For many, the principal objection to Trump is his character and temperament. I share those concerns. But his horrendous policy agenda is even more dangerous, particularly his positions on immigration, trade, civil liberties, and massacring civilians. Trump’s immigration policies – the centerpiece of his agenda if anything is – imperil the liberties and property rights of large numbers of native-born Americans, as well as immigrants.
On all of the above issues, Hillary Clinton is far less dangerous than Trump, and these enormous differences are not outweighed by the very limited set of issues where Trump might potentially have compensating advantages of his own. That is pretty obviously true from that standpoint of political liberals and moderates. But it is also true for libertarians and conservatives who care about individual freedom and limiting the power of government. Most obviously, a Clinton victory would not make either major party significantly worse than it currently is, while a Trump victory might well result in the GOP becoming a white nationalist Republican Party far more hostile to freedom and constitutional restraints on government power than previously. That is likely to have severe negative effects on the political system long after the next administration is over.
II. The Role of Divided Government.
Recent developments actually increase the likelihood that a Trump victory would be more dangerous than a Clinton win. The most significant is the growing likelihood that a President Clinton would have to contend with divided government, while Trump would enjoy the support of a GOP-controlled Congress. Most experts agree that the Republicans are highly likely to retain control of the House of Representatives. Even if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, the Democrats are unlikely to get more than a small majority in the Senate. By contrast, if Trump pulls out an upset victory, it will likely be part of a GOP wave than enables the party to maintain a fairly large House majority, and give it a good chance of holding on to the Senate, as well. Even if they narrowly lose the Senate this year, the party is likely to retake it in 2018, when the electoral map will overwhelmingly favor the GOP.
By contrast, they probably would not do much to impede Trump. For example, congressional Republicans are unlikely to launch investigations into Trumpian abuses, because such efforts might damage the party as a whole, and attract the ire of a large part of its base – possibly incentivizing strong primary challengers. GOP members of Congress may not be fans of Trump. But they are unlikely to imperil their own political self-interest by challenging him – especially not after he leads the party to an improbable electoral victory. If anything, such a success would tend to validate the Trumpist agenda in the eyes of ambitious GOP politicians, who would therefore be more likely to fall in line behind it.
III. Trump is by far the Bigger Crook.
Clinton’s edge over Trump is not undermined by her various scandals. She is indeed ethically challenged. But Trump is worse.
As FBI Director James Comey put it back in July, her mishandling of classified e-mail was, at the very least, “extremely careless” and well worthy of censure. Recent revelations that she and Huma Abedin might have mishandled additional e-mails don’t fundamentally alter that picture (the new e-mails probably were not even sent by or to Clinton herself). But they certainly don’t make her conduct any more excusable. Against any half-way decent opponent, Clinton’s ethical lapses would weigh heavily in the opposing candidate’s favor.
But if Hillary Clinton may well be crooked, Trump is a far bigger crook. Deliberate mishandling of classified e-mails is a serious matter. But it is not as bad as what appear to be numerous cases of sexual molestation. The revelation of what lies behind Trump’s “locker room talk” is yet another reason why the gap between him and Clinton has actually grown since May.