There has been a lot of discussion of late on the best course for Trump-critical conservatives – “Never Trumpers” in the eyes of many Republicans - in the upcoming midterm elections. Some conservatives, such as Max Boot and George Will, argue that it would be better in the long run if the Democrats win this year’s election if it means that the Republican Party will be rid of Donald Trump. Others believe that no matter how bad the Trump Administration is, the Democrats would be worse.
Let me preface the discussion by saying that most conservative critics of Trump are still conservatives, despite what many Trump supporters believe. To believe that President Trump is not a good, or even a moderately conservative, president does not mean that you embrace leftist ideologies. To the contrary, free trade, a strong coherent foreign policy and treating all people with respect have long been conservative ideals.
The argument against Trump is multifaceted. He has made a mess of international trade and needlessly angered our allies. At the same time, he has cozied up to dictators like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin with little to show for it. His campaign may or may not have conspired with the Russians during the 2016 elections and may or may not have broken the law if it did. What is certain is that the president has done his level best to undermine the Russia investigation and any person or agency involved with it. I would describe President Trump in much the same way that I described President Obama: Arrogant, divisive and incompetent.
On the positive side of the ledger, the president has also accomplished some very good things. The tax reform that he signed provided a much-needed boost to the economy and made American corporate tax rates competitive with other countries. Likewise, regulatory reform makes it easier to navigate the federal bureaucracy and also helps the economy. President Trump has also signed a number of Executive Orders that limit federal funding for abortion. Although not permanent, the orders are a step in the right direction.
In 2016, I had no faith that President Trump would pick a constructionist justice for the Supreme Court. On that, I was absolutely wrong. Neil Gorsuch seems to be an independent thinker and constitutionalist in the mold of Scalia. He will most likely be an excellent justice for years to come. Brett Kavanaugh, although seemingly less likely to overturn bad precedents such as Roe v. Wade, also appears to be a solid pick.
But these positives also come with negatives. President Trump’s affinity for tariffs appears likely to counterbalance his successful tax reform and could lead to a worldwide downturn. His inability to assemble a bipartisan coalition on health care means that Obamacare could be a permanent fixture of American life. President Obama’s spending spree was the worst in American history, but the deficit under President Trump is even worse and will probably exceed $1 trillion per year by the end of his presidency.
Two good appointments to the Supreme Court have had the effect of eliminating the judicial picks as an issue for conservatives. After Kavanaugh is confirmed, the Court will tilt right. If a Democrat president appoints a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the justice who is most likely to retire, it would not alter the balance of the Court.
Whether the Trump campaign worked with the Russians or not, the Trump Administration gets failing marks for addressing cyberattacks on the American election infrastructure. A Brennan Center report found that the US had “made remarkably little progress” on election security since 2016. Worse, Russian hackers have shown the ability to penetrate the American electric grid to a point where they could turn off the power for large portions of the country, yet President Trump remains silent on the threat.
For all the problems with the Trump Administration, the Democrats seem no better on policy. Rather than moderating in an attempt to appeal to disaffected Republicans, the Democrats have become even more shrill and radical. The opposition party is on the wrong side of two of my core issues, abortion and the Second Amendment. Democrats may have found a new respect for free trade as a reflexive anti-Trump position, but Donald Trump’s trade policies are essentially the same as what Bernie Sanders proposed. Likewise, when it comes to NATO and Russia, the Democrats have long been as weak as President Trump. The typical Democrat complaint about Republican spending is that it isn’t enough.
Neither do the Democrats seem less corrupt or incompetent than the Trump Administration. Even though much criticism of Hillary Clinton approaches tin-foil hat proportions, there is little doubt that the Clintons enriched themselves through their government positions and Hillary’s potential presidency. Likewise, I can’t forget that the Obama Administration turned the IRS into a tool of political suppression and apparently had the DOJ look the other way at Hillary’s negligent use of a private email server, the purpose of which could only have been to avoid having the Clintons’ questionable practices become part of the official public record.
As with 2016, Trump critics are left with two equally deplorable choices. I agree with the assessment that as long as President Trump appears to be winning, the Republican Party will embrace and protect him, regardless of his bad policy and worse behavior. The GOP is headed in the wrong direction and the only way that it will reverse course is if it is handed a clear rebuke by the voters.
I’m not even sure that would do the trick. The party has become so enamored of the Trump brand that even a loss of historic proportions might not convince Republicans to reject the Trumpists for traditional conservatives. After all, when the GOP handed the Democrats a “shellacking” in 2010, the Obama-era left did not moderate. They doubled down and eked out a presidential victory in 2012 before taking even bigger losses in 2014 and 2016. In many respects, the Trumpian GOP seems to be repeating the history of the Obama Administration. That could prove true for electoral outcomes as well.
In the end, Trump critics must make their own decision about how to vote. Since this is not a national election, they should consider how independent their Republican congressmen and senators are from President Trump as well as whether Democrats on their ballot are moderates or extreme left-wingers. The best advice that I can give troubled conservatives is what Ted Cruz said in 2016: “Vote your conscience.”
Even with all their negatives, there are a few red lines that might persuade me to vote Democrat. If I became convinced that President Trump was an imminent national security threat rather than just a bad president, I would have to act. An example would be if the president decided to withdraw from NATO or otherwise sabotage the alliance. Threats to the economy such as withdrawing from NAFTA might also meet this standard. If the Republicans go through with the impeachment of Rod Rosenstein or fire Robert Mueller, I might also feel that removing the GOP from power would at least temporarily outweigh the negatives of giving power to the Democrats.
At the moment, I can’t endorse the idea of voting for a Democrat, but I have very little doubt that a blue wave is coming whether disaffected conservatives vote blue or not. The Trumpian GOP took an election in which a minority of voters rejected Hillary Clinton and assumed that it was an anti-immigration and protectionist mandate. If current trends continue, it appears that Republicans will pay the price for their errors in judgment soon. When that happens, it won’t be the fault of the “Never Trumpers.” It will be the fault of Donald Trump and a Republican Party that abandoned its principles.