Hugh Hewitt this morning had a fascinating interview this morning with Wall Street Journal deputy editor and pulitzer prize winning columnist Bret Stephens. Stephens is about the exact opposite of a wilting liberal, as his column today is one of the most brutal excoriations of Obama’s foreign policy you could possibly imagine.
During the course of their discussion about foreign policy, Hewitt tried to pin Stephens (who has been a harsh critic of Trump) down to the false idea that this election is a “binary choice” and that, obviously, everyone should choose the not-Hillary option. Stephens I think answered for a lot of us here at RedState as to why that’s not really a very persuasive line of argument:
HH: I wrote at great length yesterday what he has to do. But if it’s a binary choice, is there any reason to believe that Hillary Clinton, after Egypt, Libya, Syria, her failure to negotiate the status of forces agreement, her Russian reset, the fact that the Russian have every one of her emails for five years, if you believe Mike Morell, is there any reason to believe she would be different than President Obama?
BS: No, I think she’s going to be a continuation of President Obama. People seem to be under the impression that I’m crazy about Hillary. I think Hillary is dreadful. One of the strongest arguments for opposing Donald Trump in the nomination process is he was just about the only Republican who was going to lose to Hillary, maybe Ted Cruz, but he was certainly the only Republican who would lose to Hillary, simply because I think he comes across to an increasing percentage of Americans, and I’ve been saying this for a long time, as not just uninformed, but someone unhinged. And that’s, that’s, people look for a certain degree of sobriety in their presidents. It’s too big of a job. There are too many nuclear weapons at the president’s disposal to have a guy whose actions are so difficult to predict as Donald’s.
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HH: I agree with that, and I am going to dedicate myself to trying to get him to turn it around. But Bret, if the choice is Clinton versus Trump, who is Bret Stephens going to vote for?
BS: Probably none of the above. I will never vote for Donald Trump. I have a very, very hard time voting for Mrs. Clinton. I have been, I have been writing about Hillary Clinton, I just actually looked this up, since 1998 when she was busy standing by when Suha Arafat was launching anti-Semitic tirades against Israel and the Jews. And Hillary Clinton’s record in office is dreadful. Her ideas are dreadful. They will make us less safe. So, but there is no way I’m going to vote for a guy who is just totally uninformed, un-presidential as Donald Trump is.
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HH: So he brings along, let me make an argument to you, and I look forward to reading when you think and write through this, because I think you’re so influential that it will matter. He brings 3,000 people with him, a vice president, a secretary of Defense, a secretary of State, a head of the national intelligence community, a CIA director, etc., etc., He can keep Joe Dunford in, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is widely regarded as the best in a long time, etc., etc. And so we elect 3,000 people, not just one. And it seems to me that as a civilian, this is Hugh Hewitt talking, not Bret, I owe the people who are on the front end of the spear, the people on the front line, the best commander-in-chief of the two. I owe them my informed judgment as to who will do the best by America. I can’t sit it out, because they can’t sit it out. They’re taking bullets and incoming. So how do you respond to that argument about having to make the choice? And if you’re obliged to make the choice upon pondering that, who would the choice be?
BS: Well, you’re asking me the same question twice. My answer is the same. The only person who counts in the administration is the president of the United States, Hugh. That’s the only person who counts. When George W. Bush decided to save the American position in Iraq by going against the advice of all of his wise men, of Jim Baker and the whole Iraq Study Group, and 90% of his administration, that was George W. Bush’s decision. So we have to bear in mind that this isn’t an administration we’re electing. It’s a person that we are electing. Who knows better than you what it means to have a commander-in-chief who lived his entire life, who lived throughout the entire Cold War, and doesn’t know what the nuclear triad is? It’s absolutely astonishing. And so it’s terrific to have Joe Dunford and you know, perhaps John Bolton and other people in positions of trust. But you have to have a president who bothered over the last 70 years to gain a cursory understanding of how the world works. And on so many issues, Hugh, on so many issues, I know not all of the issue, but on so many issues, this guy is just the antithesis of what I’d want a Republican president to be on foreign policy. When it comes to trade, when it comes to standing up to countries like North Korea, when it comes to standing up to guys like Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump is not a conservative. If you put…
HH: Bret, you don’t have to, I agree with you on all of that. I know the critique. Nevertheless, what about my argument that civilians owe people who are fighting the war the best of the two candidates for commander-in-chief. We don’t have the option to be conscientious objectors in the one part of the war that is part of our job, which is to pick a commander-in-chief.
BS: Listen, I think that for the United States, Hillary Clinton, as awful as I find her, is a survivable event. I’m not so sure about Donald Trump.
BS: And let me tell you why. Let me add one more point to that, Hugh. The United States survives so long as at least one of its major parties is politically and intellectually healthy. I don’t think the Republican Party, or I should say the Republican Party as the vehicle for modern American conservative ideas, survives with Donald Trump. I think a Donald Trump presidency sets up an Elizabeth Warren ascendancy. And it not Elizabeth Warren, someone of her ilk. And I think that’s dreadful. I think a Donald Trump presidency raises a new kind of version of conservatism which more closely resembles a kind of Father Coughlin, America first populism and nativism and isolationism, than the confident, modern, cosmopolitan, thoughtful, engaged conservatism of Ronald Reagan and Paul Ryan.
Stephens is exactly correct. There is simply not a case, as far as I’m concerned, that Trump is meaningfully better than Hillary in any way, and I mean that sincerely. Yeah, I get that Hillary is awful, she would be terrible, but you could say the same exact things about Trump.
The idea the Hewitt or anyone else who has reluctantly jumped on the Trump train has any idea where Trump will be ideologically speaking two weeks from now is preposterous. Look what Trump did to the NRA yesterday a week after they endorsed him, when he adopted the liberal Democrat position on gun control. He can and will do this with any issue that suits him because he has neither an ideological core nor even a rudimentary understanding of literally any issue of importance to the Presidency. On the few areas where he seems to have definite ideas (e.g., trade), he is wrong.
Donald Trump is the loudmouth, obnoxious uncle who always shows up at your Thanksgiving meal and berates everyone there with his ideas on how the world could be so much better if everyone listened to him. He portrays it all as simple and cannot understand why everyone else in the world doesn’t agree with him and accept him for the genius he is. But everyone in the family with half a brain just politely nods and seeks to vacate his company as soon as possible because if you actually listen to Uncle Trump, you realize he’s just dangerously ignorant about everything, and everything seems so simple to him because he’s so devoid of actual knowledge about the facts.
In Trump’s case, he had the good fortune to be blessed with a wealthy family so instead of living in a double wide and smelling of cheap cigars and O.E., he gives off the impression of someone who’s been fabulously successful (even though he has, by all accounts, underperformed the market drastically), but the personality is just the same. In fact, it’s worse, because Trump’s wealth has, if anything, solidified his genius in his own mind.
Whatever damage Hillary might do to the country, putting someone like that in charge of the executive branch would, in my mind, clearly be worse. The damage he would do to the country would be incalculable and the Republican party as we know it would be finished.
Of course, all of this ignores the fact that the choice is NOT binary. Voting in the United States is not compulsory, and even if it were, voting for either the Republican or the Democrat would not be. Nor should it be. There’s nothing that says – either legally or morally – that I have to contribute to the destruction of America by supporting either Hillary Clinton OR Donald Trump. I vote for candidates who deserve my vote. The end. That’s the way voting works in a free society. And if neither of them does (as they clearly don’t in this election) then I will not vote (or vote for third party). And the ridiculous, junior high peer pressure that is designed to make me forget the freedom I have to vote (or not vote) for whom I please won’t change that fact.