Still Trump-skeptical after all these weeks

Two months ago, I offered my position as a voter in the 2016 presidential election: undecided. I’m firmly #NeverHillary, and always will oppose the Clinton Restoration project for a number of reasons — abortion, Supreme Court, corruption, anti-dynasty, Obama’s third term. Pick one or pick them all, they all apply. I am not #NeverTrump, but I remain skeptical that (a) Trump can win, and (b) he deserves my vote. The past week has not helped alleviate that skepticism, either, but it hasn’t convinced me that Trump’s any different a proposition than he was two months ago, or a year ago.

If I choose to vote for someone other than Trump, I already have plenty of choices, including skipping the presidential vote altogether and jumping down to my local Congressional race. We don’t need a thirteenth-hour protest candidate for that purpose, as I write in my column for The Week — especially since Evan McMullin, for all his finer qualities, isn’t offering any arguments that Republicans didn’t raise in the primaries:

Of course, as McMullin points out at his surprisingly robust campaign website, the resumés of the other two major-party nominees leave a lot to be desired, too. “Hillary Clinton is a corrupt career politician,” McMullin writes in My Letter to America, who “fails the basic tests of judgment and ethics any candidate for president must meet.” He describes Trump as “appeal[ing] to the worst fears of Americans at a time when we need unity,” and cites his “obvious personal instability” as a disqualifier.

The problem with these arguments is that they’re not new — for either candidate. Bernie Sanders made Clinton’s ethics and ties to moneyed interests a major part of his insurgent primary campaign. Republican challengers repeatedly attacked Trump for his temperament and his demagoguery. None of it worked.

McMullin may well be right, but he’s not offering anything new. In fact, all McMullin offers voters is an opportunity to not vote for either candidate. However, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson already offers voters that same opportunity in every state, while Green Party Jill Stein will do the same in two dozen or so states. …

The sense of unreality that has pervaded the movement to eject or eclipse Trump after he clinched the nomination in May continues to grow. That also cuts across one of the best features of conservatism — the ability to deal with the world and human nature as it is, rather than assume a possible utopia and structure a worldview based on fantasy. The elevation of McMullin and the demand to reopen the convention amount to a historic level of denial.

Neither major party covered itself in glory with their choice of nominees. That, however, is in the past. For those who want to cast their vote for a candidate with any chance of winning the election, the reality is that the two choices will be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. For those who wish to use their vote to protest that reality, the ballot is already replete with candidates who have no chance of winning the election. Conservatives should put aside their utopian fantasies and deal with the real-world choices in front of us, rather than waste time, effort, and cash on whatever follows a last gasp.

This created a storm on Twitter, perhaps in part because of the provocative headline The Week put on the column. To be fair, I signed off on it, so I own it. In retrospect it’s not really what I wanted to say, so I take responsibility for that.

I’m not arguing that #NeverTrump should vote for Trump; I’m arguing that trying to promote a heretofore-unknown Capitol Hill staffer as a presidential candidate 92 days before a general election and after ballot deadlines have expired in 26 states is a deeply unserious move. It spends the credibility of principled conservative opposition to Trump on a futile, pointless, and costly gesture based on the fantasy that merely appearing on a ballot is enough to impact the race — and that assumes McMullin will appear on the ballots at all. How can that be in the spirit of conservatism?

If conservatives cannot pull the lever for Trump — and I can understand that decision, and might end up joining them — then the best use of their time and effort is to make conservatism more credible and relevant, and try to prepare to pick up the pieces in November. Focus on down-ballot races and reserve credibility to fight for candidates like Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Rob Portman in Ohio, and so on. Selling snake oil won’t help them out, and it won’t help conservatives regain their stature in a populist GOP after 2016, either.