Conservative opposition to Donald Trump’s candidacy for president divides into two groups. The first group consists of those who may not support Trump in the primaries but who plan to support him if he becomes the GOP nominee (e. g. Hugh Hewitt). The second group consists of those who oppose Trump in the primaries and who will also oppose him in the general should he become the GOP nominee (e.g. Ben Sasse). We might label the former as the “Stop Trump” conservatives and the latter as the “Never Trump” conservatives.
The division presents Christians and social conservatives with a unique dilemma. While many agree that it would be best to stop Trump in the primaries, there is much disagreement about what to do if Trump wins the nomination. What if the alternatives in the Fall are Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton? Isn’t it the case that although Trump has his foibles, Secretary Clinton would do more damage to the causes that social conservatives care about most—sanctity of life, marriage, and religious freedom? Won’t the “Never Trump” position lead to a loss of the Supreme Court for a generation?
Denny: I understand your stance against Donald Trump. I don’t want him to be the nominee, either, because I’m tired of voting “against” the other guy, which is what I’ve done except for 1984, and 2000 when I voted FOR the Republican nominee. Yet, I keep coming back to your big issue: abortion. Trump will be campaigning on a pro-life platform (whatever his personal view may be) versus Hillary, who no longer even worries about saying “safe, legal and rare.” The Democrat platform will be abortion for all under all circumstances. Moreover, Trump has indicated he will nominate a Scalia clone versus Hillary who will absolutely not and has even floated out one of the most ominous suggestions I’ve heard in years – Barack Obama as a Supreme Court justice. (SHIVERS UP AND DOWN MY SPINE). How does voting third party or not voting justify allowing abortion to continue unabated for at least another generation and perhaps longer? Dr. Moore’s quote from Romans cuts both ways: The Bible tells us we will be held accountable not only for the evil deeds we do but also when we “give approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32). How are we not “giving approval” to Hillary when we stand back and allow her to be elected, knowing it was potentially within our power to stop her? Do we really soothe ourselves with “I didn’t vote FOR her, so it’s not my fault?”
The argument that this reader makes was very compelling to me for a long time. We are not responsible for the alternatives before us. Therefore, we must choose the best we can between the available options—even if both options are less than ideal. For me, however, the argument breaks down in Donald Trump’s case. Here is why I think it breaks down and why social conservatives would do well to give the “Never Trump” position another look:
1. It is not at all clear what kind of justices Trump would appoint. Recently, he has named some conservative justices that would pass muster. But he’s also named his own sister as someone who would be a great Supreme Court justice. Of course he won’t actually appoint his own sister, but what does it say about his judicial philosophy that he thinks a partial-birth abortion supporting judge would be a good fit for the Supreme Court?
2. Trump’s pro-life credentials are suspect. Just last Fall he told CNN that he supports the “health” exception–apparently unaware that the “health” exception of Doe v. Bolton is precisely the reason that we have legal abortion-on-demand today! He has also been a staunch defender of Planned Parenthood. Yes, he wants to defund Planned Parenthood as long as they perform abortions. But just last year he told Sean Hannity that the U.S. should fund Planned Parenthood’s women’s health services while not funding abortion. That’s ostensibly what we have now, but again he seems unaware of that. I’m all for converts to the pro-life cause. But I’m not the only one who suspects his conversion to be a counterfeit in order to win the GOP nomination.
3. Trump is a pathological liar. Even though he promises to appoint conservative justices, how can we trust him? This is why character matters. His trail of falsehoods are an open secret. On what grounds could we possibly trust him to do as president what he promises as a candidate? Even if he intended to keep his promise about judges, how do we know that he even understands what constitutes a sound judicial philosophy and what does not?
4. It is a misunderstanding of single-issue voting to say that abortion is the only issue that is disqualifying for a candidate. I have written on this before and have explained what single-issue voting is and is not. Single-issue voting is not that being right on any one issue qualifies a candidate for office. Nor is it the idea that only one issue can be singularly disqualifying. Single-issue voting is the belief that there are a range of issues that can be singularly disqualifying. Support for abortion is one issue in that category. Support for the reinstitution of slavery would also be in that category. So would advocating war crimes. So would advocating violence at lawful assemblies. Even if Trump’s views on abortion were more certainly pro-life, he has transgressed on a number of other “single issue” grounds, any one of which would be singularly disqualifying–racism, advocating violence against protestors, support for killing children who are suspected of being related to terrorists, etc. The litany documented by The Washington Post is instructive:
Mr. Trump must be stopped because he presents a threat to American democracy. Mr. Trump resembles other strongmen throughout history who have achieved power by manipulating democratic processes. Their playbook includes a casual embrace of violence; a willingness to wield government powers against personal enemies; contempt for a free press; demonization of anyone who is not white and Christian; intimations of dark conspiracies; and the propagation of sweeping, ugly lies. Mr. Trump has championed torture and the murder of innocent relatives of suspected terrorists. He has flirted with the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists. He has libeled and stereotyped wide swaths of humanity, including Mexicans and Muslims. He considers himself exempt from the norms of democratic contests, such as the release of tax returns, policy papers, lists of advisers and other information that voters have a right to expect.
5. There are a host of characteristics that render Trump not merely a flawed candidate but a real threat to our constitutional order. Look at how he orders his supporters to perpetrate violence against protestors. Look at how he promises to direct the U.S. military to commit war crimes if he becomes commander-in-chief. If he is willing to advocate and defend such gross violations publicly, how do you think he will use (or abuse) the powers of his office if he were to become President? Do you think he might use his powers to punish dissent? I think he would. Even if he were solid on the abortion issue, these other items disqualify him. I am not joking or being hyperbolic when I say that he is a Mussolini-in-waiting. He must never be allowed near the Oval Office. Ever.
There are many good people still in the “Stop Trump” camp who oppose his candidacy now but who will support him if he becomes the nominee. I think they hold this point of view in good conscience because they don’t want to lose the Supreme Court for a generation. They believe Trump to be wrong on a range of issues but to be otherwise benign. While I share their concern about the Supreme Court, I think they are sadly mistaken that he is otherwise benign.
I hope I’m wrong about the menace that I think he presents to our country. I really do. But I think there is more than enough evidence that I am exactly right about who this man is and what kinds of things he would do. And the uncertain chance that he might accidentally appoint good justices doesn’t overcome these other disqualifying concerns. That is why I will never support him, and I hope others won’t either.