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The Case for Trump

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If there is a case to be made for Donald Trump among reasonable Republicans it goes something like this: Yes, of course he is a creep, but as president, he might not be so bad. He will surround himself with smart people and defer to them on major issues. As an outsider, he will break through partisan gridlock and force Congressional Democrats and Republicans to work together. He will be a dealmaker. And most of all, he would be better than that corrupt liar, Hillary Clinton. 

Many Republicans will admit that this rationale relies heavily on speculation and some degree of wishful thinking. But the truth is, Trump has already given us clues as to his actual governing style just from the way he has run his campaign. Speculation isn’t all that difficult when one looks at the evidence already available.

Let’s start with the first assumption: Trump will surround himself with smart people and defer to them on major issues. In a word: wrong. Trump’s campaign management and advisors are, with few exceptions, recruited from the B and C teams of the GOP roster. There are two reasons for this. First, most top Republicans simply don’t want to work with Trump. Personally, they find him repellent, and professionally, they are reluctant to hitch their wagon to his. But part of this is by Trump’s own design. He is not a man who seeks out dissent. He wants advisors who will be “yes” men. His choice of Corey Lewandowski and then Steve Bannon show that he is happy to recruit those who echo his own style–even if that means sometimes recruiting from the paranoid fringes of the party.

But even when Trump manages to hire more competent advisors, like Kellyanne Conway, he frequently ignores their advice. It has become a joke of this campaign that the worst job to have is that of a Trump advisor–because the Donald operates completely on his own impulses, good advice be damned.

The three presidential debates provide a clear window into how Trump might operate in the Oval Office. These were high stakes events for which Trump refused to adequately prepare and seemed incapable of listening to his handlers’ advice or staying on message. He seemed to think he could wing it, and he failed spectacularly. It is not difficult to imagine how this same approach could prove disastrous on the international stage. Just imagine Trump meeting Vladimir Putin for an intense one-on-one negotiation. Would he try to wing it, as he did with Clinton? Just think about how Hillary Clinton was able to exploit Trump’s obvious psychological weaknesses in the debates–his vanity, his thin skin, his short attention span–and use them to her advantage. Surely, Putin would do the same–as would any serious foreign leader. By contrast, when it comes to high pressure diplomatic meetings, can you imagine any U.S. president who would walk into the room better prepared than Hillary Clinton?

But let’s get back to Trump.

Let’s look at our second assumption: As an outsider, he will break through partisan gridlock and force Congressional Democrats and Republicans to work together. He will be a dealmaker. Again, we can look to this last year for evidence of his skills on this front. Trump’s challenge: unite two warring factions of the Republican Party and get them to work together. Given the GOP’s collective distaste for Hillary Clinton, this should not have been so hard in a presidential election year. But, again, he failed “bigly.” The Republican Party is more divided than ever, and his campaign has been an organizational disaster. Why? The organizational component can be blamed on Trump’s poor management skills, his sub-par management team (see first point), and the feuding between the Trump campaign and establishment Republicans. So why this division? For starters, Trump was unwilling to moderate his most extreme rhetoric, he was unwilling to compromise, and he was unable to ignore even the mildest of criticism. Whenever any fellow Republican challenged him in the slightest, Trump would add this offender to his enemies list and seek immediate retribution via Twitter or the nearest microphone. Pettiness and extreme rhetoric are not the ways to win friends in Congress. Trump’s other crutch here is his almost pathological lack of empathy. If you cannot put yourself in the shoes of your adversary, it will be very difficult to find common ground. Again, the contrast with Clinton is stark here. In the Senate, she managed to repeatedly co-sponsor legislation with the very men who had tried to impeach her husband. If that is not the opposite of pettiness, I don’t know what is.

Now let’s talk about Hillary Clinton. The main appeal of Trump to many Republicans is simply that he is not Hillary Clinton. But I find this the most peculiar line of reasoning because Trump seems to embody all of the things that Republicans claim to hate about Clinton.

It has become accepted dogma in Republican media that Hillary Clinton is dishonest—this, despite the fact that, according to non-partisan fact-checkers like Politifact, Clinton is slightly more honest than your average politician. Sure, after decades of being attacked, she chooses her words carefully and sometimes seems too scripted when she speaks, but that is not the same thing as being dishonest. By contrast, Donald Trump is unprecedented in the sheer volume of mistruths he speaks. He is the rare political figure who regularly denies having said things that there is actual video of him saying. 70% of Donald Trump’s statements that have been checked by Politifact.com register as “Mostly False” or worse. Compare this with 26% for Clinton (a good rating for a politician). In September, Politico fact-checked every word both candidates said over the course of a week, and their conclusion was similar. These two candidates are not even in the same universe. Trump lied more than four times as much as Clinton. This complete disregard for the truth has also been confirmed by Tony Schwartz, the ghost-writer of Trump’s best-seller, The Art of the Deal, who says, “Lying is second nature to him…More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.” (incidentally, if you haven’t read the New Yorker’s article about Schwartz, it should be required reading for anyone considering a Trump vote).

