As a lifelong conservative who has voted Republican in every Presidential election but one since 1968, I am front and center in saying that if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz wins the Republican nomination, they will have one less vote to count on in November.
As a conservative whose governing beliefs are founded in the philosophy that a representative government works best when men and women of good intentions argue forcefully, passionately, and yes, even angrily for their positions, their party, and their constituents and that they then come together through compromise to fashion policies that serve the common good, I realize that some issues leave no room for compromise, causing stalemate or the rough domination of a narrow majority. And I realize that, in the rough and tumble of debate, words can be spoken that batter and bruise opponents. It has been ever such in American politics, and neither Democrats nor Republicans are absolved from blame in this context.
But it is one thing to wage political war over principled positions, while it is quite a different matter to demonize the opponent who holds those principles. And that is what political discourse has come to at this point in our history. Factions within both parties have taken the holier-than-thou position on everything from health care, to immigration, to economic fairness, to the size and scope of government. Each of these issues deserves to be examined and discussed in the full and healthy light of reasoned discourse, but in today’s political environment they can’t even garner reasoned discussion within the parties where extremists would rather torch the house than compromise for the common good, let alone their party’s good.
Trump is a nativist, a boor and a bully, arrogant, and culturally ignorant. All of these are what I abhor in an individual and enough in themselves to keep me from voting for him. Added to this list of disqualifying personal attributes is the fact that Trump is not a conservative. He’s not a conservative in support of a strong military nor the use of it. He’s not a conservative when he advocates raising taxes, the result of which will be an increase in the scope of government. Trump is not conservative when he is on the record for replacing Obamacare with a single payer—the government—health care system. Trump is not conservative when he pipe dreams that terrorism, a Middle East on fire, and an expansionist Russia can be brought to heel by personal diplomacy with a man he admires, Vladimir Putin. That “reset” has been tried. It didn’t work.
Ted Cruz has all of the attributes of Donald Trump but with a self-righteousness that trumps Trump. Cruz is called the true conservative in the race for the Republican nomination, when I think the appropriate appellation is the “true chameleon,” witness his position on illegal immigration where he was in favor of amnesty before he was opposed to it. Or, on support for defense and the military, when he voted against the defense budget then said on the campaign trail that he would unleash the strongest military in the world on ISIS to see if the “desert glowed in the dark.” Cruz also has the unique attribute of being able to alienate putative friends as well as real enemies. He is known as the most disliked man in the Senate and this just by his fellow Republicans. One is left to wonder what Democrats think of him.
While the Republicans lead the field this year in candidates beyond the pale of rational discourse, the Democrats don’t get a pass on this type of behavior when Bernie Sanders tries to convince the party faithful that European-style socialism really works and that America should give it a try. Poor Hillary Clinton. She must think she is in the midst of a year-long nightmare in which she is constantly forced to pander to the far left of her party who appear to be immersed in a 60-year fog of amnesia about the utter failure of socialism in one European country after another.
At a time when America desperately needs a President who can bring us together in words and deeds, Trump, Cruz, and Sanders will only widen the rift in political comity that threatens the very fabric of American representative government. None of those candidates has the background, the personality, or the instincts to forge intraparty, let alone interparty, compromise or consensus. None of the three is possessed of the qualities of leadership that allowed political opposites such as Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, and Bill Clinton and Bob Dole to find common ground for the common good.
As much as I fear for the health of our political system, I do feel encouraged by the fact that there are two electable candidates who do possess the attributes necessary to return sanity and reason to the political arena. Both occupy what remains as the “middle” of their respective parties and both have shown an ability to work with those in the opposition to forge sound governing policies.
On the Republican side, Marco Rubio has shown an in-depth knowledge of domestic and international affairs and was part of the bipartisan coalition that supported President Obama on the trade pact as well being a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that tried to put together effective immigration reform. Rubio may be too “right” for Democratic tastes, just as he is too “left” for the “purity conservatives.” To my way of thinking, that makes him “just right.”
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, although not quite the political pragmatist of her husband, has shown an ability to form bipartisan friendships that made her one of the most popular senators in her years in the Senate. Known to be more of a practitioner of real politik than President Obama and certainly more hard line on defense and the use of force than he, Hillary should be far more effective in forging political compromises than the often aloof Barack Obama ever was. The left of the Democratic Party maligns Clinton as being a handmaiden of Wall Street, as too confrontational in foreign affairs, as too passive in the class warfarism that is dominating Democratic Party conversation. So while her moderation, her centrism, are anathema to radical liberalism, they seem just about right to me.
Given the choice of Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton, I’ll stay true to my lifetime allegiance and vote Republican. Make that choice between Donald Trump or Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton, and I’ll vote Clinton in a heartbeat. Self-respect trumps (sorry, I couldn’t resist) blind allegiance to a hijacked political philosophy. And I’ll cross my fingers that the outbreak of Boobus Americanus that has stained political discourse this election cycle will recede as Americans realize that who they vote for reflects who they are as Americans.
Richard L. Claypoole served in a variety of leadership positions for the National Archives, including being the Director of the Office of the Federal Register and the Assistant Archivist for Presidential Libraries and Museums. He was an editor of the Public Papers of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and editor in chief of the Public Papers of Ronald Reagan.