I have many fond memories of my childhood typical of a lifelong Minnesotan — Little League Baseball, the State Fair, summertime at the lake, and winter ice-skating and sledding. But one of my favorite recollections I admittedly may not share with many: attending Republican events with my dad. As a teenager, I was drawn to the Grand Old Party; its platform calling to unleash the power of the free market and human ingenuity to raise standards of living and reduce the burden of bloated government made sense to me. It still does.
The party of Lincoln and Reagan has a proud past, and because of the strength of its principles and its approach to governing, its prospects are bright. As a token of things to come, we need look no further than innovative young leaders such as Paul Ryan and Kurt Daudt.
But this year, the Republican presidential primaries produced a nominee entirely unworthy of our noble history and out of sync with the future of the party. Donald Trump’s more obvious flaws have been well-chronicled: an erratic temperament, shallow political and personal principles, and an alarming lack of fluency in foreign and domestic policy. But what also makes him so particularly unfit to be our nominee is that Trump is no conservative, and there is little reason to believe he would govern as one.
Let me be crystal-clear: I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton under any circumstances. Her vision for America is an even-larger, more-intrusive federal government, expanded regulations on business, further restrictions on religious freedom, and a dangerous continuation of the weak foreign policy of the Obama administration over which she herself presided. And deception appears to be a family asset in the Clinton household, as she has the same disregard for truth-telling as her husband.
Some in Republican circles advocate a vote for Trump as supporting the lesser of two evils — a choice between Scylla and Charybdis. But an objective analysis of Trump’s rhetoric and record demonstrates that this election is a choice between two equally unfit and flawed presidential contenders.
Many conservatives believe the Supreme Court is reason enough to support Trump. “Even if you can’t stand Donald Trump, you think Donald Trump is the worst, you’re going to vote for me,” the GOP nominee recently predicted. “You know why? Justices of the Supreme Court.” There is no question that for social conservatives like me, the composition of the nation’s high court is a crucial issue in any presidential campaign. We know the kind of justices Mrs. Clinton would appoint: reliably liberal lawyers committed to ruling on the basis of their own personal political views rather than on the basis of the law.
But would Trump do any better? The Manhattan mogul says so, but Mr. Trump — who recently cited the nonexistent “Article XII” of the Constitution when promising to defend it — has given us little reason to trust him on this. If you really want to know what kind of judges he would appoint, consider what Trump said before the campaign season really heated up. In August of last year, he announced that Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, his sister, would make a “phenomenal” Supreme Court nominee. Judge Trump is a fiercely liberal federal judge who regards partial-birth abortion as a constitutional right. But tellingly, the candidate added, “We’ll have to rule that out now, at least temporarily.” Temporarily — that is, until the campaign is over.
Of course, Trump now claims he will “most likely” nominate a judge from his campaign-issued list of conservative jurists. But he has given us no reason to trust that half-pledge and every reason to doubt it.
When their arguments about the judiciary fall short, some Trump boosters point to his perceived muscularity in foreign policy. His rhetoric is tough when it comes to matters international; there’s no question about that. But he’s also a remarkably reckless voice who appears to lack any coherent sense of U.S. grand strategy. His so-called “America First” foreign policy simply amounts to the withdrawal of U.S. influence from the Middle East and East Asia, ceding control to China, Russia and Iran, while walking back our commitments to long-standing NATO allies.
As if this were not enough, Trump even proposes U.S. “neutrality” when it comes to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Democrats fret that a President Trump would trigger a war due to his big-mouthed bravado and poor temperament. But this is not where the greatest threat lies, and my chief worry is exactly the opposite. Trump’s bluster more resembles a mask for personal weakness. He is a bully, and, like all bullies, he will cower when confronted by real strength. Trump is not likely to cause a war with Russia; rather, he is likely to stand down when Vladimir Putin annexes his next piece of Eastern Europe — perhaps a Baltic state. Little wonder, then, that Putin praises Trump; he knows psychological weakness when he sees it.
The foreign policy outcome to fear most in a Trump presidency is not incidental war through insults, bombast and ignorance; the likelier outcome is that Trump would outmatch even President Obama’s record in retreatism, fecklessness and aimlessness, further diminishing the influence of the U.S. in the world. If you liked Obama’s foreign policy, you just might love a President Trump’s.
On the domestic front, Trump’s economic message, taken at face value, is without question superior to Secretary Clinton’s in almost every way, except one: global commerce. The GOP nominee, in defiance of our party’s long record of championing free and fair trade, seeks to put in place discredited isolationist tariffs and to trigger trade wars that would deeply damage America’s domestic economy and competitiveness in the world. Clinton has tacked in a protectionist direction in response to pressure from Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders, but her record is largely and rightly pro-free-trade.
Of course, here we can take solace in the fact that Trump is not likely to follow through on much of his rhetoric. We know only that he has said what he believes needed saying to get elected; anything beyond this is guesswork.
The GOP nominee’s qualification as a Washington outsider makes many believe that, unlike the typical politician, he would stand firm on his convictions and deliver on his promises in the White House. But would he? In the short span of a single campaign season, he has already vacillated on major issues such as tax rates, the minimum wage and entitlement reform. Even on his signature issue of illegal immigration — the matter that propelled him to the nomination — he flip-flops. In less than a week late last summer, he went from hard-liner to espousing a position of compromise he excoriated certain of his Republican primary rivals for, then back again. The ease with which he is willing to compromise core principles of his campaign lead to the inevitable conclusion that he has none.
At the end of the day, those of us Minnesota conservatives who cannot support the Republican nominee really do not have much of a practical dilemma: he trails Secretary Clinton here by quite a bit. With or without our support, North Star State voters appear poised to color Minnesota blue this presidential election and pin on Mr. Trump the label he most abhors — loser.
I will be voting on Nov. 8 — and with enthusiasm — for excellent Republican candidates down-ticket. It is imperative that conservatives across the country and state rally together to ensure that we maintain GOP majorities in the Capitol in Washington and the state House here at home. While I have little confidence in our presidential nominee’s conservative credentials, competence and ultimate electability, I remain absolutely committed to the cause and principles of our party and bullish about the GOP’s future prospects in U.S. politics.
Andy Brehm, Minneapolis, is a corporate attorney and political commentator. This article is the first in a series of four planned to appear over the next month.