The Great Trump Debates of 2016, Part One

As we approach the presidential elections, much (okay, pretty much all) of the conversation has centered on the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Conservatives in particular have struggled with their opinions about and obligation to their party’s candidate.  Some of us (and I am on record as being a part of this camp) find the candidate so reprehensible that we cannot and will not, with good conscience, cast a vote on his behalf. Others, while less than enthralled with the idea of a Trump presidency, see the alternative of President Hilary Clinton as significantly worse, and are willing to hold their nose and vote along the party line.  Still others are excited about having an outsider candidate crashing the party and shaking things up a bit, and are looking forward to voting for Trump in November.

Recently, I started a conversation with my cousin Mark (technically, second cousin, but we’re all family) about the merits and demerits of Donald Trump, with Mark voicing the “pro” side (with significant reservation) and me the “con.”  This started on Facebook (in the comments of another family member’s post), migrated to email, and now—with Mark’s permission—is being shared here for the world to see. I thank Mark for his willingness to share this conversation, and for proving that there is still room for discourse even when opinions diverge.

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Exchange #1

Mark (via Facebook Messenger, 6/28/16)

Steve, just a question for you. #1 – Who did you support in lieu of Trump? #2 – Why do you think that candidate would overcome the swelling numbers of voters who pull the government cheese lever?

I thought going into this election that we were past the tipping point of any conservative ever being able to win again.

Interested in your thoughts.

Steve (via email, 6/28/16)

I figured this [email] might be a better forum for long-form discussion.

TheDonTrump1For question #1, my candidate of choice was Marco Rubio.  I thought he was solid across the board on conservative issues, that his life story as the son of immigrants was compelling, that he came across as presidential and with a degree of gravitas, and that the inroads he could have made into the Latino voter block were significant.  I remain convinced he would have beaten Hilary with ease, and that he would have made a very good president.

Truth be known, though, there were a number of candidates on the Republican side who I thought were pretty solid.  Walker, Perry, Jindal—even Fiorina—had solid conservative bona fides, and would have been good standard bearers. And I was disappointed that Paul Ryan opted not to run.  Quite literally, though, I would have stood in the rain for hours naked holding a campaign sign for any of the primary candidates not named Trump if I thought it could have prevented The Donald from winning the nomination.

I admit to being baffled by the whole “I’m tired of ‘Republicans in name only,’ so I’m voting for Trump” trope.  If there is one person in the history of the Republican Party who qualifies as a “RINO,” it’s Donald Trump.  There’s not a single conservative position he now holds for which he didn’t hold the exact opposite opinion even just a few months ago (sometimes in the same speech).  I have less than zero confidence that he will hold to any of his current stated policies once he is elected.  His solution to every problem facing America calls for more governmental involvement and vastly increased executive power.  And unless he really can convince Mexico to build that wall on their own dime, it’s going to cost taxpayers money.

“At best, Trump is an American Silvio Berlusconi. At worst, he’s Benito Mussolini.” – Steve

My biggest concern for a Trump presidency, however, is his complete ignorance of foreign affairs, coupled with his admiration for totalitarian regimes like the Tiananmen Square-era Chinese government and for dictatorial leaders like Vladimir Putin.  In his mind, decisiveness is a virtue, and it doesn’t matter if that is manifested in some sort of crime against humanity.  His claiming that if he ordered a soldier to kill women and children, they’d do it is chilling.  At best, Trump is an American Silvio Berlusconi.  At worst, he’s Benito Mussolini.  (Godwin’s Law prevents me from mentioning that other mid-20th Century Fascist, but a look at the current political climate in the U.S. and post-WWI Weimar Germany has a number of scary parallels.)

I could go on for a long time about reasons Trump would make an awful, awful president (lack of diplomacy and statesmanship, inability to see the fundamental differences between running a company and running a country, lack of allies on Capitol Hill, moral turpitude are just a few that come to mind), but ultimately none of that matters, because I think there is virtually no chance he beats Clinton in November.  I expect the worst defeat for a Republican candidate in history, challenging Walter Mondale’s performance in 1984 as the worst electoral showing ever.  He polls abysmally among virtually every voting subset with the exception of middle-aged males.  Far from expanding the Republican tent, he will collapse it, and the damage done will take a generation (at least) to fix.

You mentioned that you see the “qualified navigators” of the GOP jumping ship in a reckless fashion.  I would argue that the iceberg has already been hit, and there is no good reason to go down with the Good Ship Trump.  When Trump won the nomination, the Republican Party that I’ve supported my whole life died.  I’m not sure I share your conviction that we have reached a point where no conservative can ever win the office again (I think any number could have won this election handily), but I don’t believe the current shell of the party will be the source of that candidate.  As much as it pains me to say it, the best case scenario for the future of conservatism is for Trump to lose and lose big, forcing The Donald off the national political stage once and for all.  Hilary will predictably do a horrible job as president, and hopefully conservatives will be able to coalesce behind an actual conservative candidate in four years, be that under the aegis of the Republican Party, or some new party growing out of the ashes.  (Truth be known, the Democratic Party is also in a world of hurt right now, and faces a significant exodus from Sanders-type socialists, who are equally fed up with their current allegiances.  If it weren’t for the slow-motion Trump Train Wreck, we’d be talking about the demise of the party of FDR.)  We could be watching the end of the two-party system here in the U.S., which again would be fascinating if it were happening elsewhere, and if we didn’t have such a track record of disaster following similar occurrences in Europe.

