We all have a breaking point. The agonizing of what to do about Donald Trump is a discussion among Republicans and conservatives; the presence of Democrats and liberals in the conversation makes it more difficult to come to the decision, but eventually the decision comes to us - both in the "what do you want to have happen" and in the "what do you think will actually happen". For the top names in the Party it is a difficult political/career calculation; some of the activists arrived at the #Never Trump conclusion while there was still a reasonable chance that Donald Trump could be elected; for many, the "want to happen" and "actually happen" questions are being answered simultaneously.
The protracted attack on the parents of a slain Army officer for his Pakistani heritage was probably more important than any of Trump's earlier transgressions. For a couple of weeks he seemed capable of submerging his crass bully persona and letting his campaign rest on issues like the economy where he has an advantage. If there is a constituency likely to support any Republican after the disaster of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry, it is those engaged in national security. That Trump chose to spend four days of the news cycle so diametrically opposed to the sentiment of those affiliated with the active duty or retired military is probably fatal to his campaign; it also is a further indicator of what a Trump presidency would look like.
Where does that leave the responsible voter? Let's use a little two-by-two matrix:
- The Republican candidate's personality. The psychiatric schools will use Donald Trump as a case study for decades. Narcissistic - yes, but certainly not a dis-qualifier for the presidency. Stakes out extreme positions as a beginning for negotiations - probably a partial explanation. Bigoted - certainly. Devoid of empathy - yes. Compelled to self-destructive behavior - apparently. He needs allies, but won't endorse the Republican Speaker of the House. Perhaps Charles Krauthammer, a trained psychiatrist and a brilliant political analyst, can offer some explanation.
- The Democratic candidate's personality. The most corrupt major party presidential candidate in at least a century. One can forgive the Democratic Party of tilting against Bernie Sanders who was, after all, an Independent and a socialist with a long career of opposing Democrats - but that has drawn focus from the Hillary of Watergate, Whitewater, the attack's on Bill's sexual predator victims, the Rose Law Firm, the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, the e-mail system, and enough fill-in details to occupy the Library of Congress. An insult to the American people.
- The Republican candidate's policies. Trump properly offers a focus on President Obama's illegal and destructive immigration policies. He has prompted necessary re-thinking of the impact of foreign trade on American workers, but he has not offered any detailed proposals except the type of tariffs that brought on the Great Depression. Beyond that there is little policy direction - but we do know that foreign military alliances would be diminished, constraints on nuclear proliferation would be loosened, tax cuts would increase federal deficits, and most of the other stuff would be left for Congress to figure out. With a Republican Congress and a pliant president real progress could be made, but that opportunity is rapidly fading.
- The Democratic candidate's policies. Assumptions are necessary. The Hillary who negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and called it the "gold standard", or the one who now opposes it? The Hillary who skoffed at Bernie Sanders' free college but now claims that the cost doesn't matter? The Hillary who the media accepts as a foreign policy expert, but who is in a real sense "The Mother of ISIS"? (If you have any doubt, read this New York Times article which snuck out before the embargo.) With Bill as First Dude it is more complicated yet - would his more centrist policies prevail, or would Hillary more closely resemble Barack Obama with a party that has moved to the left? How much would be moderated by a Republican Congress - as was Bill with Newt Gingrich's House in the 80's? Like Obama's "Hope and Change", the voter is free to project their wishes on the candidate - not only in the absence of evidence, but in direct conflict with it.
With that stand-off, it is hard to put much emotional energy or personal reputation into Trump. Wisdom is knowing when to acknowledge that you cannot rationalize your candidate's behavior with your values, and that the best efforts of a broad array of knowledgeable and influential people have made little difference. But there are a few alternatives for Republicans and conservatives who choose to not simply focus on the baseball and football seasons, the stock market, and the last flailing efforts of the Obama administration.
1. Think locally, act locally. This is hard in places like San Francisco where local politics is a battle between the liberal Democrats and the progressive Democrats, but the vast majority of candidates nationally running for mayor, City Council, or School Board have contested elections that make a difference. Pick one and improve something that directly affects you and your family.
2. A few close races will determine control of the Senate, and perhaps limit how far left of center the Supreme Court moves in the next four years. I like Rob Portman in Ohio and Joe Heck in Nevada, but one could make a convincing argument for Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, John McCain in Arizona, Richard Burr in North Carolina, Roy Blunt in Missouri, Michael Bennett in Colorado, or even Mark Kirk in Illinois. The Kock brothers network will apparently spend some $250 million in this direction, and nothing on Trump.
3. And there's always Libertarian Gary Johnson if you need to pull a lever. He has allowed support for the legalization of marijuana to define his campaign, but he actually does have a set of policies which should be attractive to most Republicans.
This week's video - about the $400 million ransom paid in cash to Iran for the release of four hostages concurrent with the signing of the nuclear deal - provides one more example of President Obama's foreign policy incompetence. We can only go up from here.
bill bowen - 8/5/16