The 2016 general election puts true ideological conservatives in a bind. I find myself in the unusual position of being able to respect a vote for any of the five presidential candidates, as I will lay out. I have decided to start a series giving reasons for each choice: the Republican Donald Trump, the Democrat Hillary Clinton, the Libertarian Gary Johnson, the Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and the independent candidate Evan McMullin. Sorry, Vermin Supreme — I am discriminating against ponies.
None of these articles is to be taken as an endorsement of the candidate in question, or a full endorsement of the arguments laid out. I am only presenting arguments I can respect for each candidate, from a conservative perspective.
Without further ado, here are five reasons a thinking conservative can give for voting Donald Trump on November 8.
1. The Supreme Court.
There’s a good reason the Trump campaign keeps bringing up the issue of the Supreme Court. Upon the death of Justice Antonin Scalia (may he rest in peace), congressional Republicans drew a line in the sand, stating that they would not vote for any nominee President Obama chose in the last year of his tenure. It is entirely possible they will deeply regret this decision, should Hillary Clinton prevail in November.
Donald Trump has famously presented not one but two excellent lists of possible Supreme Court nominees. Indeed, the second list included Utah Senator Mike Lee, whom some conservatives wished had been on the first list. Naturally, Donald Trump has a long and rather impressive track record of flip-flopping on key issues and on violating pledges (that’s what a marriage is, after all). But even if he chooses someone whose name did not appear on either list (ahem, like Ted Cruz), his pick is likely to be more conservative than any of Hillary’s.
Unfortunately, Scalia’s death has already had a powerful impact on the Supreme Court. Shortly after his death, the court split on the issue of workers being forced to pay dues to a union they had not joined. Because the court was divided, the lower court’s ruling upholding the union — and violating the property rights of non-members — stood. The Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio, Ted Strickland, declared that “the death of Scalia saved labor” and “came at a good time.” These noxious comments deserve censure, but from a liberal perspective they seem sadly accurate.
Some of us would argue that the Supreme Court is not the final arbiter of constitutionality, and that it should not be quite as political as it is. But that’s not the world we live in, and when five unelected justices can fundamentally alter the laws of this country, every one of them is important.
2. Mike Pence.
This week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence delivered a masterful debate performance against Virginia Senator Tim Kaine (who only interrupted about 70 times). Pence reminded conservatives why they don’t want a third term for President Obama, and he did so with a quiet and logical clarity that Republicans can be proud of.
Of course, Pence’s critics also had one limited point — they argued that the governor could not defend Trump’s antics. He did not defend them, he explained them by saying that Trump is not a polished politician. This justification cannot apply to all of Trump’s statements, but Pence’s support goes a long way in reassuring conservatives about the Republican nominee.
After all, this is the same Mike Pence who led the fight to defund Planned Parenthood, who described himself as a Christian first, and who has led the state of Indiana to fiscal success while lowering taxes. It is heartening to think that, should Trump win in November, Mike Pence would be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Next Page: Unpredictability on the world stage.
3. Trump is unpredictable.
Donald Trump is fundamentally unpredictable. His policy positions are infamously unreliable, his public statements seem utterly unhinged one moment and rather reasonable the next, and he loves to threaten to increase the size of his wall.
This very unpredictability which drives ideological conservatives crazy when it comes to issues like abortion is arguably a tremendous asset when it comes to foreign policy. While it does little to reassure allies (Trump has famously dismissed NATO), it would keep America’s enemies guessing — never sure in what way America’s president would strike next.
Trump seems to loosely follow the advice he lays out in The Art of the Deal: start aggressively, and then concede to find common ground. Indeed, his policy positions seem to follow this model: he announces a seemingly outrageous policy (build a wall, ban Muslim immigration, punish women who get abortions, et cetera), and then he walks it back. This strategy fires up those with more radical goals while later mollifying and reassuring those who disagree that Trump is willing to make sacrifices.
There is a slight outside chance that this strategy would make the GOP nominee a very good president.
4. He is the Republican, after all.
Advocates for the Constitution, limited government, and a strong national defense have only one major party which represents them. For all his flaws, Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, and conservatives have the best chance of having their policies adopted nationally under his presidency, as opposed to that of Hillary Clinton.
Most likely, neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein nor Evan McMullin will win the presidency, and even if the Electoral College splits in November, forcing Congress to pick the president, it is unlikely the Republican majorities would back anyone but Trump.
The argument may be odious to some, but we have a binary choice: Hillary Clinton, who represents almost everything conservatives oppose, or Donald Trump, who is an unreliable advocate for conservative values, but who would have to work with a Republican Congress as a Republican president.
Furthermore, if Trump loses in November, ideological conservatives will likely be blamed for promising constituents the moon, opening the gateway for the businessman to lead the party to ruin. No matter how wrong this argument is, many establishment Republicans who are gritting their teeth in support of Trump now will doubtless excoriate the Tea Party as the source of this ruinous loss.
Next Page: An extremely controversial silver lining for #ReluctantTrumps.
5. The possibility for impeachment.
Advocates for small government and a return to the Constitution have longed to see some of the power seized by the presidency returned to the Congress. Congress does little more than pass blueprints for actual laws, which are now issued by administrative agencies. The president has broad powers to send troops into foreign countries without a formal declaration of war, and even the Authorization of Military Force which began the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was less than a formal declaration of war.
No matter how unpopular Congress may be, it is the branch most representative of the direct will of the people in the American government. The Founders intended for it to be the most powerful branch, but it has become overshadowed in the last hundred years by the executive branch (the presidency and administrative agencies) and the judicial branch (a Supreme Court which issues rulings that effectively make new laws).
If Donald Trump becomes president, and if he flagrantly violates the Constitution (a document he has publicly stated has twelve articles, although it only has seven), there is a non-zero chance that America may finally witness a president both impeached and removed from office. (Richard Nixon resigned before he could be removed, and the Senate did not remove Bill Clinton.) In such a case, all Democrats will call for Trump’s scalp, and if the severity were bad enough, constitutional conservatives would join them.
While the chances of this actually happening remain small, and the fallout of an impeachment would be have serious consequences for America’s civic order, this is nonetheless a possible argument for a constitutional conservative who believes Trump would be a horrible president to nevertheless vote for him.
When I tentatively made this argument on Twitter, a liberal immediately seized upon it as a “right-wing conspiracy” to make the “radical” Mike Pence president. Would that I had that kind of impact! As it stands, I am not fully convinced by this argument — after all, the vast majority of Republicans have already fallen in line with Donald Trump, and it would take an earth-shattering error for the Republican nominee to alienate them, much less convince them to impeach him. Nevertheless, it is possible, and I cannot leave the case for Trump without mentioning it.