Argument

This Lifetime GOP Voter Is With Her

This Lifetime GOP Voter Is With Her

Every four years since 1988, I have voted for the Republican presidential candidate. That streak will now be broken. For the first time in my life I will vote for the Democratic nominee. I have previously laid out the reasons why I am a #NeverTrumper. You can read my latest rundown here. But while it’s easy to say who I’m against — Trump is the least qualified and most dangerous presidential candidate in American history — it’s been more of a struggle to figure out who I’m for.

I can’t vote for Gary Johnson, a candidate who has never heard of Aleppo; I don’t want to reward cluelessness. I can’t vote for Jill Stein, who is as pro-Putin as Trump. I could easily vote for Evan McMullin, the only conservative in the race — and I would if I lived in Utah where he has a decent shot at winning. But he’s not on the ballot in New York state. In any case, if my primary goal is to stop Trump from getting his hands on the nuclear codes, the most effective way to do that is to support the only other candidate who has any chance of winning.

A lot of my Republican friends are incredulous to learn that #ImWithHer. In truth, I’m more than a little surprised myself. If a sane Republican like Jeb Bush, John Kasich, or Marco Rubio had been nominated I wouldn’t be voting for Clinton. But the GOP instead chose to nominate a malevolent carnival barker. So I will cast a ballot for the sane alternative.

“But … but … but …” sputter Trump voters, “how can you support a woman who belongs in jail and wants to impose a radical left-wing agenda?” If I thought these things were true, I wouldn’t vote for Clinton. But they’re simply not true.

I got to spend a little time with Clinton when she was a U.S. senator and we both served on an advisory board at the now-defunct U.S. Joint Forces Command. Given the harsh logic of the alphabet — C comes after B — I found myself seated next to her on several occasions. I found her to be a charming conversationalist with a lot of interest in learning about defense issues. I did not detect her peddling any ideological agenda; she simply wanted to figure out the best course of action. The Hillary I met doesn’t match the ogre of Republican myth.

I am not alone in reaching that conclusion — many Republican senators were surprised to find how easily Clinton was to get along with and work with. She always does her homework so she is always prepared for any situation — whether it’s a Senate hearing or a presidential debate. And she usually tackles issues in a pragmatic rather, than ideological, fashion. There’s a good reason why partisans of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are so suspicious of her: They know that she’s not really one of them.

The WikiLeaks revelations showed that, in private, Clinton praises free trade (“My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders”) and the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan (“We have to restrain spending, we have to have adequate revenues and we have to incentivize growth”). These are the kinds of things that Republicans used to stand for before they sold their souls to Trump. As Tom Friedman notes, “WikiHillary” is “a smart, pragmatic, center-left politician who will be inclined to work with both the business community and Republicans to keep America tilted toward trade expansion, entrepreneurship and global integration.”

In fairness, there is good reason to doubt how hard Clinton would fight for any of these ideas in the face of a Congress controlled by Democrats who are to her left (which is most of them). During the campaign, she has tacked left on domestic policy to appease the Sanders-Warren wing. That’s why it’s important to keep at least one house in Republican hands to foster the kind of bipartisan cooperation that was a hallmark of the 1990s when President Bill Clinton worked with Newt Gingrich and a Republican Congress to reform welfare and eliminate the deficit. The very fact that Clinton is no ideologue means that she is someone that Republicans can work with.

From my vantage point as a foreign-policy wonk, Clinton’s biggest selling point is that she is tough-minded on national security policy — more so than President Obama or most Democrats, to say nothing of the troop-withdrawing, nuclear-proliferating, ally-bashing, Putin-loving Republican nominee. She supported sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan in 2009 (Obama sent 30,000), she supported leaving behind 10,000 to 20,000 American troops in Iraq (Obama pulled them all), and she pressed for an ambitious plan to train and arm the Syrian rebels in 2012 (Obama refused). Today, Clinton favors a tougher policy on Syria — she wants a no-fly zone — than either Obama or Trump. Yet she does not recklessly propose bombing “the s—” out of anyone, stealing another country’s oil, or killing terrorists’ relatives as Trump does.

Even though Clinton was associated with the Obama administration’s failed “reset” with Russia, she was always skeptical of Russian intentions. As Mark Landler of the New York Times writes: “In the administration’s first high-level meeting on Russia in February 2009, aides to Obama proposed that the United States make some symbolic concessions to Russia as a gesture of its good will in resetting the relationship. Clinton, the last to speak, brusquely rejected the idea, saying, ‘I’m not giving up anything for nothing.’ Her hardheadedness made an impression on Robert Gates, the defense secretary and George W. Bush holdover who was wary of a changed Russia. He decided there and then that she was someone he could do business with. ‘I thought, This is a tough lady,’ he told me.” Trump, by contrast, has been described by former acting CIA Director Michael Morell and former Director Michael Hayden as an “unwitting agent” or “useful idiot” of Vladimir Putin.

I don’t always agree with Clinton on foreign policy — especially when it comes to her support for the Iran nuclear deal or her current (and, one hopes, only temporary) opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But I respect her deep knowledge of international affairs. She would come into office knowing more on that subject than any new president since George H.W. Bush. Trump, by contrast, knows less than any previous nominee.

The strongest objection to Clinton is on ethical grounds. She was, at the very least, “extremely careless” in her handling of emails, as FBI Director James Comey said this summer. But now that Trumpkins revere Comey for investigating more emails which have come to light, will they accept his July finding, reaffirmed this Sunday, that she did nothing that is worthy of criminal prosecution? There have also been allegations of “pay to play” regarding the Clinton Foundation and a general air of suspicion around the Clintons that predates Bill’s impeachment.

Those would be huge problems if Clinton were running against a squeaky-clean Republican like Mitt Romney. But she’s running against an opponent who, after the election, will face civil trials for fraud and rape — and who has boasted of sexually assaulting women, not paying income taxes, and stiffing contractors. PolitiFact rates 50 percent of her statements “true” or “mostly true,” compared to only 15 percent for him. In contrast, 51 percent of Trump’s statements are either “false” or “pants on fire,” whereas just 12 percent of Clinton’s statements have been similarly dishonest. Clinton may be ethically challenged, but Trump is an ethics-free zone.

In the final analysis, the strongest case for Clinton is what she is not. She is not racist, sexist, or xenophobic. She is not cruel, erratic, or volatile. She is not a bully or an authoritarian personality. She is not ignorant or unhinged. Those may be insufficient recommendations against a more formidable opponent. But when she’s running against Donald Trump it’s more than enough.

Update: This article has been updated to take account of FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress on Nov. 6.

Photo credit: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/Getty Images