A year ago, I was optimistic about Republicans’ chances in the presidential election. Democrats looked set to nominate Hillary Clinton–an eminently beatable candidate. Our team had at least seven solid candidates in competition, a sure way to road-test potential nominees for policy chops and leadership quality. I thought this would be the year we advanced conservative principles and policies. Instead, the party of Abraham Lincoln has nominated Donald Trump. And I, a former national security advisor for president George W. Bush, am resigned to voting for Clinton.
I support Clinton with great misgivings. She wasn’t a terrific secretary of state. Although she supported increased effort in the Afghanistan war, she was responsible for the calamitous transition to civilian oversight in Iraq and failed to deliver the essential “civilian surge” in Afghanistan. She advocated intervening in Libya without a plan for stabilizing the country after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi—the very mistake for which she rightly criticized the Bush administration in Iraq. Her newfound opposition to free trade as economic and foreign policy is transparently political. I believe she broke the law several times over with her email arrangements, and her continued obfuscation about it disturbs me.
Yet I will cast my ballot for her because she is unquestionably a better choice for our country than Trump. American presidential elections are contests between two contenders, and my party has nominated a candidate whose divisiveness and disrespect for my fellow Americans is deeply offensive. And on the issues of foreign policy and national security, my professional judgement is that Donald Trump is a real danger to our country.
I’m one of the 50 establishment Republicans who signed a letter declaring Trump unfit to be commander in chief. He is unfit both because of his erratic, vengeful temperament and because of his policies, which are already doing damage. All of us who signed the letter have served in senior national security positions working directly with the president in crises and war. We are genuinely afraid of what Trump would do if he were entrusted with the vast powers that an American president holds in foreign and defense policy.
Trump responded to the letter by calling us “nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power.” According to him, we are responsible for both the Iraq war and the decisions made by the Obama administration during the Benghazi attack. Former Trump spokesman Corey Lewandowski called me a “three time loser” for supporting Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich in efforts to forestall Trump getting the Republican nomination for president.
One point raised by the Trump camp deserves consideration: Why listen to us if we are the people responsible for the Iraq war? Many of us did have prominent roles in the Bush Administration and do have to answer that question, because we did make costly mistakes in the conduct of the war. But we had corrected course with the surge that had largely won the war in Iraq by 2010. President Obama’s disengagement from the war, and the region, have much to answer for since. But if you think you get bad outcomes in foreign and defense policy when experienced professionals are running the show, just imagine what would happen under the watch of the reckless and inexperienced people with whom Trump has surrounded himself.
Then there’s the fact that Trump has a lurid attraction to despots–Vladimir Putin in particular. When it became clear that Russian intelligence services were likely behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee emails, he encouraged them to go further. Internationally, he worries our friends and encourages our adversaries by making our security guarantees conditional on payments from allies. He is ignorant of fundamental elements of economics, seeming not to understand how a 45% tariff would decimate supply chains for American products. He believes Americans should be subject to trial by military commissions, and disrespects everyone from grieving families and the disabled to Muslims, Hispanics and women.
Some Republicans have given up their party affiliation in disgust over Trump’s nomination. I would encourage my fellow conservatives not to do so. We are all needed to right this ship. Conservatives will have a lot of work to do in rebuilding our party in the aftermath of this election. We have failed to offer conservative solutions that work for the problems with which many Americans are struggling. And we should also focus our efforts right now on ensuring that Trump does not come to define our party. We need to work tirelessly to elect Republicans to Congress. They will be an important check on either Hillary Clinton or–perish the thought–Donald Trump.