For anyone in my profession, perhaps the most poignant observation offered by any of the many speakers in Cleveland last night came from Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson: “It’s been a tough year for the media experts.”
You can say that again, Willie.
And the year’s only half over.
Back in March, in a column called “Between a Louse and a Flea,” I made two points. Strophe:
It is often, and rightly, said that part of the essence of conservative wisdom is the melancholy appreciation of the fact that in the real world the choices we face are often not between good and better but between bad and worse. This is particularly true in the messy world of politics where compromise, self-interest, and the desire for power and prerogative insinuate themselves into the tapestry of our alternatives.
“Part of the existential superiority of the conservative view,” I went on to observe, “is its immunization against the blandishments of utopian solutions.” Further: “Some such consideration stands behind the principled endorsement (as distinct from the other sorts) of Donald Trump by conservatives. They survey the field and they see only Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Both are bad. But which is worse?”
To be honest, I am not sure we have instruments robust enough to tell. Asked who was worse, Rousseau or Voltaire, Dr. Johnson is said (at least apocryphally) to have replied: “Sir, it is not for me to apportion the degree of iniquity between a louse and a flea.” I think it’s pretty much the same regarding Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
“Both,” I concluded, “are utterly unfit to be president of the United States. They are equally bad, though in different ways. Trump, not yet having access to the levers of power, has so far shown himself to be personally and professionally disreputable. Hillary, first as the appendage, latterly as the prop of her once-charismatic husband, has been a boil on the countenance of the public for decades. Either would be a disaster for the country.”
I went on to quote the great James Brunham, who in one of “Burnham’s laws” (there are ten of them) observed that “Where there is no alternative there is no problem.”
Back on March 21, I believed that there was an alternative in Ted Cruz. I was wrong. The choice really is between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Back in March I thought that it was impossible to say who was worse. I was wrong about that, too. Several of my Republican friends have looked at the two standing candidates and concluded that Hillary is the lesser of two evils. I pondered the case for Hillary but, after due consideration, concluded that she is, by a significant margin, the worse candidate.
Part of what convinced me was watching a screening of Steve Bannon’s Clinton Cash, a documentary based on Peter Schweitzer’s devastating book of the same title.
There were also the realities behind the names Whitewater, Cattle Futures, Vince Foster, Travelgate, Bimbo Gate, Emailgate, and Benghazi. It’s a sordid and, in my view, a disqualifying record.
So I conclude, not without some reluctance, that the Wall Street Journal‘s Bill McGurn is right: the best case for Donald Trump is this: the alternative is Hillary Clinton. “On so many issues,” McGurn notes, from free trade to “his suspiciously recent embrace of the pro-life cause,”
Mr. Trump gives reasons for pause. But he still isn’t Mrs. Clinton. That’s crucial, because much of the argument for keeping Mr. Trump out of the Oval Office at all costs requires glossing over the damage a second Clinton presidency would do.
The economy? “There is zero reason to believe a Clinton administration would be any improvement over the past eight years, from taxes and spending and regulation to ObamaCare. ”
Social issues? Hillary Clinton is “the candidate who touts the Planned Parenthood view of human life, who sees nothing wrong with forcing nuns to provide employees with contraceptives, and who supports the Obama administration’s bid to compel K-through-12 public schools to open girls’ bathrooms to males who identify as female.”
Foreign affairs? Think the Russian “reset” (how’s that working out?) Benghazi, and the “deal” with Iran.
The Supreme Court? To ask the question is to answer it.
In short, as McGurn concludes, Donald Trump “represents a huge risk.” But — and it’s a large “but” — “honesty requires that this risk be weighed against a clear-eyed look at the certainties a Hillary Clinton administration would bring.”
There was a lot of McGurnite sentiment in evidence in Cleveland last night. But there was something else in evidence as well, a strong positive current of support for Trump. The current has several tributaries:
- The theme of last night’s jamboree was “Make America Safe Again.” (Coming up: “Make America Work Again,” “Make America First Again,” “Make America One Again.”) Given the horrific events of the last few weeks — Orlando, Dallas, Baton Rouge (to say nothing of what happened in Nice and, just yesterday, Germany), security was on everyone’s mind. Many of the speakers last night, from Milwaukee’s Sheriff David Clarke and “Lone Survivor” Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell to Rep. Michael McCaul, chair of the Homeland Security Committee, and Rudy Giuliani underscored the many ways Barack Obama has made America less safe by his addiction to political correctness. Again and again, speakers insisted on calling things by their real names. What happened in San Bernardino, in Paris, in Orlando, in Nice was radical Islamic terrorism, not the assaults of various “violent extremists.” The slogan “Black Lives Matter” is a toxic formulation whose racist implications are evident in the corollary denial of the alternative “All Lives Matter” (including, as Sheriff Clarke put it, “Blue Lives Matter”). That refreshing rejection of cant had an energizing effect on the assembled multitudes. In one of the high points of the evening, Darryl Glenn, a black Senatorial candidate in Colorado, quipped, “Someone with a nice tan needs to say this: All Lives Matter.” Yes.
- Donald Trump himself contributed to the atmosphere when, in an interview with Bill O’Reilly, he weighed in on the subject of Black Lives Matter. “It’s a problem, it’s a very big problem,” he said. What, O’Reilly asked, would he do about it as president? Would he seek to limit the free speech of the protestors? Here Trump said something that will enrage the Left and endear him to his core supporters. He was all for free speech “up to a point.” What point? When you have protestors chanting “kill the police” and then find that police are, in fact, killed. Are not the Black Lives Matter radicals inciting their followers to violence? We can leave that to the constitutional lawyers to adjudicate. Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters are cheering.
- You don’t often hear the word “Warrior” used in a positive way these days. It cropped up early and often in last night’s presentations. Marcus Luttrell invoked it, as did Tom Cotton. It underscored a fact that helps to explain Donald Trump’s popularity. His campaign is not a testosterone-free zone. As former Texas Governor Rick Perry put it, we should not only care for but honor our veterans. You get the sense that the Left is faintly embarrassed by the warriors who keep America safe. Which is probably why ailing veterans are left to malinger in the inefficient bureaucratic hell that is Obama’s Veterans Administration. Donald Trump celebrates the military and has repeatedly said he would do more to care for veterans. The crowd in Cleveland liked that.
- The evening’s denouement was undoubtedly the speech by Melania Trump, the striking Slovenia-born model who is Donald’s third wife and mother of his youngest son. Donald gave a brief introduction, and his melodramatic entrance out of an illuminated mist was hokey at best. But his introduction was straightforward and affectionate, and Melania’s speech was a model of solicitude and solidarity. Yes, yes, I know that whoever wrote the speech seems to have cribbed a few sentences from Michelle Obama’s similar oration from 2008. (I also know that Barack Obama’s speech writers apparently cribbed from a speech by Deval Patrick.) But that did not, I think, detract from the effectiveness of her performance, which did a lot to humanize Donald Trump and put a domestic face behind his often crude rhetoric.
Bottom line? The first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention was a net positive for Donald Trump, something the internet bookies have taken on board. They still have Hillary ahead in the odds, but the performance of Trump’s surrogates last night has the world chattering that a “Brexit-style” upset is not out of the question.