We do not need to pretend that Donald Trump is a man of good personal character (he very clearly is not) in order to support him as a political leader. It does not have to be all or nothing. There is no reason to make it all or nothing. We damage our credibility by advancing obviously hypocritical arguments. We need to think about where we want our movement to be in ten or twenty years, not just how we can support Trump in 2019.
Before I go further: Democrats lost the moral high ground on Trump’s character in 1998 with the the Clinton impeachment and again by nominating a woman very rightly called “Crooked Hillary.” The Democrats are the ones who decided that character does not matter, and Donald Trump’s political success in the Republican Party is in large part a reaction to that.
Conservatives spent the better part of the 1990’s campaigning on “character,” and a large part of the 2000 campaign was replacing a man of bad personal character with a man of good personal character. It is understandable, then, why conservatives who spent years campaigning on character would want to believe that they voted for and elected a man of good character in 2016. It is an understandable reaction.
But the reality is that Trump is a man of poor personal character. He is a well-known philanderer, and once described his promiscuity as his “personal Vietnam” because he was avoiding sexually transmitted diseases. He is foul-mouthed and crass, immature, arrogant and stubborn. He attacks everyone who opposes him far to early, far too personally and far too viciously. He holds grudges and continues to attack long after the perceived slight is over, as we saw with Megyn Kelly in 2015.
For all of his “tough guy” swagger, Trump is extremely thin skinned, becoming irrationally angry at the smallest perceived slight. (Again, as we saw with Megyn Kelly’s fair question in 2015.) He is a thrice-married man, with children from three women, who has repeatedly committed adultery against all three of his wives.
But it is not all that difficult to do the intellectual equivalent of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Trump is a man of low personal character, but on policy he has been a great President. Trump has been better in many ways than Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. He has certainly been better than John McCain or Mitt Romney would have been had they been elected President. Right now Trump is looking at reforming the unfair “disparate impact” regulations enforcing civil rights law. He has undone Barack Obama’s unconstitutional and anti-American “dear colleague” letter eviscerating due process. We have two solid Supreme Court justices and a big tax cut. I could go on.
I did not vote for Trump in 2016. I do not regret or apologize for that. I will vote for Trump in 2020. Like it or not, we have who we have, and that is Donald Trump. Conservatives can continue to urge Trump to be a better person while defending and supporting him on policy. We do not have to be dishonest and we do not have to deceive ourselves into believing something that is obviously false.