By Victor Davis Hanson // Works and Days by PJ Media
When and if it comes down to a vote for one of just two candidates in the remaining Republican primaries, a majority may still vote for Ted Cruz, which at this point I think is the far wiser course. In November, like most conservatives I’ll probably hold my nose and vote for whoever is the Republican nominee—unless, of course, she or he is arrested or indicted or springs a private server on us.
But will the so-called establishment do the latter?
For all the denials, there is a Republican “establishment” that overlaps with a Republican “elite.” At times lots of us are sort of and sort of not part of it. They are roughly those Republicans who hold elected federal, and major state and local, offices. Included are big donors who regularly give liberally to, or bundle big money for, Republican candidates. Some even end up as ambassadors or political appointees.
Political handlers, pollsters, and professional campaign advisors are other varieties of the establishment. So are CEOs of major corporations and Wall Street financiers, as well as the Chamber of Commerce types all over the nation. Pundits who write for major newspapers and magazines, especially those who reside in the media-rich New York-Washington corridor and appear regularly on news shows, along with big-media conservative celebrities are establishmentarians. Those who write conservative books and work at center-right think tanks are establishment as well. Degrees from tony schools and influential jobs—an Ivy League B.A. or a D.C. lobbyist or activist—perhaps can earn establishment status. Millions, of course, both do and do not qualify as Republican elites.
Most of the above—as well as the majority of Republican voters (given that Trump so far has not regularly won over 50% of the primary votes)—have naturally gone ballistic over Donald Trump, over both what he does and does not say.
Partly they loathe his demeanor and rhetoric, and feel dirty by association, in that he is a stain on Republican Marquess of Queensberry rules, best exemplified by Mitt Romney’s professional, polite—and losing—candidacy. (Perhaps they ignore how the uncouth cutthroat Lee Atwater [read his interviews sometimes on the racial roots of the “Southern Strategy”] got George H.W. Bush elected by utterly destroying Michael Dukakis, and how Atwater’s absence in 1992 him helped not to be reelected.)
Partly, the abhorrence arises from the fact that both the establishment and the majority of Republican voters so far are not convinced that Trump is a conservative. I agree that his positions on private property, free speech, small government, and foreign policy are all over the place. Even if he were coherent, his past support for liberal Democrats in a normal year would disqualify him as a serious Republican candidate.
Partly, the establishment is baffled over his lack of serious advisors and handlers and rightly assumes that his either his refusal or willingness to release his tax returns, inter alia, will serve as a rich feast for liberal vultures in the general election. Again, these are all more than legitimate worries.
Finally, both the elite and the Republican base fear that even a tiny hint from them now that Trump might be the nominee only weakens the fighting chances of the last standing Trump alternative, Ted Cruz. And, of course, those who swear that they would never vote for Trump in April may, in fact, do so in November if he should clean up his act, tone down his speeches, bring on Republican elites to his team, and more or less “get with it.” I think that was the point of Karl Rove’s latest op-ed instruction manual for Trump.
Mostly unmentioned, except for a few bolder Republicans, is the specter that elites and establishment types really will form a third party, stay home, or vote for Hillary Clinton. We can dispense with the triad of choices, because there is only one choice: staying home or forming a third party, despite all the high-minded professions, is a vote for Hillary Clinton, or rather a third term for Barack Obama. And there lies the dilemma that everyone dreads.
So the looming questions for the elite concern whether Godzilla Hillary would be better than King Kong Trump.
Is Hillary perhaps still a Bill Clinton centrist or at least an elite member of the establishment whose first allegiance is the sober and judicious status quo?
No. Her tenure as secretary of State was the worst since Cyrus Vance served under Jimmy Carter. To Vance-like incompetence and therapeutic blather, she added serial dishonesty, violations of the law, callousness toward the families of the Benghazi dead, and opportunistic trashing of her predecessors. Hillary was as responsible as her boss for the Russian reset, the Iranian deal, the Libyan tragedy, the implosion of Iraq after the needless total withdrawal, the cluelessness about ISIS, the red lines/deadlines/step-over lines embarrassments, the slow and steady decline of Afghanistan, the genocide in Syria, the reach-out to thugs like the Castro brothers and Recep Erdogan, and the estrangement from Israel. She may have not done the apology tour, but it reflected well enough her worldview of the moment, as did the euphemism campaign of workplace violence and man-caused disasters.
Then there is Hillary the person. Her career is one of fiscal dishonesty and status quo graft, from the cattle-futures fraud to the Whitewater/Travelgate/pardon mess, to the shame of the Clinton Foundation, to her shake-down, $300,000 30-minute speeches. The billion-dollar money trail to the foundation from Wall Street and foreign illiberal interests makes the schlock of Trump Steaks and Trump Vodka mostly petty change.
Her positions are entirely predicated on what 51% of the voters in an upcoming election feel on any given week—gay marriage, Keystone, the Pacific trade deal, and most everything is contingent on polls. Her sudden metamorphosis to a Barack Obama racial warrior is a crude attempt to get some of the Obama minority bloc vote, as insincere and demagogic as her faux-black accentuated speeches.
