Brian Snyder / Reuters

When Hillary Clinton won the Democratic Party’s nomination, I knew that she was in for harsh criticism. She is a flawed candidate, conservatives disagree with much of her agenda, and most Republicans have disliked her since Bill Clinton was president. I also figured that, as usual, some of the attacks would stray into hyperbole.

As it turns out, some have strayed into hysteria.

Publius Decius Mus suggested that “a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto.” Angelo Codevilla wrote that the republic is dead. A conservative acquaintance told me that her victory would be like “the fall of Rome all over again.” Why does their rhetoric so far exceed the words these Bill Clinton- and Barack Obama-haters used when those presidents were elected, even though there is every indication that Hillary Clinton would govern much as her predecessors?

After speaking with at least a dozen of these apocalyptic sounding Hillary Clinton opponents, I don’t think they’re lying. Their words reflect how they think they feel. At the same time, they’re not liquidating their assets and looking into expedited Australian citizenship, so there is a sense in which they don’t appear to really believe their own words. That’s why I kept puzzling away until I came to a theory.

The people I’ve mentioned are quick to express their distaste for Donald Trump, even though they are voting for him. Most didn’t support him in the primaries. And Trump has left them conflicted many times with his erratic behavior. But they’ve never considered voting for a Democrat. For them, Democrats are an outgroup. They may know some personally and like them, but they recoil from the idea of voting for one just as Lena Dunham would recoil from voting Republican.

Thus my theory—and just a theory, mind you—about what may be going on.

Many partisans will always find a way to persuade themselves that the other party’s candidate is bad enough to clearly justify their support for their party’s candidate. Therefore, their opinion of the opposing candidate is partly shaped by the quality of their party’s nominee—insofar as he or she is unusually hard to support, the opposing candidate will come to be regarded as even more unusually evil or dangerous. This enables them to support a person they regard as embarrassing or unworthy. Anything can be justified when you’ve got a gun to your head.

Is that what is happening to some conservatives? They would clearly dislike and oppose Clinton regardless, but is it possible that if they liked their own nominee more, enough to feel that he deserved their vote, they would tell themselves less apocalyptic stories about the consequences of a Hillary Clinton, even if they still opposed it?

I welcome your thoughts.

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