I am part of the tiny fraction of the population that deals professionally in public policy from the right. In influence, we are all over the map, from talk-show hosts with audiences of millions (Limbaugh, Hannity) to politicians who directly shape policy (Ryan, McConnell) to academics who write technical papers read exclusively by their peers. We have been dubbed the “Republican Establishment” during this campaign season — bemusing to those like me who have trivial influence and are not even Republicans — but I’ll use Establishmentarians as a convenient label for who we are. This note is addressed to my fellow Establishmentarians, from the Hannities and Ryans to my fellow ink-stained wretches.
Barring a startling turn of events, Donald Trump is going to be the Republican presidential nominee. There are good reasons to question his fitness to occupy the presidency, because of both his policy positions and for reasons of character. The standard response among the Establishmentarians who have announced they will vote for Trump is that “Hillary is even worse.” That’s acceptable for people whose only obligation is to cast a vote. Having to choose the lesser of two evils is common in American voting booths. But that shouldn’t be good enough for Establishmentarians.
If we’re going to presume to lecture others about public policy and good governance — as all of us have made a career of doing in one way or another — we need to put our views about Donald Trump on the table now, before the nomination and election. That’s especially true of the False Priests and the Closet #NeverTrumpers — labels that I owe to Jonah Goldberg.
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.”
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