The Trump phenomenon provides excellent fodder for the study of political reasoning. Herewith, some thoughts on the cogency of the 'Hillary is Worse' defense for voting for Trump. I'll start with some assumptions.
A1. We are conservatives.
A2. It is Trump versus Hillary in the general: Sanders will not get the Democrat Party nod, nor will there be a conservative third-party candidate. (To be be blunt, Bill Kristol's ruminations on the latter possibility strike me as delusional.)
A3. Donald Trump is a deeply-flawed candidate who in more normal circumstances could not be considered fit for the presidency.
A4. Hillary Clinton is at least as deeply-flawed, character-wise, as Trump but also a disaster policy-wise: she will continue and augment the destructive leftist tendencies of Barack Hussein Obama. Hillary, then, is worse than Trump. For while Trump is in some ways not conservative, it is likely he will actually get some conservative things done, unlike the typical Republican who will talk endlessly about illegal immigration, etc., but never actually accomplish anything conservative.
With ordinary Republicans it is always only talk, followed by concession after concession. They lack courage, they love their power and perquisites, and they do not understand that we are in the age of post-consensus politics, an age in which politics is more like war than like gentlemanly debate on the common ground of shared principles.
My Challenge to the NeverTrump Crowd
To quote from an earlier entry:
In this age of post-consensus politics we need fighters not gentlemen. We need people who will use the Left's Alinskyite tactics against them. Civility is for the civil, not for destructive leftists who will employ any means to their end of a "fundamental transformation of America." For 'fundamental transformation' read: destruction.
It's a war, and no war is civil, especially not a civil war. To prosecute a war you need warriors. Trump is all we have. Time to face reality, you so-called conservatives. Time to man up, come clean, and get behind the 'presumptive nominee.'
Don't write another article telling us what a sorry specimen he is. We already know that. We are a nation in decline and our choices are lousy ones. Hillary is worse, far worse.
Consider just three issues: The Supreme Court, gun rights, and the southern border. We know where Hillary stands. We also know where Trump stands. Suppose he accomplishes only one thing: he nominates conservatives for SCOTUS. (You are aware, of course, that he has gone to the trouble of compiling a list of conservative candidates. That is a good indication that he is serious.) The appointment of even one conservative would retroactively justify your support for him over the destructive and crooked Hillary.
[. . .]
The alternative [to voting for Trump] is to aid and abet Hillary.
Are you a conservative or a quisling?
Charles Murray's Challenge to People Like Me
The False Priests are the columnists, media pundits, public intellectuals, and politicians who have presented themselves as principled conservatives or libertarians but now have announced they will vote for a man who, by multiple measures, represents the opposite of the beliefs they have been espousing throughout their careers. We’ve already heard you say “Hillary is even worse.” Tell us, please, without using the words “Hillary Clinton” even once, your assessment of Donald Trump, using as a template your published or broadcast positions about right policy and requisite character for a president of the United States. Put yourself on the record: Are you voting for a man whom your principles require you to despise, or have you modified your principles? In what ways were you wrong before? We require explanation beyond “Hillary is even worse.”
Now one thing that is unclear is whether Murray would accept (A4), in particular, the bit about Hillary being worse. He doesn't clearly state that they are equally bad. He says, "I am saying that Clinton may be unfit to be president, but she’s unfit within normal parameters. Donald Trump is unfit outside normal parameters." Unfortunately, it is not clear what this comes to; Murray promises a book on the topic.
Well, if you think Trump and Hillary are equally bad, then you reject (A4) and we have a different discussion. So let me now evaluate the above Murray quotation on the assumption that (A4) is true.
The Underlying Issue: Principles Versus Pragmatism
It is good to be principled, but not good to be doctrinaire. At what point do the principled become doctrinaire? It's not clear! Some say that principles are like farts: one holds on to them as long as possible, but 'in the end' one lets them go. The kernel of truth in this crude saying is that in the collision of principles with the data of experience sometimes principles need to be modified or set aside for a time. One must consider changing circumstances and the particularities of the precise situation one is in. In fact, attention to empirical details and conceptually recalcitrant facts is a deeply conservative attitude.
For example, would I support Trump if he were running against Joe Lieberman? No, I would support Lieberman. There are any number of moderate or 'conservative' Democrats that I would support over Trump. But the vile and destructive Hillary is the candidate to beat! And only Trump can do the dirty job. This is the exact situation we are in. If you are a doctrinaire conservative, say a neocon like Bill Kristol, then, holding fast to all of your principles -- and being held fast by them in turn -- you will deduce therefrom the refusal to support either Trump or Hillary. Like Kristol you may sally forth on a quixotic quest for a third conservative candidate. Just as one can be muscle-bound to the detriment of flexible and free movement, one can be principle-bound to the detriment of dealing correctly and flexibly with reality as it presents itself here and now in all its recalcitrant and gnarly details.
Conclusion: The 'Hillary is Worse' Defense is Cogent
Part of being a conservative is being skeptical about high-flying principles. Our system is the best the world has seen and it works for us. It has made us the greatest nation on the face of the earth -- which is why almost everyone wants to come here, and why we need walls to keep them out while commie shit holes like East Germany needed walls to keep them in. (The intelligent, industrious Germans were kept in poverty and misery by a political system when their countrymen to the west prospered and enjoyed the fabled Wirtschaftswunder. Think about that!) But from the fact that our system works for us, it does not follow that it will work for backward Muslims riven by ancient tribal hatreds and infected with a violent, inferior religion. The neocon principle of nation-building collides with gnarly reality and needs adjustment.
Murray's point seems to be that no principled conservative could possibly vote for Trump, and this regardless of how bad Hillary is. His reasoning is based on a false assumption, namely, that blind adherence to principles is to be preferred to the truly conservative attitude of adjusting principles to reality. Murray's view is a foolish one: he is prepared to see the country further led down the path to "fundamental transformation," i.e., destruction, as long as his precious principles remain unsullied.
Our behavior ought to be guided by principles; but that is not to say that it ought to be dictated by them.
Rather than say that principles are like farts as my old colleague Xavier Monasterio used to say, I will try this comparison: principles are like your lunch; keep it down if you can, but if it makes you sick, heave it up.