Let’s assume Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president. Perish the thought? Most pundits and political prognosticators have tended to focus on the worst-case scenarios surrounding a Trump nomination. I certainly have.
We try to comfort ourselves with increasingly outlandish scenarios for stopping the real estate magnate’s hostile takeover of the GOP. No, it is not a foregone conclusion. Not yet. Trump is still well shy of the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination on the first ballot at the Republican convention in Cleveland this summer.
After Tuesday, the field has narrowed further and Ted Cruz, the freshman U.S. senator from Texas, is emerging as The Last Best Conservative Hope to trounce Trump. If Cruz can keep picking up delegates and maybe eke out a few winner-take-all victories, then maybe … just maybe …
Besides – good heavens! Don’t people see by now? Trump is a fraud. He’s all bluster. He is a man of low character and utterly untrustworthy. He’s far too quick to praise authoritarians such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and much too comfortable with “knocking the crap” out of the demonstrators who show up at his rallies.
Oh, and he isn’t really a conservative.
Stipulated. All stipulated. So what?
So what if instead of pondering the imponderables and “looking into the abyss” – as former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson put it in The Washington Post the other day – suppose we ask the question: What’s the best that could happen?
What if Trump doesn’t just win the nomination? What if he wins the whole stinkin’ thing? What if the republic doesn’t collapse one minute after he takes the oath of office?
It’s possible that this demagogue might just be the catalyst for a bona fide restoration of constitutional government.
If you listen closely to what Trump says, you won’t hear him say very much explicitly about the Constitution or freedom. Those words seem to be beyond his ken. But you will hear him talk about President Barack Obama’s misuse and abuse of executive power.
Every president since Herbert Hoover has pushed the constitutional boundaries of his office. Fact is, presidents do have vast powers under Article II of the Constitution, especially when it comes to waging war and protecting national security. But “vast” isn’t the same as “unlimited.” Too many presidents – Republican and Democrat – have stretched the interpretation of their powers to the limit, and sometimes beyond.
In that sense, Obama is no different from previous occupants of the Oval Office. But in crucial ways, Obama has used and abused his executive authority in ways his predecessors could only fantasize about, from delaying implementation of parts of the Affordable Care Act to exempting millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Trump hasn’t said he would forgo the use of executive orders – no candidate in his right mind would say that. But he has said he would use executive orders to undo the excesses of his predecessor.
“One of the beautiful things about executive orders from my standpoint is, if I get elected, many of those executive orders that he signed, the first day, they’re going to be unsigned,” Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd in January.
Trump has also said that using “the art of the deal” to persuade Congress to pass legislation is far better than unilateral action. With his typical hyperbole, Trump has promised that his use of executive orders will be “better than anything that’s ever come before” – or, at least, more legitimate than the way Obama has used and abused them.
But would Trump keep his word? Knowing all that we know about the man’s business dealings and given his penchant for shamelessly reversing himself if expedience demands it, giving him the benefit of the doubt seems like the height of hubris.
That’s OK. In all likelihood, any Congress – Republican or Democrat – would go out of its way to keep a President Trump in line. Just imagine! After decades of over-delegating power to the executive branch and allowing the bureaucracy to run rampant, Congress may finally reassert its constitutional prerogatives.
That’s almost reason enough to vote for Trump.
Almost. Personally, I would not vote for Trump under any circumstances. Though in California, let’s face it, mine is not an especially courageous stance. Put a sack of dirty dish rags on the ballot with the magic “D” next to its name and Trump or Cruz or any Republican would still lose by double digits. The conservative vote is worthless here.
But I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who does vote for him. After more than two decades of choosing the lesser of two evils, it was only a matter of time before a critical mass of voters opted for the greater one.
Could a scoundrel like Trump end up saving the country after all?
The answer, of course, is no. Good heavens, no! Don’t be ridiculous.
It’s a trick question. If nothing else comes of this bizarre election year, perhaps Americans finally will begin to sober up at last and realize that no one man – or woman – is going to save us. We’re not electing a king or a queen. The people are the sovereign. And as terrifying as the prospect of a Trump presidency may seem, in the end, the people still rule.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.