Dump Trump? Trump Train? Color me ... Trump Skeptical

Not long ago, I had a brief Twitter conversation with Peggy Noonan about this particular moment in the Republican Party. Many of our colleagues on the Right have already climbed aboard either the “Trump Train” or the #NeverTrump movement weeks or even months ago, leaving others somewhere in between. She had noted on her public feed of the need for “heroic fairness” among the rest, who still have not yet decided on the right path. For me, this meant fairness in analysis, as well as fairness in the decision process on how to vote in the end.

Allahpundit pegged the middle ground as “Skeptical of Trump,” but I prefer the phrase “Trump Skeptical” — and not just about my vote, but also of the claims made on behalf of the candidate and in opposition to him. As I wrote in my column for The Week today, for the first time in my adult life I feel the need to wait until November to decide how I will vote in a presidential election:

The problem facing voters in this general election is that the two major parties produced nominees who might only have been able to beat each other. They have the worst personal favorability ratings of major-party nominees in decades, if not ever. Both have given voters many reasons for offense, and few reasons to cheer them. Neither party will prosper much by having either of them serve as its public face for the next four years.

Trump has behaved outrageously, and not only in relation to Judge Curiel. His campaign offers the kind of authoritarian populism that cuts against small-government conservatism, and his antics and rhetoric will seriously limit the GOP’s ability to expand the footprint of both the party and conservatism.  But, as I wrote, Hillary Clinton has done worse, in ways that presents threats of their own — and her victory will limit conservatism, too:

As the State Department inspector general reported, Clinton used an unauthorized and unsecure email server based out of her house in order to hide her communications from legitimate congressional and judicial oversight. Her team was warned more than once that her use of private email would violate the Federal Records Act as well as thwart the checks and balances between the three branches of government. Clinton proceeded to use her system anyway, and it did result in misrepresentations about records on official business in a number of FOIA demands and congressional requests.

That clearly was Clinton’s plan from the beginning. It was a deliberate decision to engage in corruption of the constitutional safeguards meant to limit power to those in office. Even apart from the question of whether Clinton acted in a criminal manner in regard to classified information — a question the FBI has dozens of agents investigating to this day — her actions intended to damage the very fabric of self-governance and the status of officeholders as servants rather than masters.

That leaves me in a place where many voters might find themselves at the moment. Hillary Clinton has already proven herself unworthy of the office, and has demonstrated corruption for personal privilege that put national security and lives at risk. Trump has shown little reason to have confidence in his temperament or his understanding of necessary limits of power. With two poor candidates, the rational decision would still be to vote for the one who will advance the policies and values closest to one’s own position. Ah, but there may be a problem there, too:

We must decide between realistic choices rather than what we wish would work. To make that decision, though, I will need to be convinced that Trump will actually provide a difference in policies and issues, rather than just act transactionally, with Trump as his only core value.

The need to protect the Supreme Court often comes up as the most compelling argument to vote for Trump. And if the GOP manages to hold onto control of the Senate, that may work. But what if a President Trump has to fill an opening with a nomination that has to get through a Democrat-controlled Senate? Will Trump fight for constitutional originalism, or will he cut a deal to make himself look good? A candidate with a track record of understanding the necessity of appointing originalists might go to the mat for that, but a transactional player like Trump not only would have a tough time sticking to such an appointment, he’d have a tough time explaining why it was necessary to do so — and might not care anyway. If cutting a deal to appoint Merrick Garlands and Elana Kagans to the Supreme Court somehow benefited Trump, who has any doubt that he’d do it in a heartbeat, and attack Republicans who object?

No one is owed my vote. Until I feel comfortable in making that choice, no one will get it, and I can flat-out guarantee that Clinton won’t ever get it. Neither will Gary Johnson, who’s running a Bernie Sanders Lite campaign on the Libertarian ticket. Trump went back on script last night, which certainly made some feel a bit better about his grasp of the political situation, but one speech hardly fixes the problem. I’ll decide by November whether Trump is worth supporting.

That still leaves us with the responsibility of “heroic fairness,” Noonan’s commission to those who remain somewhat skeptical of Trump. That means dealing with his fumbles and stumbles, but also pointing out when the media deals with Trump unfairly, too. It means not blindly accepting claims from Team Trump and Republican about polling and progress (as happened too often in 2012), but also not ignoring evidence of progress when it does emerge. In fact, that has to be part of that overall decision process for all #TrumpSkeptical members — and hopefully we are all up to the task.