So we had two more debates over the weekend. I won’t go blow-by-blow through them. Trump continued to be obnoxious. Bush punched back. Rubio and Cruz sparred, occasionally in Spanish. Kasich tried to set himself up as the adult in the room (not always successfully). Instead of going through that, I thought I’d lay out what my current impression is of the candidates and the order in which I would vote for them. I’ve put all the candidates in the list except for Ben Carson. The reason I’ve left Carson out is because I’m not sure what I make of him and I don’t think he’ll be in this much longer. The others should last at least through Super Tuesday.
So here’s my current preference for presidential candidates. Keep in mind that these rankings are fluid and could change significantly as the race progresses.
John Kasich: I have issues with Kasich, who expanded Medicaid, has a Religious Right inclination and is a bit more aggressive on foreign policy than I like. His first term as Ohio governor showed reasonable spending restraint but his second term has been poor, mainly due to Medicaid expansion (remember that line about how Medicaid expansion was free? Yeah, not so much.) He also doesn’t appear to have much of a chance in this primary.
But he’s the only candidate of either party who seems to have a grasp of the budget problems we face. He has a history — on the federal and on the state level — of balancing budgets. He would bring a big state with him and have a lot of appeal to Midwesterners and moderate Democrats left behind in the Democratic Party’s hard move to the Left. Right now, he’s my favorite among the GOP field.
Marco Rubio: I have issues with Rubio as well, including his abortion absolutism and the concern that he’s more of a good speaker than a good manager. He doesn’t have executive experience. But he has a lot of foreign policy credentials and knowledge. He’s shown an awareness of the complexities of race and immigration issues. He would bring a lot of latinos back into the GOP fold. And he’s the wave of the future.
Jeb Bush: Bush is barely above the “I’ll vote third party, thanks” fold. On the positive side is his executive experience. On the negative side is his name.
As I’ve said many times, I don’t trust the GOP. I don’t trust them not to blow out spending when they have government again and I don’t trust that the GOP voters will hold them accountable. Having lived through the Bush II presidency, I’m once bitten, twice shy.
I’m considering the GOP again in this cycle for two reasons: 1) maybe the GOP has learned their lesson; 2) the calculus just changed massively with the death of Antonin Scalia. The idea of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders possibly replacing Scalia and maybe replacing Ginsburg or Breyer to cement a liberal majority is frightening. The Roberts Court hasn’t been perfect but it’s struck a reasonable balance between the liberals and conservatives. Tilting that back to the Left is not where we need to be.
For that reason, and that reason alone, I may vote for a Republican President for the first time in 12 years.
Libertarian: No, voting Libertarian is neither a wasted vote nor a vote for a Democrat. It’s a vote for a philosophy that opposes stupid wars, wants to shrink the size of government and defends civil liberties. The latter is a big thing in this election since none of the remaining candidates, except Sanders sometimes and Cruz occasionally, is good on civil liberties.
Ted Cruz: This placement is highly uncertain. I don’t like Cruz. He lies like crazy. He’s alienated everyone on Capitol Hill. He’s a brazen opportunist who thinks little of hurting the party to advance his own brand. He’s also bad on several issues, proposing a VAT tax and wanting to “tear up” the Iran deal, which would allow Iran to pursue a nuclear weapon without sanctions. On the other hand, he was good on civil liberties at one point, supporting Rand Paul. He was good on criminal justice reform before the election got tight. I have no idea what he’ll campaign as should he win the nomination and no idea what he’ll do as President. Frankly, I don’t think he does either. But he could move up above the Libertarian line given the right circumstances.
Bernie Sanders: He’s just as bad as Clinton, economically. The main difference is that he’s honest about it. He’s better than Clinton on civil liberties — having opposed PIPA, SOPA and the Patriot Act. He’d still make a lousy President. His foreign policy experience does not exist. His healthcare plan raises taxes enormously and still wouldn’t pay for what he wants. And I can’t imagine the kind of idiots he’d put on the Court.
Hillary Clinton: There’s a part of me that wants to rank Clinton higher. P.J. O’Rourke had an entertaining interview last week where he described Clinton (and Kasich) as “broccoli”. Sanders, Trump, Cruz — these are the candidates who promise all kinds of crazy stuff, will say anything and get people all excited. Kasich and Clinton and Bush (and Rubio, to some extent) are the no-fun candidates who deal with what can be done within the strict limits of our Constitution and our political system. Trump says he’s going to make Mexico pay for a wall. Sanders says he’s going to have free healthcare. Clinton, Kasich, Rubio, Bush — they’re the ones who say, “Well, we can’t promise the stars, but we can accomplish some things.”
I’ve described myself before as a conservative-libertarian. Here’s what that means:
That doesn’t just mean I’m socially liberal and fiscally conservative or that I believe drugs should be legal. It means I approach issues with a libertarian bent, seeing government as inherently flawed and freedom as inherently desirable. But I leaven this with caution, realizing that institutions exist for a reason, that not all government is bad, that not all freedom is good and that violent upheavals are dangerous. To illustrate with an example: I oppose the War on Drugs. But I don’t want to end it overnight. Legalize marijuana, pull back on Constitutional violations and see what happens. If it works out, then we can talk about decriminalizing harder stuff.
In that philosophy, pragmatism means a lot. I value the process. I value incremental change. I value people who get things done rather than people who make a lot of noise. There are times when you have to make radical changes, but those times are rare. And radical change is not always possible. In this philosophy, Clinton sounds better than Sanders because she’s all about what can be done rather than what I’d like to do. That’s a good philosophy even if you oppose her because it means the pace will be slower and the damage easier to undo.
But … the more I see of Clinton, the more I worry. Check out this quote, regarding Citizens United:
In this campaign, you’ve heard a lot about Washington and about Wall Street. Now, Senator Sanders and I both want to get secret, unaccountable money out of politics, and let’s remember, let’s remember, Citizens United, one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in our country’s history, was actually a case about a right-wing attack on me and my campaign. A right-wing organization took aim at me and ended up damaging our entire democracy. So, yes, you’re not going to find anybody more committed to aggressive campaign finance reform than me.”
There it is, all pink and naked. Clinton openly stating that she wants to use the power of government to silence her critics. I worry that if Clinton is elected, she will use the next four years to enact revenge on every perceived injustice she had endured. We can look forward to more aggressive use of the IRS against her enemies, investigations, probes, abuse of power.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe she’ll be pragmatic and sensible and let bygones be bygones. But I wouldn’t bet on it. And I wouldn’t bet two or three SCOTUS seats on it.
Donald Trump: Here’s the thing about Trump. There’s a part of me that suspects this is all an act. That he’s perceived a populist moment and is acting on it, saying whatever will get the base riled up. This part suspects that if Trump were actually elected, he’d govern more pragmatically, build consensus, work deals outside of the party system. However, that’s balanced by a part of my brain that suspects Trump is just a crazed narcissist. God knows what he’d actually do with the Presidency. He could get us into a war with Russia. He could get us into another war with the Middle East. He could start a trade war with China. He could completely wreck the GOP.
Again, see what I said about my libertarian-conservative philosophy. I’m unwilling to gamble that this is an all an act. Trump has the potential to not just be a bad President but a dangerous one. I probably would not vote for Clinton or Sanders over him. But there are times when I see him ranting and fulminating and think to myself, “Really?”