So when it comes to dishonesty, Clinton cannot hold a candle to Trump. The same goes for the other common critique about Clinton: She is corrupt. This accusation comes from a few different places, but as with most of the attacks on Clinton, it tends to fall apart the closer you look at it. Let’s start with the speeches. Hillary Clinton was paid a ton of money to give speeches to rich New York bankers, including Goldman Sachs, and then she refused to release the speech transcripts. There are a few things to note here: First off, Bill and Hillary Clinton made a lot of money on the speaking circuit between 2001 and 2016, but of the 729 speeches they were paid to give, only 6% were given to banks. So what is the problem here? Did the money these banks gave her affect her votes as a Senator? There is no evidence that it did. She has consistently been in favor of tighter financial regulations, and her plan is much tougher on Wall Street than Trump’s. So why did she not release the transcripts of her speeches? Did she say anything scandalous in those speeches? Again, the answer is no. While leaked quotes from the speeches have generated some headlines (particularly when taken out of context), there is very little in these speeches that was surprising. If anything, they show Clinton displaying a great deal of insight into economics and, as William Cohan in Vanity Fair observes, some “disarming honesty.”

So if she is not corrupt because of the speeches, she must be corrupt because of the Clinton Foundation. Did wealthy donors give money to the foundation in exchange for access to Clinton while she was secretary of state? Here, you can argue that perhaps the Clintons could have been more careful to separate these two parts of their lives, but again, there is no convincing evidence of corruption here. While donors may have hoped that their donations would grant them special privileges, there is not evidence that such privileges were granted. Did a donor ask Clinton to help get somebody a job? Absolutely, but they were turned down. Did Clinton approve a deal for a Uranium mine after receiving a donation from investors who stood to profit from the deal? Absolutely, but so did nine other government agencies. Did Clinton meet with donors as Secretary of State? Absolutely, but these were people who any Secretary of State would have met with anyway. While it is certainly arguable that Clinton blurred the lines between public and private more than she should have, this does not equal corruption. It is important to remember that the Clinton Foundation is a charity from which the Clintons do not draw salaries (indeed, they donate their own money to the charity). Charity watchdog groups consistently rate the Clinton Foundation with top marks (higher than the Red Cross), and it has improved the lives of tens of millions of people across the globe.

But let’s get back to Trump. If you are bothered by all the accusations of corruption surrounding Clinton, you should be horrified by Trump’s record. This is a man who is actually going on trial for corruption next month for running a fake University that most objective observers readily classify as a scam. This “university” used aggressive marketing techniques to convince cash-strapped Americans to go into debt in order to pay for mentorship programs that turned out to be worthless. Trump then used money from his fake charity, the Trump Foundation, to illegally contribute to the campaign of a Florida Attorney General who, after receiving this donation, decided NOT to press charges against Trump for his university scam. And while we are on the subject of the Trump Foundation, it is worth reading the Washington Post’s reporting on this issue. A few highlights: Trump would ask for donations to the foundation, and then use other people’s money to make donations to other causes from the Trump Foundation (so that it would appear as if the money was coming from his own pocket). Trump used other people’s money to pay his own legal bills, reward contestants on his TV show, and to buy frivolous items, like a six foot portrait of himself.

And I am just scratching the surface. I recommend looking at the Atlantic’s article on Trump’s various scandals to get a better sense of the breadth of his misdeeds. USA Today has explored Trump’s habit of being sued and suing others. It is mind boggling and worrisome.

But all of this should not be surprising to anybody who has paid attention to Trump throughout his career. This is a man who lives to put his name on buildings, a man who will trample any person, place, or law in order to advance his own cause, a man who has devoted every hour of his life to his one true passion project… himself. Please don’t criticize Hillary Clinton for her ambition and turn a blind eye to Trump’s all-too-obvious megalomania. Please don’t criticize Clinton for using the wrong email while ignoring the very real scandals of a man who cheats, harasses, attacks, incites, and bullies his way through life. And please don’t say Clinton is dishonest while lauding a pathological liar for “telling it like it is.”

Trump is a snake oil salesman. It is the one thing he is good at. He talks like a man trying to sell you a broken down car who hopes you won’t look too closely under the hood. But today I encourage you to look closer. Every one of his supposed attributes—much like Clinton’s supposed failures—tends to fall apart under close scrutiny. That is why there is no case to be made for Trump. He is a seventy-year-old man who is not about to turn over a new leaf once in office. He is not about to soften his more dangerous impulses or start playing well with others. He is not about to be selfless in his devotion to the United States people because he has never had the capacity to be selfless about anything. So please put an end to your wishful thinking. Donald Trump would be a dangerous choice for even a mid-level government job. Do not trust him with the most important one.

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