I have been interested in presidential elections, political fights, and political rhetoric since 1960, and through 2012 in every presidential election, there was a candidate whom I could support with enthusiasm.
In 2016 and 2020, however, among presidential candidates Hilary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden, I could not vote for any of them, as I found each either politically or personally so odious that I could not in good conscience lend my support to the United States being led by such ignominious figures. (I wrote in Maryland’s former governor, Robert Ehrlich, for both elections.)
It appears as of today – and this could well change through medical reality or a late spark of rare political courage in the two dominant political parties in the next year or so — that the almost-certain nominees for the Democratic and Republican Party, Biden and Trump, will be their nominees for the second straight presidential election. If so, I shall vote for neither again.
Let’s look at Donald Trump and the arguments for and against him while looking at Biden as well. The arguments for Trump are numerous, but they boil down to Ronald Reagan’s classic question regarding his opponent, Jimmy Carter, in 1980: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” [when Carter had won the presidency in 1976].
Despite Biden’s people and Biden himself clumsily using “Bidenomics” as their touchstone – or maybe partially because of their using it – people think back to their relative economic stability and answer “no.” Further, they think of the border catastrophe that is affecting a larger portion of the United States, the anti-parental policies of the Democrats, the foreign policy threats that seemed to be absent during the Trump Administration regarding China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, the new “Axis of Evil.“
Despite the media’s often giving Biden a pass, more and more people recognize him as a sleepy, neurologically challenged president who holds few press conferences, who is unable to articulate policy details, and who is simply physically and mentally unable to meet the grinding requirements of being president of the United States. He doesn’t go to East Palestine, Ohio, the border, or other locations of catastrophic events.
The consensus among election analysts over the years is that foreign policy plays a minor part in voters’ criteria for choosing a president. Still, in 2023-2024 it has been and will be also seen as part of the economic threats to the United States with the large amount of money and equipment sent to Ukraine.
So why is this not sufficient for a moderate conservative such as I to vote for Trump?
Because he is not someone with whom I would feel confident or safe for four years beginning in 2025 as president.
First, there is reason to believe that economically a Trump second term would bring back our economy and that he would have a more sophisticated policy than subordinating all decisions to considerations as to how to fight global warming, a Biden approach that has had zero effect on climate change in 3 years, including no change in China policy or elsewhere. Of course, the danger is that Trump will not consider global warming whatsoever in any decision.
Trump is proud of the fact that he feels he intimidated the axis-powers-to-be during his presidency. But to the extent that he did, it is because of they were in a different position than they are now, and he mystified them in 2017-2021. If Trump assumes that he has the same intimidating status and must prove it, it would likely lead to miscalculation, the greatest threat of World War III.
Trump’s fundamental dishonesty is a powerful reason not to vote for him, perhaps equal or greater than Biden’s. As a charismatic figure, he believes there is no consequence for this style. He famously said two weeks before the Iowa caucuses in January 2016, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” [said at a campaign stop at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa]…It’s, like, incredible.”
Trump’s misrepresentations and falsehoods are legion, including that he was going to make Mexico pay for the border wall, that the economy under his administration was the best in U.S. history, that he destroyed ISIS, and countless other false and misleading statements itemized by Glenn Kessler in his “The Fact Checker” in The Washington Post.
Biden’s no piker in the lie category per Kessler as well, but it should be noted that exaggerations and misattributions are rife in the political world, although not as stark as Trump or Biden’s. Note the recent fact-checking of the Republican debate.
This will always be the case in political debates: fudging the truth but not so many space-time lies as those by such as Trump and Biden.
Trump’s diffident and delayed reaction to the attack on the Capital on January 6, 2021, may or not be legally actionable, but it was deplorable. The indictments are another argument against voting for Trump, but I see that Republican resentment of them has energized a pro-Trump reaction, at least among a plurality of Republicans.
If anyone can make a compelling argument that Pence should have refused to certify the 2020 election, I have yet to hear it.
In sum the legal problems facing the two leading candidates, four criminal indictments (not to mention civil suits) against Trump and the classified document investigations against Biden, are, predictably, used by Trump and Biden supporters to argue that paradoxically they provide even more evidence for supporting these candidates.
Welcome to self-destructively polarized America, as led by Biden and Trump. Trump will play the card that some of these will be convictions — and Harvard law Professor Alan Dershowitz predicts with confidence that there will be convictions — overturned on appeal, and Biden will continue to say there is nothing there regarding bribery from a Ukrainian firm, while relying on the fear of Kamala-as-president to ward off any even unlikely impeachment possibility.
Biden’s supporters say that while there is evidence against Hunter, there is no connection to Joe. Biden would not be impeached unless (perhaps) he said on tape “Just make sure I get a kickback for your profits from Ukraine, Hunter, since, after all I engineered them.” On Trump’s election interference his former Attorney General Bill Barr understated, “From a prosecutor’s standpoint I think it is a legitimate case.”
There are more reasons not to vote for Trump, including his disparaging and not even participating in Republican debates which sported some genuinely prepared and qualified and decent candidates for the presidency, such as Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis Mike Pence, and Tim Scott (in that order, it says here).
Trump always exaggerates, to be kind, his influence on political races, but, as I have argued elsewhere, he has likely become a drag on Republican fortunes.
If the nominating system is the problem, then change it. The love of “the people” and hatred of party power-brokers never made much sense.
The “No Labels” party with such good possibilities as Joe Manchin, Larry Hogan, and others offers some — some — hope, but my guess is it could be an electoral disaster with Trump’s benefitting.
But the United States political parties can and should do better than these utterly unqualified candidates, Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
Richard E. Vatz is professor emeritus of political rhetoric at Towson University and author of The Only Authentic of Persuasion: the Agenda-Spin Model (Authors Press, 2022) and many other works, essays and op-eds. He is a Distinguished Professor at Towson University and has won a number of teaching awards.