US Presidential Election 2016: what’s the worst that could happen?

For anyone who is economically literate, concerned about civil liberties, opposed to corruption and cronyism, in favour free trade and fiscal conservatism, supportive of peaceful internationalism, and/or in possession of a conscience, the 2016 US Presidential election is unlikely to produce a good result.

Hillary Clinton’s Democratic campaign amounts to a Frankensteinian attempt to create a powerful but confused and unnatural electoral monster. In essence, she is seeking to sew together a continuation of the Obama-era status quo, a pitch to the centre and disaffected establishment Republicans, a pandering to Sanders-inspired left-wingers, and a kids-gloves approach to populist dissatisfaction.

Donald Trump’s Republican platform is a hodgepodge of bad ideas. The central narrative and policies turn on isolationist-nationalism and authoritarian populism, exemplified by aggressive nativist rhetoric and opposition to immigration, international institutions, and trade deals. Trump also has a confused foreign policy, synthesising isolationism with erratic aggression.

This has been combined with the usual Republican package of tax cuts and deregulation. However, any continuity with conservatism is a veneer and should be of no comfort to principled Republicans. Trump’s proposed tax cuts are unfunded, and would add at least $10 trillion to the budget deficit. His enthusiasm for deregulation seems confused, given his platform’s support for reinstating Glass-Steagall. And a moderate-alienating social platform sits in uncomfortable tandem with Trump’s own ambivalence on these issues.

It is, therefore, ambiguous how either candidate would actually govern. Clinton is more predictable and will probably fall back on continuing Obama’s policies with a more hawkish outlook on foreign affairs. Platitudes and watered down policies will be offered to the left, whilst centrists and moderate Republicans will have to make do with stability.

A Trump Presidency would have uncertainty as its defining characteristic. It is impossible to tell which, if any, of his policies he actually believes in or intends to implement, even if his flip-flopping is set aside. Does he actually want to pull out of the UN? Would he actually rip up existing trade agreements? Would he really consider using nuclear weapons? Does he genuinely intend to build The-WallTM on the Mexican border and ‘Make Mexico Pay’? Does he really think he can ‘bring back jobs’ through protectionism? Has he even read NAFTA?

If his expressed views and attitudes are taken at face value, he remains unpredictable. Asides from the contradictions between his policies, his temperament and belligerence appear to pose something of a security risk. The exact nature of his isolationism is unclear, as is the extent and manner of any realignment in US-Russian relations. It is also unclear exactly how far any trade war with China would go. Many of his policies are also near impossible to achieve. Attempting to follow-through on banning Muslims from entering the USA, building The-WallTM, and mass deportations will cause chaos.

Even a Republican controlled Congress is likely to resist Trump’s most draconian and nonsensical policies. Trump is likely to respond by trampling any constitutional restraints. Civil disobedience and resistance would be likely, as would spiralling cycles of violence. And if, as is likely, building a 2000-mile wall and deporting 11 million people cannot be done, the frustrated response of Trump’s base could be very dangerous.

Given all of the above, and how objectionable and destructive many of Trump’s policies are in themselves, a Clinton win is the less bad option. Whilst the Democratic platform falls somewhat short on civil liberties, surveillance, and criminal justice reform, it is at least not flirting with fascism. Likewise, whilst Clinton has embraced populism on trade (a reversal that exemplifies her lack of consistency and principle) and has picked up fiscally irresponsible ideas (such as ‘free college’) from Sanders, her budget adds less to government debt than Trump’s, and she at least doesn’t seem to be under the impression that she can personally manage a multi-trillion dollar economy as a dictatorial CEO.

It is also important that Clinton does not win an overwhelming mandate. The very real flaws with her candidacy should be reflected electorally, and her ramshackle coalition should not be proven viable. Paradoxically, Trump must also lose by a large margin. If Trump loses by anything less than a landslide, his impact on the Republican Party will be deep and permanent. It will remain a nativist-populist party, with any commitment to small government, fiscal responsibility, individual liberty, and tradition a distant memory. He will also have succeeded in making openly bigoted and inflammatory discourse, as well as uninformed and fantastical policies, mainstream and electorally viable.

Trump must receive less than 40% of the vote, whilst Clinton should not win more than 50%, with the gap being filled by third party candidates. In an ideal world, the Johnson-Weld ticket would win by a landslide (and a sane Republican Party would have nominated them itself). As it is, this is a somewhat unlikely result. However, the opportunity for the Libertarian Party to make a significant breakthrough is real. It is worth remembering that Ross Perot received 19% in 1992 and George Wallace received 13% in 1968.

If Johnson can break double-digits, dissatisfaction with the two main parties, and the importance of a fiscally conservative but socially tolerant bloc, cannot be ignored. I would say the same of the Green Party, as a principled liberal-left is desirable, if it were not for Jill Stein’s apparent commitment to the kookiest and most irresponsible aspects of the eco-left.

This election may not provide any good options. But it’s clear what the least damaging result would be.