Here We Stand: Against Donald Trump
The foreign-policy case against Donald Trump.
On Thursday, March 3, a statement is being released by a number of Republican foreign-policy hands declaring why we can’t support Donald Trump as our party’s nominee for president. As signatories to that letter, and as co-editors of Shadow Government, we want to elaborate on that statement in explaining to our readers why our role as the “loyal opposition” may well put us in the uncomfortable yet necessary role of standing in loyal opposition to our own party’s presidential nominee (the full text of the letter can be viewed here).
Now that Trump holds a strong lead in delegates, an internal debate is roiling the ranks of Republicans who have not supported him, but who recognize the growing likelihood (though not a certainty) that he will become our party’s nominee. On one side are those Republicans who personally detest Trump but who think that, as president, he might prove more pragmatic than bombastic, who see him as, at heart, a centrist deal maker and strong leader, and who think he can press a compelling case against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On another side are those who see him as a congenital peddler in falsehoods that coarsen our politics, a vainglorious demagogue who holds the Constitution in contempt, and an incompetent narcissist who would put our national security at grave risk. Which would he be? We do not know. If elected, we hope that he would prove to be the former, but because we fear he could be the latter, we signed the letter and declare ourselves opposed to his candidacy.
We do not transgress Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment lightly. But because we believe in the party of Lincoln and Reagan, and because we believe the GOP stands for a set of values and ideas and not grandiose personalities, we urge our fellow Republicans to stand for our party’s historic principles by standing against Trump.
Trump’s many outlandish, indeed repellent, statements have been well-documented. Does he actually believe what he says, and will he actually try to do what he has promised? Again, we do not know; only Trump does. But whether or not he believes his own words, merely uttering them renders him unfit to be commander in chief. Consider: If Trump does not believe what he says, he is a demagogue and a charlatan, who neither knows nor cares that his reckless rhetoric has already done serious damage to our nation’s international credibility and given succor to our authoritarian adversaries. Whereas if Trump does believe what he says — praising Chinese and Russian and North Korean tyranny, disparaging religious and racial groups, indulging the fever swamps of left-wing conspiracies — then he is not only unqualified to lead the world’s greatest democracy, he would place it in considerable peril.
We both have seen, up close, the power of the presidency. Such power in the hands of a person who has shown no interest in thoughtful policy and no self-awareness of his own limits is unsettling. We and other Republicans have often tendered the criticism that under the Obama administration’s foreign policy, our allies do not trust us and our enemies do not fear us. Under a Trump presidency, our allies would detest us, and our enemies would have contempt for us or even pity us.
We do not arrive at these conclusions lightly. We believe in spirited debate over policies and recognize that Republicans can responsibly disagree on this or that policy. We recognize our own limits and are prepared to discover that there is a principled case to be made for Trump that has hitherto escaped our attention. We have offered Shadow Government space for any foreign-policy expert who believes he or she can make a persuasive case that Trump would be a capable president on matters of national security. No senior voice among Trump’s legions of enthusiasts has stepped up to do so, in this venue or any other. The few political endorsements he has gained are telling for what they do not say: They offer no serious argument for why we should jettison the best traditions of American leadership and strength for the sake of joining the Trump bandwagon.
Let us be clear: We are not endorsing Clinton, the inevitable Democratic Party nominee. We both have written extensively on Obama’s dismal foreign policy, a legacy she shares since so many of the fateful choices were made when she was secretary of state. She has much to answer for and so far has managed to dodge most of the toughest questions. A small but not insignificant reason why we lament Trump as a Republican nominee is that he is the least-qualified candidate to press the case against Clinton. Nominating Trump will give Clinton a free pass on all the mistakes she has made and still refuses to address forthrightly.
Let us also offer a word to Trump’s supporters, some of whom we count among our friends. We understand, and share, many of your frustrations with the parlous state of our nation, with our sclerotic and dysfunctional political system, with the disdain shown for traditional American values by too many elites (especially in the Obama administration), with our eroded standing in the world. We recognize that many Trump supporters think that with this vote they are doing something good for the country we all love. We believe they are mistaken, but we also believe that their concerns need to be heard and addressed. Whatever else, this is a wake-up call for all leaders to respond to voters and translate their concerns into meaningful policy. Such is the essence of self-government.
There may not be a place for Donald Trump in the Republican Party of Lincoln and Reagan, but there should be a place for most of Trump’s supporters. We share their burning desire for America to be great. And because we want America to be great, we stand against Donald Trump.
Photo credit: The Washington Post/Contributor
Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.