Bret Stephens writes in The New York Times, Why I’m Still a Never Trumper: (may hit a paywall)
Bret Stephens is one of many conservative intellectuals who opposed Trump. In this article he voices approval for many of his policies, but still rejects him on style and character.
Tax cuts. Deregulation. More for the military; less for the United Nations. The Islamic State crushed in its heartland. Assad hit with cruise missiles. Troops to Afghanistan. Arms for Ukraine. A tougher approach to North Korea. Jerusalem recognized as Israel’s capital. The Iran deal decertified. Title IX kangaroo courts on campus condemned. Yes to Keystone. No to Paris. Wall Street roaring and consumer confidence high.
And, of course, Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. What, for a conservative, is there to dislike about this policy record as the Trump administration rounds out its first year in office?
That’s the question I keep hearing from old friends on the right who voted with misgiving for Donald Trump last year and now find reasons to like him. I admit it gives me pause. I agree with every one of the policy decisions mentioned above. But I still wish Hillary Clinton were president.
How does that make sense? Can I still call myself conservative?
Trump has created a significant dilemma for conservatives. I return to the central political question, “does policy matter?” I contend that it does. How much should we tolerate significant character flaws when they get most of the policy right?
For a candidate, character matters in various ways. Can they be trusted to do what they campaigned for? Can their promises be trusted? Trust implies competence, the ability to execute your word; and character, your willingness to keep your word.
Rambunctious rhetoric can damage a position. So can the abuse and weaponization of institutions that require trust to function. Obama’s abuse of the IRS for political purposes, and the possible politicization of the FBI stand to cause far more damage than Trump’s reckless tweets, bullying tactics, and idle threats.
While Stephens still prefers Hillary, she may have avoided many of Trump’s flaws, but her blatant corruption, lies and incompetence as Secretary of State hardly gives her a mandate on either style or character.
Policy does count, and so does character . When we vote we absorb the realities and the flaws and make a choice. Those who reluctantly voted for Trump, but feel vindicated by his first year, deserve their sigh of relief.
The voters saw great flaws in both candidates and made their choice. I suppose that many conservatives like Stephens, who voted against Trump, would reverse that decision in light of the first year’s outcome.
But the next three years may tell a different story.