Hard core conservatives tend to be puzzled by, and maybe even contemptuous of, undecided voters. They wonder how, for example, anyone could have been undecided about whether to vote for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, given the sharp philosophical and policy differences between the two. Presumably, most hard core liberals feel the same way.
I’ve never been perplexed by undecided voters. Some people base their vote largely on an assessment of personality and character. They may find this a close call in certain elections.
Others may be socially liberal and economically conservative. Such voters could easily have trouble adjudicating between a liberal candidate and a conservative one.
The views of some voters may be an ideologically incoherent hodgepodge of prejudices. It’s easy to imagine Donald Trump struggling to decide how to cast his vote in some of the past handful of elections.
Those of us with a strong, consistent liberal or conservative ideology should have no such difficulty, though. One would not expect them to be among the undecided.
Yet, that’s where I find myself in this presidential race. Not undecided between voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, but undecided between voting for Trump or voting for neither candidate.
For me, the question comes down to whether Trump would make an appreciably better president than Clinton. My vote will not be an attempt to dish out “condign punishment,” as George Will hopes to do. It would be condign for Barack Obama’s legacy to be a Trump presidency, but voting should be about selecting the best, or the least bad, candidate, not about settling scores.
My vote also will not be about saving conservatism. The conservative movement survived Richard Nixon’s decidedly non-conservative administration, just as left-liberalism survived Bill Clinton’s triangulation. The future of conservatism does not depend on defeating Donald Trump.
But would Trump make an appreciably better president than Clinton? There’s plenty of room to doubt that he would.
When it comes to foreign policy, Clinton’s record is poor. Her main “accomplishments” as Secretary of State were the failed, and always absurd, attempt to “reset” our relations with Russia and the Libya debacle.
But Trump, if anything, seems worse than Clinton on Russia. He is still a fan of Putin and he’s arguably even more eager than Obama to let Russia call the shots in Syria.
Clinton’s record on Israel is troubling, and has been since at least the time she went shopping with Arafat’s wife. More recently, she tried to bully Benjamin Netanyahu into making unilateral concessions to the Palestinian Authority.
Trump seems just as bad, however. He has said he’ll be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians. Why? Because, in his view, that’s the only way he can broker a deal, and brokering a deal would be an accomplishment worthy of Mr. Art of the Deal.
But it’s the Obama administration’s obsession (until recently) with brokering a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that has led to so much mischief. For instance, it’s why Clinton lectured Netanyahu so obnoxiously about West Bank settlements.
Electing another president who is dead-set on producing a Middle East “peace” agreement is a recipe for more mischief. Electing another president dead-set on doing so for egotistical reasons is a recipe for disaster.
When it comes to domestic policy, again I see little to separate the two candidates. Both want the federal government to guarantee quality health care for all Americans. Both appear to favor high taxes on the rich. Neither exhibits a credible belief in limited government. Neither can be expected to respect the role of Congress.
Clinton has a long record of disregard for the law and for the truth. It extends at least as far back as Whitewater and is manifest in the current email scandal.
Trump has lied shamelessly throughout this campaign. It’s easy to infer from his behavior that he has the same “rules don’t apply to me” attitude that guides Clinton. And he’s considerably more nasty in public than the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Immigration policy separates the two candidates, but less so than most people think. Clinton wants a straight forward amnesty for illegal immigrants who otherwise have adhered to American law. Trump wants to deport more than ten million illegal immigrants and then bring back the law abiding ones. Call it amnesty through transportation.
Clinton favors lenient sentencing and would be amenable to at least some other parts of the Black Lives Matter agenda. Trump figures to be tougher on criminals and more sympathetic to cops.
Yet, to my knowledge, he hasn’t come out in opposition to pending leniency for drug felons legislation. And anyone who has seen Trump condone, if not encourage, violence against protesters at his rallies should be concerned that his version of law and order might be repressive and self-serving.
The foregoing discussion inclines me to vote for neither candidate. However, there is one major consideration that I believe militates in favor of voting for Trump — the Supreme Court.
There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton would nominate left-wing Justices, just as her more politically moderate husband did (in the form of Justices Breyer and Ginsburg) during more moderate times. It’s no accident that we hear talk about the Republican Senate confirming Obama’s liberal nominee, Merrick Garland, if Clinton wins. Folks recognize that Clinton would almost surely reach further left for her nominee.
Trump, I think, is unlikely to nominate leftists. He probably would select centrists along the lines of Justices Kennedy and O’Connor. One can envisage him nominating Chris Christie. That’s far from ideal, but much better than what we would get from Hillary Clinton.
Moreover, there’s a chance that Trump would opt for conservatives. After all, Sen. Jeff Sessions is his go-to guy on these sorts of matters, at least right now.
Let’s put it this way: the odds of Trump nominating a conservative to the Supreme Court are considerably greater than the odds of Clinton nominating even a centrist.
I have almost six months to weigh these and other considerations and to observe Trump flesh out his positions on key issues, assuming he deigns to do so. For now, I’m undecided.