Americans can wish – fervently – that they had better choices to make in this year’s presidential election. Had the parties nominated other candidates, next month’s decision might be easier.
But they didn’t, and to recast the observation of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, you go into an election with the candidates you have, not the ones you wish you had. Whatever disappointments this election holds, it offers a compelling distinction: One candidate, Democrat Hillary Clinton, is flawed but experienced, while the other, Republican Donald Trump, is both dangerous and intolerable. We endorse Clinton, despite some worrisome concerns.
To some extent, this is a matter of applying a version of the Sherlock Holmes theorem: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Trump is impossible – politically, temperamentally and democratically. He knows little of government, talks like a tyrant and is perilously given to whatever whim overtakes his fevered brain.
The two principal minority party candidates – Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein – are impossible for different reasons that amount to unelectability and lack of readiness. They cannot win and a vote for them can only benefit Trump.
That leaves Clinton who, despite real weaknesses, is a credible candidate with a politically centrist record and a history of working with Republicans. She has it in her to be an effective president if she can restrain the impulses that have led her into trouble in the past.
Start with her strengths: Clinton understands government. In addition to having been first lady of the nation and before that, of Arkansas, she served ably as senator from New York, helping to ensure that federal money aided in the recovery from the 9/11 terror attacks and that rescue workers were cared for. She was a credible secretary of state who, despite her missteps, won the respect of world leaders.
She is a Democrat, but no reflexive ideologue. She seeks out other viewpoints and actually takes them into account. It is easy to forget that she won the respect of many Senate Republicans before their attention turned to opposing her presidential bid.
She is unafraid of bold action, evidenced by her support for President Obama’s decision to authorize the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. And, as even Trump observed, she perseveres. Clinton doesn’t quit.
Nothing demonstrates that better than this presidential campaign. When she lost the 2008 Democratic nomination to Barack Obama, she didn’t run away. She became secretary of state and, four years later, began preparing another run, overcoming unexpected challenges to stand now on the brink of the presidency.
That’s perseverance. It’s also the stamina Trump ludicrously claimed she lacked.
But if she would bring demonstrable strengths to the presidency, she also carries with her notable flaws that, after 25 years in national public life, are both well known and consequential. One, she has a penchant for secrecy that played out in the closed-door discussions that led to the failed 1993 health care law.
That same destructive impulse led to the email fiasco that put State Department secrets at risk and, predictably, dogs her presidential campaign. It was a terrible decision.
She also has a blind spot for money and its influence on politics and on her reputation. From Whitewater through Clinton Foundation fundraising, she has demonstrated indifference to what is, at a minimum, the appearance that influence is for sale. That lesson she seems not to have learned.
Sadly, little positive can be said about Trump. His political success has depended on stoking the apprehensions and resentments of voters who fear the future, economically and demographically. A president should reassure those people, not seek to exploit them.
On the “Access Hollywood” hot-mic recording, he made clear his general disdain for women. He sees a 10-year-old and talks about dating her in 10 years. He walks in, uninvited and unannounced, on nude and partially nude beauty pageant contestants. He assents to vulgar sexual talk about his own daughter.
He thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has had journalists murdered and is trying to dismember Ukraine, is a fine example of a leader – not surprising, given Trump’s authoritarian inclinations. He ridicules the disabled, thinks prisoners of war are weak and wants to ban Muslims from entering the country, even though we need their help and good will to overcome ISIS and other terrorists.
Prone to fits of compulsive anger, he is temperamentally unsuited to an office that requires diplomacy, stability and calm reflection. Consider how President John F. Kennedy evaluated his options, then managed to force the Soviets to remove nuclear missiles from Cuba, avoiding the real possibility of nuclear holocaust.
Then ask how a President Trump would have responded.
Trump shows none of those skills. He is a bully and a narcissist. He lies the way others choose from a menu, changing positions and then denying it, even when video proves otherwise.
Thus the bottom line: Trump is catastrophically unfit for the presidency. Clinton may not be the best possible choice, but she is a plausible choice, and this year – like it or not – she is the only choice.