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Jonah Goldberg: On the Basis of Character, Trump and Clinton Should Not Be 'Within Spitting Distance' of the Presidency

Editor’s Note: The following essay was adapted from an interview with Jonah Goldberg conducted in October 2016. It has been modified for clarity.

As a foundational point, character is something that is on a checklist of other things that are important. Character itself is broken into a whole bunch of constituent parts. For example, I think every presidential candidate needs to be smart. That doesn’t mean the smartest candidate should be the nominee or the next president because we know from Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter and others that raw IQ is simply not enough to be the best president. But at the same time, intelligence is a necessary, but not sufficient part of the total mix of qualifications for president.

The same thing applies to character. In the case of character, I think that the differences between the two party nominees are significant, and one can argue about who is the worst person. But what I also personally find indisputable is this: Simply on the metric of personal character, they are both unqualified for the job. They both fall short in their own distinct ways of the minimal levels of character required, or at least expected, for a president of the United States.

One can have a “how many angels on the head of a pin” argument about who is more manifestly unqualified in terms of their character, which I think, contrary to a lot of conservatives out there, is an open question. I would be happy if we were to have a debate, and we drew out of a hat which side we were going to argue, “Who’s a worse person, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump,” because I think both are such easy arguments to make.

When you ask the question in terms of the general election, “How much should character play a role in our decision about who to vote for,” the problem there is that it basically can’t play a role at all. At least it can’t play a role among the two major party nominees because they both get failing grades. And that’s one of the reasons why I intend to vote for Evan McMullin. There are other reasons why I intend to vote for Evan McMullin, but that’s one of them — both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are execrable people. And neither of them should be within spitting distance of the Oval Office.

Even if I were willing to concede, which I am happy to, at least in arguendo, that Hillary Clinton is a much worse person than Donald Trump, at the same time I would argue on Hamiltonian grounds that more damage is done to the things I care about, and the causes I believe in by having Donald Trump, or someone like Donald Trump, be the titular head of my movement, my party, my cause.

I plan on arguing for the things I believe in, such as limited government, constitutionalism, the sovereignty of the individual and a hundred other things, for a very long time, and I don’t intend to throw my credibility away simply by supporting a hostile takeover of my party and my cause by a nationalist who, first of all, doesn’t know what he is talking about, and, second of all, has no emotional or intellectual commitment to the ideas and principles that I uphold.

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