For question #2, I’d turn the question around and ask why you might think Trump would end the free cheese giveaways.  As a businessman, Trump has shown no hesitation to suck from the governmental teat, has sent much of his employment overseas, has thumbed his nose at policies requiring documentation for immigrant workers, and has shown little in the way of business ethics (see Trump University).  He refuses to release his tax records and, it should be noted, has filed for bankruptcy four separate times.  I would seriously question if he would even qualify as a good businessman.  Loudest and most self-promoting?  Certainly.  Good?  There are certainly thousands of successful businessmen in this country who have made much more from much less (Trump was born into wealth), and have done so without the need to tell perceived competitors that they are “losers.”  Trump certainly isn’t a supporter of the small business owners that would be needed to help right the economy.  (On the other hand, Paul Ryan, “King RINO” to many Trump supporters, has actually done much to promote free enterprise and small businesses.)

Again, I could go on, but I’ll stop here.  (Remember, you asked.  🙂 )  Hope that answers your questions.

Longing for Reagan,
Steve

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Exchange #2

Mark (via email 6/29/16)

Steve,

Yes, yes, I asked, and I am grateful that you obliged me.  I’m too pressed for time at the moment to respond in like quantity, but I will say this.  I have heard (and at times agreed) with much if not all of what you have said about your reasons to have concerns about Trump.  My #1 guy was Ben Carson.  The two guys I wanted most to lose, in order, were Jeb and Rubio, mostly because they seemed to be the 2016 versions of what I was forced to support in the past—less so Rubio than Jeb, but still the “establishment” picks.

“I think [Trump] loves winning and how history will record him more than principles.” – Mark

So why would I have any belief (I don’t use the term “faith” with Trump) that Trump will keep his word?  In a word—ego.  I think he loves winning and how history will record him more than principles.  Because of this and the positions he has staked out—taking only into account Supreme Court nominations—that I can trust he will not veer from this.  This is the single most important, irreversible (should HRC win) issue in this election and I trust that he will nominate either from the 11 he put forth (chosen by others in the know) or will nominate some just like them.

Do I think he’ll build the wall? Yes.  Do I think Mexico will pay for it?  Yes, but not by handing over cash.  I think they will pay for it in the jobs which come back due to back-walking NAFTA.  Is this messy?  Yes, very.

Love to share more but I have a meeting to get to.

Let’s keep the exchange going.  I get where you are coming from.  I think I am a combination of far enough away from the beltway and beyond disgusted that my position is a hair away from you and still a mile apart.

Steve (via email 6/28/16)

The real winner is this exchange is Beth, who now doesn’t have to be the only one hearing me rant about Trump every night over dinner. 🙂

You might be right about the ego thing, but that’s a huge chip to put on that spot.  And I’m not convinced that being able to change his mind once he is elected wouldn’t be the biggest ego trip of all.  (“I know you supported me believing I’d do x and y, but I’m president now, so ____ off.”)  The one thing that does give me pause is the Supreme Court nominees, and if Trump were even a milquetoast conservative, that would probably be enough to convince me to vote for him, but he is just so awful in so many ways, and so untrustworthy, that I just can’t pull the trigger on it.

There’s an Alexander Hamilton quote that pretty much sums up my approach: “”If we must have an enemy at the head of government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible, who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolish and bad measures.”  There’s a certain freedom that comes with knowing that I am not going to be obligated to explain away or apologize for every stupid thing Trump says over the next six months.  (You might say that “being a #nevertrumper means never having to say you’re sorry.”)

I understand the opposition to Jeb (note I didn’t list him among the candidates I would have enthusiastically supported), but I think Rubio got lumped into that “establishment” thing a little unfairly.  Yes, he had the support of some who might have been seen as “establishment” types, but I don’t think that automatically disqualifies him, and there were a number of bona fide conservatives who did support him (Mia Love and Pete King come to mind).  Most conservative groups rated him in the 90+ percentile. The one issue that haunted him was the “Gang of Eight” thing, but I’m willing to give him a bit of a pass on it because of (a) his personal history; (b) the fact that he was in the minority of the group, and was attempting to steer it to a more conservative position; and (c) that he admitted that he probably should’ve taken a different approach on the matter.  (In full disclosure, this might be the one issue on which a hard-core, card carrying Republican might consider me a little “squishy”—I think the issue is much more complex than “Build a wall! Deport all illegals!” and deserves more discussion than simply saying that Mexico needs to build us a wall.)

I liked Ben Carson, although there were times where I felt he was a little out of his depth on matters of foreign policy.  I did lose a little respect when he first stayed in the race well beyond the point where he had any chance of winning (and diluting the anti-Trump vote), and then so quickly endorsed Trump after getting out of the race, despite Trump being pretty much the opposite of everything Carson stood for in both tone and policy.  It felt like a political pay-off, which was disturbing from such an outsider candidate like Carson.

Happy to keep this conversation going.  Probably won’t solve anything, but it will provide a nice vent.

Next: Mark talks about cajones, and Steve longs for a Bugs Bunny presidency

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Author: Steve Rempe

Christian. Husband. Dad. Bengal fan. (Pretty much in that order.)

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