick ‘because you’d be in jail’ response to Clinton in the second debate made me smile, it is not a line befitting of anyone with reverence for democracy and peaceful treatment of political opponents. Nor are direct allegations of Bill Clinton’s rapes and Hillary’s covering up of them. Nobody but those directly involved can know with any certainty whether or not they are true, and Trump has not delivered any evidence beyond anecdotes. This is an outrage in a country with not only the letter of the law but also the spirit of innocence until proof of guilt.
It is almost impossible to see any of the other sixteen Republican candidates behaving in this way. Virtually any of them would have been preferable. However, to sulk and declare yourself #NeverTrump is to show yourself ignorant of or indifferent to the anger that carried him to the nomination in the first place, and might land him in the Oval Office. Public approval of Congress is at a dismal low of 13%, according to a March Gallup poll, and old-fashioned political slogans did not cut it this year. Marco Rubio talking wistfully of a new American century, Jeb Bush boasting of a plan for 4 per cent growth, and John Kasich talking about rising up together have nothing of the punch of ‘Make America Great Again’. If the GOP cannot find a way to appeal to ‘the silent majority’, as Trump’s campaign placard once put it, then it will may have no future beyond more Trumpism. Shunning the popular choice is no way to start.
This is an outrage in a country with not only the letter of the law but also the spirit of innocence until proof of guilt.
As for the many who are understandably unsettled by the decision, some solace may be found in the fact that the remit of the President is constitutionally and legally limited. It is not a dictatorship. Congress is crucial as well; the GOP virtually abandoned the Presidential hopes of its highly respectable nominee Bob Dole in 1996 to keep Senate and House races well funded; the tactic worked, and Congress remained red. I will place more stock in the Kentucky Senate race, where Rand Paul faces re-election, than I do even in the Presidential election.
Perhaps that is because I am losing faith in Trump’s chances. On the night of the election, he faces an uphill battle just to win North Carolina, Nevada, and Florida. That will not be enough. New Hampshire and Colorado, one of which he will surely have to gain, are spinning out of reach. If American conservatives can defy the polling and the likely results of early voting, which has been taking place largely during a purple patch for Clinton, then it will be an astonishing victory. I hope and expect that in the event of a Trump victory, he will put his business nous and eye for detail to good use for America. Conscience might be soothed in the comfort of a third party candidate, but given that the probability of either Trump or Clinton has converged to 1 as November the 8th has approached, it is an abdication of reality. This is with the notable expedition of Utah, where third-party candidate Evan McMullin, a credible conservative, has been polling very handsomely, and has a small chance of winning. Otherwise, the choice for conservative America is as clear as ever.
Make America great again.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore