The Republican and Democratic conventions each produced historic results: the Democrats were the first major party ever to nominate a woman for President and the Republicans produced the most stunningly unfit candidate ever to be nominated by a major party. Now that the conventions have come and gone, we are left with a momentary sense of relief, but also foreboding as to the the next three months of charges and counter-charges and, ultimately, the election in November.
For their part, the Republicans met in conspicuous disarray with an unprecedented number of respected party leaders declining to endorse the presumptive nominee or to attend the convention. Those in attendance sought unity in unrestrained attacks on Hillary Clinton, exemplified by chants of “Lock her up.” The Democrats gave as good, and in our view better, than they got. As succinctly put by Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger for the Washington Post:
It was a compelling, brutal assault on Trump’s intelligence, character and temperament. It was devastating because it was accurate, delivered without hyperbole. Who needs hyperbole when you have Trump, right? It was also a bit distressing for Republicans to see how easily this was accomplished, leaving them to wonder again how their own candidates had so utterly failed to unmask Trump.
We agree with Ms. Rubin’s appraisal. While we make no claim of having watched or read everything that went on in Philadelphia, we came across few comments about Trump with which we would disagree.
Trump seemed to add a capstone to matters when he issued a remarkable invitation to Russian intelligence to find the 33,000 emails deleted by Hillary Clinton. We are inclined to accept Trump’s claim that he was not serious, and was merely joking and being sarcastic. Nevertheless, the comment was astonishingly stupid. First, it makes light of what does appear to be an extraordinary interference by Russia with the American election. Indeed, Trump’s own running mate, Mike Pence, got it right. Responding to the reports that Russia was responsible for hacking of email at the DNC, Pence warned that “If it is Russia and they are interfering in our elections, I can assure you both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences.”
Trump’s comment was also stupid from a personal and political standpoint as it focused attention on the growing concern over his view of Russia as well as his relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russian investors. Trump has recently expressed ideas with respect to Russia that have been deeply disturbing to foreign policy experts who have served in both Republican and Democratic administrations. At the same time, many questions have been raised concerning Trump’s personal financial ties to Russia.
On the foreign policy front, Trump departed from longstanding bipartisan policy when he suggested that if Russia attacked the Baltic states of NATO, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations have “fulfilled their obligations to us.” That statement was worrisome enough on its own terms, but logically could be applied to an attack on any NATO country. Trump’s comment was widely, and we believe correctly, viewed as undermining our commitment to NATO. Concomitantly, of course, it was encouraging to Russia, and gave a potential opening for Putin to make mischief or worse. Then, at the Republican convention, Trump’s representatives at the drafting of the platform were largely indifferent to its language but unyielding in their insistence on removing any reference to “providing lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine.” Finally, Trump on July 27 was asked by a German reporter whether a President Trump would recognize Crimea as Russian and lift sanctions imposed on Moscow after its 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian territory. Trump’s disturbingly ambiguous reply: “Yes. We would be looking at that.” Vladimir Putin could only smile.
Trump’s pronouncements on Putin and Russia have stirred interest in his own financial relationships with Russia. Particular note has been taken of the statement by his son Donald Trump Jr., in a 2008 interview, that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” It has also been noted that Trump’s reliance on Russian financing was apparently occasioned by the fact that major American banks, wary of his troubled track record, will no longer deal with him. Trump, in his uniquely fact-free way, has denied any financial ties with Russia or Russian investors. He has not, however, attempted to explain his son’s 2008 statement or relented in his refusal to provide tax returns that should produce some light on the subject. (One of the more complete analyses of the financial connections between Russia and Trump (and also two of Trump’s closest advisers) is found in a blog brought to out attention by a RINOcracy reader, Josh Marshall in TPM, “Trump & Putin. Yes, It’s Really a Thing.”)
Nicholas Kristof dismissed the idea of Trump as pawn or conscious agent of Putin, (dubbed by some as the Siberian Candidate), but found little comfort in that fact:
The reason Moscow favors Trump isn’t some conspiracy. It’s simply that Putin dislikes Clinton, while Trump’s combination of international ignorance and catastrophic policies would benefit Putin. In particular, Trump’s public doubts about NATO renounce more than half a century of bipartisan orthodoxy on how to deal with Russia, and undermine the Western alliance that checks Putin.
One nightmare of security specialists is Russia provoking unrest among ethnic Russians in Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania and then using rioting as an excuse to intervene. NATO members would be obliged to respond, but frankly it’s not clear that they would — and Trump’s loose rhetoric increases the risk of paralysis and a collapse of the alliance.
In that sense, Trump poses a national security risk to the West, and that’s reason enough Putin would be thrilled to see him elected president.
Is that not point to give the more sentient of Trump supporters some pause.
On the Democratic side, moments of chaos at their convention were provided by controversy over hacked DNC emails and the resignation of DNC Chair Debbie Wassermann Schultz, as well as the antics of some die-hard Sanders supporters. On the whole, however, it was an orderly procedure that did what it had to do. When the Democrats were not bashing Trump, they not only found time to nominate Hillary Clinton but managed to convey a far more optimistic and patriotic tone than had the Republicans. As David Brooks summed it up:
Donald Trump has found an ingenious way to save the Democratic Party. Basically, he’s abandoned the great patriotic themes that used to fire up the G.O.P. and he’s allowed the Democrats to seize that ground. If you visited the two conventions this year you would have come away thinking that the Democrats are the more patriotic of the two parties — and the more culturally conservative.
Trump has abandoned the Judeo-Christian aspirations that have always represented America’s highest moral ideals: toward love, charity, humility, goodness, faith, temperance and gentleness.
Brooks, however, cautioned that “The Democrats had by far the better of the conventions. But the final and shocking possibility is this: In immediate political terms it may not make a difference.”
The most memorable occasion of the Democratic convention, indeed of both conventions, may have been provided by the remarks by Khizr Kahn, father of a Muslim Army Captain who was killed while performing heroically in Iraq in 2004. For readers who did not watch Khan’s appearance, a video may be found here. It was a moving rebuttal to the anti-Muslim rhetoric of Donald Trump and is well worth a viewing.
From our perspective, we admire Clinton’s resilience and stamina over a long and and often stressful career and we also respect the satisfaction that many will feel in the nomination of a woman. She is, nevertheless, a flawed candidate who advocates various programs and positions with which we disagree or believe to be impractical. Thus, under normal circumstances, we would look forward to opposing her, but the circumstances today are far from normal. Given the nomination of Donald Trump, we believe that there are a great many Republicans who will find themselves quietly voting for Hillary or perhaps even supporting her publicly. Conservative author P.J. O’Rourke may have spoken for many when he described the election of Clinton as “the second worst thing that can happen to this country.” He continued by explaining further that “she’s way behind in second place. I mean, she’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.”
We do not even believe that Hillary is “wrong about absolutely everything,” but we are not quite ready to commit our support to her. For one thing, the debates and the entire campaign lie ahead. While we see no chance of anything occurring that would render Trump acceptable, it is still possible that Hillary might self-destruct in some fashion. In addition, there is also the possibility, albeit a small one, that the Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld might become viable and merit consideration. (For an interesting interview with Johnson and Weld, see Reason.com, “Gary Johnson and Bill Weld on Trump, Hillary and Why You Should Vote Libertarian.”) To borrow from Churchill, we are merely at the end of the beginning.