Whether Clinton will be indicted for creating a private server to hide her government email trail, and then serially lying about, is entirely a political decision; all know that an independent prosecutor would have charged her long ago. Under the new feminist guidelines about sexual propriety, Bill Clinton in a logically left world would be barred from any major campus and simply unable to speak; so would Hillary as an abettor whose job for two decades was to provide cover for destroying the lives of those who had consensual and non-consensual sex of every sort with her husband.
In other words, staying home or voting for a third party will elect the most unethical politician in recent memory, one who stayed out of court or jail only because of her connections and candidacy. Her exemption from indictment in itself will be a stain on the entire judicial system for generations to come.
Is Trump beyond the pale?
Lots of us have contextualized Trump’s boorish crudity in the long tradition of American politics. In truth, for all his bombast he is no Wallace segregationist, much less a Hitler-lite brown shirt. His melodramatic excesses are firmly within the Obama or Reagan tradition of bring a gun to a knife fight/get in their faces/punish our enemies and “if it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with”—only serial rather than episodic.
His quips are or are not as uncouth as those of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on abortion and Eric Holder and Obama on race. When Trump crudely starts talking of the positive aspects of aborting black babies, or referring to whites as “my people,” or lamenting that the slain Nicole Simpson might have looked like the second daughter he never had, I’ll reconsider that assessment and agree he is racist.
I agree that each day Trump says something not only stupid, but gross; Hillary is more mannered but in a way even more cruel as when she blithely wrote off coal miners as losers or claimed that no one died in Libya. If you think political discourse is debased, then Trump is a good run-of-the-mill example; if you think political discourse is not debased and Trump is ruining it, then I think you are delusional.
Is Trump a total blank slate?
A good parallel is the similarly inexperienced fill-in-the-blanks celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger. As pathetic (and utterly failed) as Schwarzenegger’s tenure was, his was still likely better than a governorship of Cruz Bustamante. The third candidate in that election, Tom McClintock, would have been a far better governor, but the odds of electing a non-celebrity Republican in 21st-century California were small. Given such an either/or choice in a two-person race, I would certainly vote for the buffoonish narcissistic Schwarzenegger again over Bustamante—given that Arnold for a fleeting moment tried to deal with debt, pensions, and regulations before reverting to Maria Shriver doctrinaire liberalism.
To say Trump is not really a conservative may well be true. But the Godzilla-King Kong dilemma centers on what a nominee Trump’s official positions would likely be in September: I imagine that on paper in terms of the economy, taxes, immigration, deficits and debt, Obamacare, Supreme Court appointments, the military, and abortion, the latest incarnation of Trump would be more conservative than the latest incarnation of Clinton. The key in any general election for a conservative is to vote for the more conservative candidate—if his or her character is no worse than the alternative. Sitting out is more principled, but it is a vote nonetheless for the less conservative candidate with as many or more ethical defects.
Won’t Trump lose in a year Republican should have won?
There is a good chance of it. I think he has no idea what Clinton, Inc. will do to him and will probably lose by a wide margin. But if that battle is lost, it was lost also when the Republican establishment and center nominated fine and upstanding trimmers like John McCain and Mitt Romney and a Congress that sought to slow rather than halt Obama’s frenetic efforts to socialize the U.S.
Fairly or not, a third of Republican voters feel they live with the consequences of illegal immigration that others abetted, that they lose jobs when others who promoted job-killing trade policies do not, that they are subject to actual consequences of affirmative action and political correctness that others far more easily navigate around, and that they are talked down to by those who so far have not earned the right to be talked up to. Somehow the Republican establishment was tone-deaf to all that and believes that Trump came from Mars and made zombies of their otherwise nodding constituency.
As an aside, I don’t recall any New York Times humanist in 2008 suggesting that Obama’s crudity—from his personal pastor and spiritual mentor Rev. Wright’s racism and anti-Semitism, to Obama’s own “typical white person,” to slurring the working classes of Pennsylvania—forced them, however reluctantly, to vote for a much more sober John McCain, whose entire record had been one of bipartisan moderation and gentle speech. In a world in which wartime president FDR called his presidential opponent the moral equivalent of Nazism, Governor Ronald Reagan called for a bloodbath to deal with student protestors, and the current president urged a crowd to bring a firearm to a knife fight, we do not need more sanctimonious lectures that we are witnessing something absolutely unheard of in Trump.
I hope the egoist John Kasich drops out as soon as possible. Perhaps in the remaining head-to-head primaries, Trump will lose to Ted Cruz and thus remind Republican voters that he cannot win in such one-on-one elections.
But in the meantime, we should get ready for our Godzilla vs. King Kong decision ahead, and quit talking about sitting out or voting for a third party as anything other than a vote for Hillary Clinton.
2016 really is about the past and the future: the unfortunate past has given us the apparent likelihood of a Trump, and the frightening future may well give us something I fear even worse in Hillary Clinton.