Scylla or Charybdis, for the next four years

As I sit at my desk writing this column, I am enduring a very unpleasant “bowel prep” for a surgical procedure I am about to undergo. As my body does all sorts of nasty and unnatural things, it strikes me that this is a perfect metaphor for the 2016 presidential race. It’s hard to think of another race in American history in which the two major party candidates were so unpopular. Maybe Buchanan-Fremont in 1856? But we lack polls to confirm that speculation.

Democrats have nominated Hillary Clinton, playing the double game of dynastic politics and identity politics. It is pretty clear that the Democratic Party nomination race was a rejection of Bill Clintonism —his third way moderation of the 1990s, NAFTA, balanced budgets, the Defense of Marriage Act and “the era of big government is over.” Yeah, right. But Clinton got lucky, as her only serious challenger was someone who is not even a member of her party. Democrats picked a tremendously flawed candidate because it was her turn.

And Clinton IS a tremendously flawed candidate. She has been in the national spotlight for a quarter century, drawing the fierce opposition of conservatives from the beginning with her derisive remarks about “baking cookies” (demonstrating contempt for stay-at-home moms), continuing with her lead effort to gain control of the health care industry in the 1990s, culminating in her deflection of her husband’s sexual peccadilloes to “the vast right-wing conspiracy.”

Add to that her penchant for Nixonian secrecy and enemies lists, her obvious prevarication on the Benghazi attack, her over-weening desire for money, her catastrophic lack of judgment and her willingness to skirt the rules for the sake of power and it’s no surprise the race is as close as it is. She is, in short, a liar and a cheater.

I have a neighbor who confessed to me last summer that if Satan himself were running for the presidency, he would vote for Satan before he would vote for Hillary Clinton.

And yet — Hillary Clinton is the odds-on favorite to win because she is running against someone who is morally, intellectually and temperamentally unqualified for the office of the presidency.

Republicans—supposedly the conservative party in America— have nominated in Donald Trump someone who is not a conservative at all. Indeed, he is a Johnny-come-lately to the Republican Party. For years I have watched conservative media types complain about RINOs (Republican in name only) running the GOP, and the party has now nominated the biggest RINO in political history.

Trump’s own self-description testifies to the fact that he is a moral degenerate. Yes, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton were/are moral degenerates, too—but that just makes my case. Trump disrespects politics and the political process. He thinks he can get up to speed on policy issues by cramming in a January term before his inauguration. He considers vengeance to be the most important “virtue.” He has an excessively fragile ego and is easily provoked. For those voters who call themselves conservative, Trump represents the end of Reagan conservatism – certainly if he wins, and quite possibly if he loses.

Where does that leave us? A Clinton victory likely means Democrats take narrow control of the Senate—but not the House of Representatives. That means four more years like the last six. Clinton will be incapable of prosecuting a positive legislative agenda on her own terms. The narrow Democratic majority will resort to the so-called “nuclear option” in the Senate to confirm Supreme Court nominations, but the party’s exposure in the 2018 midterm elections means the GOP will reclaim control.

A Trump victory probably means the GOP retains narrow control of the Senate – the House, again, is not much in doubt. But the GOP Senate will not be filibuster-proof, and Republicans will resort to the nuclear option to confirm court nominations. The more interesting question is whether a Trump victory means the GOP will stay a conservative party or conform to a Trumpist agenda. Trump clearly does not care about the organization he currently leads, so there is no guarantee that he will be able to command the loyalty of his party in Congress.

Whoever wins next week will run into the buzz saw of the constitutional order. Both candidates have over-promised, and the fans of the victor will be disappointed when the winner cannot suspend the separation of powers system to fulfill his or her many pledges.

That still leaves citizens with an onerous choice. Satan vs. Trump; Clinton vs. Beelzebub. Perhaps we do, indeed, get the government we truly deserve.

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David Crockett is a professor of political science.