At the end of the day, I have to go with Trump because of ringing endorsements like this one from Jonah Goldberg:
“I don’t dismiss that argument. I think a President Trump would strain the constitutional system the same way he tested the GOP party apparatus. I would expect a President Trump to give orders that violate the Constitution, and then we would have to see whether the system could respond adequately. Remember how he used to insist that he would bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse” tactics? When it was pointed out to him that military officers would be required to refuse unlawful orders, he said, in effect, “Oh, they’ll obey!”
He later backtracked, but I think it’s clear his instincts are utterly uninformed by constitutional norms. I hear a lot of Republicans telling me that they will manage President Trump, box him in, etc. I am extremely skeptical about the idea that President Trump will be more manageable than candidate Trump once he gets Air Force One.
So, again, I think it’s a legitimate concern.
But, I think it’s also very clear that President Hillary Clinton would have contempt for the Constitution just as Obama has (see Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru’s recent piece on this point). One could even make the case that she’s the greater danger on this front. The legal establishment, the bureaucracy, the media et al. will all either explicitly come to her aid or they will provide respectable cover, just as they did for Obama’s unilateral executive orders. One of the best things about a Trump presidency—shudder—might just be how he would elicit a healthy antibody response, forcing a new commitment to separation of powers. I’m not making the case for voting for Trump here, I think he could be a very, very dangerous president (particularly on the economy and foreign policy). What I’m saying is that America is a bit like the proverbial frog in the pot. Hillary would incrementally turn up the heat, which is at near-boil, while Trump would start at the boiling point.
But let me jump ahead and just answer the question I think you’re really getting at. I think in the short term there is a very good argument that Hillary would be worse for America than Trump. My chief worry, among many, is that Trump would be worse in the long term because he threatens to destroy modern American conservatism.
We can already see how Trump is basically refashioning conservatism (I would say “corrupting”). If Trump comes out for X, within minutes people who’ve spent decades opposed to X suddenly turn on a dime and start cheerleading for X. (See, e.g. Gingrich on NAFTA and NATO, Mike Pence on everything.)
A bunch of very smart conservatives have allowed themselves to be seduced by a very dumb idea. Specifically, they think that this problem will get better once he’s elected president. It won’t. It will get much, much, much worse. Once in office, I could very easily see him getting rolled by the bureaucracy and basically become a big government Nixonite (which is what he is in his heart already).
Or, the GOP will become a nationalist party instead of a sort of Toryish/classical liberal party. It will become protectionist, pro-authoritarian, and dirigiste. There’s already a lot of that in the Democratic Party, but a Trumpified GOP will stop offering an alternative to that and instead starting a bidding war on everything from entitlements to infrastructure spending. And I’m not even addressing the extent to which the GOP would fully surrender to leftist categories of thinking when it comes to identity politics—only in reverse. I’m against identity politics full stop, which means I’m against white identity politics at least as much as I’m against minority identity politics.
In sum, my biggest fear—or at least the fear I am most confident about—is that he will break the already-strained spine of limited government constitutionalism and classical liberalism in such a way that there will no longer be any check on the administrative state.
America can survive four years of Hillary Clinton, it can’t survive a political system divided by Sanders-style socialists and Trump-style nationalists.
But because I want my kind of conservatism to survive, I don’t think it makes any sense for me to endorse Hillary Clinton, who is open and honest about her contempt for my kind of conservatism. I want to be able to say five, 10, 20 years from now, “These are the things I believe,” without someone saying, “Oh yeah? Then why did you support Clinton or Trump?” You don’t hear a lot of people demanding that prominent libertarians choose between the lesser of two evils. I just can’t support either of these people. (Much like National Review couldn’t endorse Kennedy or Nixon—neither met the minimal standards for Bill Buckley’s understanding of conservatism.)
You are essentially making the same argument I hear 500 times a day from conservatives. They say, “If Hillary wins America is over.” You’re saying (or suggesting), “If Trump wins, America is over.” I have more faith in America and our system of government. Indeed, if we really are at a place where America’s survival hinges on a single election of a single officeholder for one branch of one of our governments, then America is already over. Because that’s not what America is. …”