That’s fine for those who believe that Trump is an exemplary president. But it won’t do for the subset who cannot and do not deny the man’s significant shortcomings, yet justify their ongoing support with the irrelevant claim that Trump is better than would be Hillary Clinton—his opponent in an election that was held nearly two years ago.
Peter Beinart: Conservatives need to stop making excuses for Donald Trump.
The “lesser of two evils” logic was defensible in November 2016, when voters faced what was effectively a binary choice. But today, “Trump is better than Clinton” is a dodge for people who can’t otherwise justify their abiding support for Trump. I often argue on this site that Trump voters ought to withdraw their support from the president due to one egregious flaw or another. The most common dissenting reply I receive is that they grant the indictment, but much prefer Trump to Hillary.
Why don’t such supporters understand that the 2016 election is over? A Trump supporter illustrates the mindset. He emailed me this last week:
I voted for Trump in the general election because Hillary Clinton and her entire cabal are a horrible bunch of lying criminals. She and her crew are vicious, no good pieces of trash. I am no Trump fan, but he is better than Clinton and her crew every day of the week, and twice on Sundays … Might they be disingenuous and hypocritical? Yes. Is hypocrisy the tribute that vice pays to virtue? Yes again.
Would I rather have a sort of ridiculous hypocrite as President than a vicious, lying piece of shit like Hillary Clinton? Yes again. Do I wish we all had better choices?
A person can believe, without contradiction, that Trump was “the lesser of two evils” in the 2016 election and that he is so flawed a president as to warrant opposition (whether in the form of speaking out against him rather than for him, or in electing a Congress that will probe his wrongdoing, or even in impeaching him in favor of Mike Pence).
Yet this correspondent justified current, ongoing support for a president he judges to be a ridiculous, disingenuous hypocrite by invoking a long since defeated rival who will never, ever be president.
So many Trump supporters tell me, when challenged on their loyalties, that they “wish we all had better choices.” If that’s an earnest belief rather than a dodge, they ought to be advocating for a 2020 primary challenger to Trump who will offer a better choice. Yet I almost never encounter the “Trump is bad, but Hillary was worse” argument from someone who is opposing the president right now, or laying the groundwork to replace him with someone more fit to lead.
Lavishing excessive loyalty on a charismatic politician who doesn’t deserve it is hardly unusual in the annals of U.S. politics. But Trump supporters should be clear about the bipartisan tradition in which they’re participating: The swamp grew deep and fetid precisely because a faction in every bygone era stopped being skeptical about those in power, as if their side winning turned them into credulous sycophants.