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Trump and Clinton: The two worst things that could happen to America

In the week or so since Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, a theme has emerged among conservative writers. Numerous commentators and political leaders we respect, and with whom we often agree, have concluded that the two worst things that could possibly happen to the country would be a Hillary Clinton presidency and a Trump presidency.

Opinion remains split as to which of these options would be the absolute worst and which would be only second worst. From there, many of their discussions become unhinged, as the authors question the morality, sanity, commitment, and integrity of those who fail to rally behind the appropriately-designated second worst fate that could befall America.

A bit more perspective might be in order.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
Getty Images; Gabrielle Lurie | AFP | Getty Images
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Political parties are comprised of factions. Our faction believes in American exceptionalism, free markets, economic growth, individual liberty, religious freedom, and the value of tradition. As recently as the 1990s, it was possible to gain a respectful hearing for each of these ideas in both major parties.

Over the past fifteen years or so, the Democrats have turned sharply away from all of them. The recent rise of the nationalist-populist wing of the Republican Party suggests that we are hardly in control there, either.

Having failed to press our ideological case and/or to gain greater traction in this year's primaries, we—as a faction—have some serious soul searching and strategizing ahead of us. But we also face a more pressing challenge. Barring some unforeseeable event, either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will become the next president of the United States. Though that sentence alone is enough to induce PTSD among some of our ideological kin, it also states a serious dilemma in need of careful analysis—not knee-jerk hysteria.

When addressing those who have already concluded that the options on the table represent the two worst things that could happen to America, it is a mistake to dwell on the remote possibility of deus ex machina salvation. Instead, such a Hobson's choice requires a "worst-reasonable-case analysis:" Assume that Presidents Clinton and Trump would each seek to indulge the very worst instincts their critics believe them to posses, then support the candidate whose very worst is less bad.

President Obama has excelled at indulging his own worst instincts. As a unanimous Supreme Court has confirmed on twenty-plus occasions, Obama has abused his Presidential authority in numerous ways, imposing executive fiat into areas appropriately left to Congress, courts, or the States. Assume plausibly that both Clinton and Trump would attempt to follow Obama's lead. How would they each fare?

While President Obama may have acted unilaterally, he did not act alone. Democrats in Congress, gubernatorial mansions, and statehouses, the civil service, the mainstream media, academia, Hollywood, progressive activists, many federal judges, large parts of Silicon Valley and Wall Street, and roughly 40 percent of voters have provided support.

President Hillary Clinton would enjoy comparable support whenever she chose to indulge her progressive instincts or placate the Democratic base. In addition—and as appropriate in a worst-reasonable-case analysis—a Clinton victory in November would likely give the Democrats control of the Senate, and possibly the House.

Politically—or at least rhetorically—there's a freedom that comes with not having to govern, but in terms of policy, it's a disaster. Opposition to the left's agenda would come from a diminished, dispirited, Republican minority and a right-wing elite forming circular firing squads while debating what went wrong. Like the incumbent, no action Clinton might take would render her impeachable—meaning that little would be beyond her reach.

President Donald Trump, on the other hand, would face considerable opposition from each of the groups that has supported Obama. Were he to indulge the very worst vindictive authoritarian tendencies of which he stands accused, large numbers of Republicans—in Congress, in the States, in the federal judiciary, and across the country—would join that opposition, leaving him few sources of support.

Trump's pas de deux with Speaker Paul Ryan marks the beginning of his shift into more familiar territory. Given the massive segments of American society arrayed to favor radical progressives, no Republican President could govern—wisely or poorly—without unifying his own party behind him.

In short, though it is easy to have forgotten while living through the Obama years, the American system embodies numerous checks and balances. It also empowers influential opinion-shaping voices far beyond the control of government. But these restraints are applied in an uneven way that favors the left. They would empower and encourage Clinton's worst instincts, while restraining any Republican's—including Donald Trump.

For those who have already concluded that both choices are terrible, even this quick worst-reasonable-case analysis should break the logjam. Donald Trump at his worst would do far less damage than Hillary Clinton at her worst.

It may not be much to go on, but it reinforces the case for Trump.

Commentary by Bruce Abramson, Ph.D., J.D. and Jeff Ballabon. Abramson is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, and director of policy at the Iron Dome Alliance. Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic where he advises and represents corporate and political clients on interacting with the government and media. He previously headed the communications and public policy departments of major media corporations including CBS News and Court TV. Follow them on Twitter @bdabramson and @ballabon.

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