Republicans – like me – have a hard choice. I am a college-educated, suburban male. I have kids, and their future matters a lot to me. We were in another camp entirely, committed to another candidate, well before the Republican convention. We were not impressed by Mr. Trump’s self-adulation, spotty command of details, penchant for stumbling, commission of avoidable error, over- and under-statements, or contentment with blithe giving offense. Others made clear, cogent cases for much-needed change, big changes – in the size, cost and reach of the Federal government, national security, reduced taxes, reignition of our choked economy, protection of small business, affirmation of idealism, and limited exercise of Executive and Judicial power. But my preferred candidates all lost. Now, we have a critical choice – those unhappy voters, like me.
The choice, for Republicans, thoughtful Democrats and Independents is simple and complex. We can vote for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, a third party protest candidate, or no one. But relooking the equities, we have only one real and credible choice. It was not my first choice. But our current options – are no option.
Here is the score, for all who care about rule of law, Supreme Court trajectory, national and personal security, the economy and our children’s future. We must put aside distaste, emotion and disaffection, complaint and recurring heartburn. Life is filled with uncertainty. All candidates have flaws, some fatal, others distasteful. The only credible choice now, is Trump and Pence.
Specifics matter. Follow me. Hillary Clinton, beyond her propensity to slide into one scandal after another, back to Whitewater, Travelgate, inexplicable profits on cow futures when her husband was Governor, suspect land deals, unbridled defense of her husband’s endless ethical lapses and philandering; beyond unconscionable neglect of American lives in Benghazi (including an Ambassador who died begging for help)), and mishandling of classified information that put Americans in harm’s way – has demonstrated breathtakingly poor judgment. This is the hallmark of Hillary Clinton, ethical lapses and poor judgment, all in a headlong quest for personal power. Experience, in the end, is worth nothing – if it demonstrates a propensity for recurring failure, enormous gaps in integrity. At best, she has been inconsistent, indecisive, reversed course, dissembled, distracted, denied and deceived us on a range of issues, from setting up and “bleaching” an email server to support private objectives to her eroding health conditions. She has done all this with breathtaking brashness
Now, add her to lifetime of ethical lapses, poor judgment, secrecy and eroding health, her husband. Electing her means bringing him back, with all his baggage and his own history of dissembling and misjudgment – with no job. For some, the prospect was already unthinkable in 2008. His record includes lying to the American people, philandering, selling access to the White House, a range of major foreign policy errors, and a litany of objectionable personal behaviors. His record capped out with impeachment in the U.S. House, trial in the U.S. Senate. One can only imagine his return, and shiver. Policies are fine, but the person is elected, not their policies. With regard to Mr. Trump, he appears to be learning as fast as anyone who has entered politics at this level direct from private sector leadership. He is strangely popular among Democrats as well as Republicans. In my view, he will keep learning – but he will also lead. His tenure will mean a resuscitation of the First, Second, Fourth and Sixth Amendments, as well as return to some States’ rights.
Practically speaking, while acknowledging his flaws and reminding reader that he was not my choice, he seems now our only choice. I worked as an Assistant Secretary for Colin Powell, and hold him – even now – in in the highest regard. Many Republicans and Democrats I respect do not see the world as I do, but here is the nutshell. Trump/Pence will lead on the economy toward less regulation, lower overall taxation, continuation of core entitlements, with a longer term reigning in debt and restoration of market predictability. We all need those benefits, and more limited government.
He will re engage with the world, applying in part an approach Reagan called “peace through strength,” that is, militarily superiority and preparation to encourage respect and deterrence. He is not keen on intervention. He will set clear international expectations, listen to allies and adversaries, honor those who honor America. He will likely draw fewer lines but live by his word if those lines are crossed. Nothing is more corrosive of respect for America than lines drawn, and nothing. If you are clear, cautious but true, respect rises.
He will, and this makes some uncomfortable, rebuild our Navy and capacity for self-defense. Good, we need it – and a more forwarding leaning, non-linear, proactive, risk-taking intelligence community. We need genuine engagement, not token gestures to avert existential threats and end non-existential ones, like terrorism. We need new diplomacy too, the courage to engage diplomatically – from strength – with places like Russia. Trump may be in a position to spur a return to Nixon’s Détente, or even Reagan’s alignment with Gorbachev for common benefit. There is uncertainty, but leadership always involves that.
At home, other issues raise the stakes: Ending this gawdawful political correctness, that is, ending punishment of individuals for exercising constitutionally protected free speech; holding some semblance of fidelity to law through a non-politicized US Supreme Court; holding on, in a hurricane, to other First Amendment freedoms, like worship, press and association; preserving basic Second Amendment rights to own and carry firearms; preserving proper administration of justice, support for law enforcement, fair and speedy trials; ending the epidemic of drug abuse, unnecessary cultural division, and loss of common purpose. … all of which, ironically, figure into what many Americans treasure most about America, our identity as the most generous and freest place on Earth to live.
If Mr. Trump is not Reagan – and he surely is not – imperfection is baked into politics. Truman went bankrupt as a businessman. Theodore Roosevelt was a visceral populist. Reagan and Lincoln moved legislation with stories not statistics. Leadership is at least half spirit. The rest is an ability to work well with others and gather smart people. Trump and Pence should be able to do that. So what will I do? I will recognize my duty, and vote. I will firmly hope on the education of Mr. Trump and strong advisors to assist decision-making on issues of gravity. I will take consolation in the sober and seasoned judgment of Mr. Pence, Mr. Trump’s superb Supreme Court nominees, his 80 distinguished Flag Officers, his former Democratic and Republican intelligence leaders, and the spirit that has moved average Americans – his realness and connection to life as lived, not as lived near Washington. Authenticity always comes at a cost. I will vote, with conviction, for the Trump/Pence ticket. I have kids and their future matters a lot to me. Then, decision made, I will go back to hoping we Americans remember how to forgive, love each other, believe in a secure future, work toward common goals, always evolve toward a better future. Republicans – like me – have a choice. I have made mine.
Robert B. Charles, former Assistant Secretary of State to Colin Powell, former Bush 41 and Reagan White House Staffer, former Navy intelligence officer, and attorney.