Over the past few weeks, Republican politicians and party officials have begun the dreary and demoralizing work of reconciling themselves to the prospect of Donald Trump serving as the GOP's presidential nominee.
Conservative writers and intellectuals, by contrast, have been more obstinate.
A few have come out in grudging and grumbling support of the likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Most of the others, meanwhile, have expressed disgust at the prospect of having to choose between Trump and Clinton at all. This has inspired a small group of dissenters to fasten onto the fantasy of sparking a "true conservative" third-party challenge to Trump.
But many of the rest seem inclined to settle into a pox-on-both-your-houses position: Trump's unfitness to serve as president is obvious, running the gamut from wholesale ignorance about policy to temperamental volatility and authoritarian instincts that alarm every informed and responsible observer. But Clinton is no better. She's corrupt! She can't be trusted! She isn't qualified to be president! And oh boy, is she unlikeable!
This implies that the most responsible thing for a conservative to do is refrain from voting at all.
That would be foolish. Does Clinton have flaws? You bet she does. But the Hillary hatred that seems to motivate the right's most adamant objections to her ascending to the presidency is rooted in unfair and exaggerated animosity lacking any rational connection to reality.
The national threat posed by a potential President Trump more than justifies that conservatives promptly get over it.
I can certainly understand ambivalence about Clinton. I feel some of it myself, even though she's pretty close to my ideological (neoliberal) sweet spot on domestic policy. My hesitation comes mainly from the air of scandal that, as I've put it before, seems to follow her and her husband around like the cloud of filth that trails Pig-Pen from Peanuts. If I also opposed her economic agenda, as most conservatives do, I could imagine that concern curdling into something harsher.
On the other hand, I have strong objections to Clinton on foreign policy, where I think her hawkish instincts (on Iraq, Libya, and Syria) have led her badly astray on numerous occasions — and where conservatives probably find her outlook pretty congenial.
That's a mixed bag. But under present circumstances, it should be good enough to win her conservative support, however reluctant.
Those on the other side usually begin with the signs of corruption that trouble me as well.
The contrast with Barack Obama is instructive. Contending with a rabidly hostile Congress for five of his seven years as president, Obama has nonetheless managed to avoid becoming embroiled in any significant scandals. There have been no subpoenas of White House staff, no special prosecutors.
Is it even conceivable that a Hillary Clinton administration would be so clean? Not a chance. From the string of scandals during Bill Clinton's presidency (including an impeachment proceeding) to Hillary Clinton's email imbroglio to signs of questionable practices at the Clinton Global Initiative, the Clintons seem to be plagued by a mix of bad luck and congenitally poor judgment that we have every reason to assume would follow them back to the White House.
But here's the thing: Every single accusation is trivial. Petty. Penny-ante. Yes, even the business about Clinton's private email server. And especially the septic tank full of hyped-up, conspiracy-laden nonsense that goes by the name of "Benghazi." (If well-meaning members of the conservative movement want to explore how the Republican electorate ended up hoodwinked by a transparent charlatan-demagogue like Donald Trump, they could do worse than reflecting on their own complicity in publicizing, or at least failing to defuse, this endless, cockamamie "scandal.")
In an ideal political world, all administrations would be as clean as Obama's. But as the events of this election cycle have demonstrated quite vividly, this is most emphatically not an ideal political world — and in the deeply troubling world we do inhabit, the prospect of a president dogged by minor scandals shouldn't distract us from the far higher stakes involved in the upcoming election.
As for the other conservative objections to Clinton, they are even less compelling.
She's unqualified? Compared to whom? Clinton's been a successful lawyer. A first lady. A senator. A secretary of state. If that isn't a stellar resume for a would-be president, I don't know what would be. It's certainly far more impressive than Barack Obama's remarkably modest list of accomplishments when he ran for president — let alone Trump's background of inheriting a few hundred million dollars and using that wealth to play a real-life game of Monopoly in the richest real estate market in the country (while still managing to file for bankruptcy four times).
Can Clinton be trusted? Probably no more or less than any other politician. Public servants go where the votes are, and in a primary season in which she's had to fight a left-wing insurgency against the Democratic establishment and her husband's centrist legacy as president, Clinton has undeniably moved modestly to the left. The question is whether it's possible to imagine any presidential hopeful in the same situation not doing precisely the same thing. I think the answer is no.
Finally, there's Clinton's likeability. Follow conservatives on Twitter during a Clinton speech and you'll hear the litany. She shouts. She hectors. She condescends. She's shrill. She laughs in a really annoying way.
I'll give Clinton's conservative critics this: She isn't the most charismatic politician in the world. But you know what? That's her problem, not anyone else's. If the voters find her sufficiently off-putting, they won't elect her. The question is whether, when conservatives are presented with a candidate whose defects go far beyond style, they will be willing to put the good of the country ahead of what really is a merely aesthetic objection.
The path ahead for conservatives is clear. If they want to assure that Donald Trump loses, they need to assure that Hillary Clinton wins.