We will never know what might have been if Trump had lost the nomination

imageSome relatively sane Republican commentators have been comforting themselves with the idea that anyone other than Donald Trump as the GOP presidential nominee would surely have easily dispatched Hillary Clinton. The notion is built on the idea that he is so awful and that until recently polls have been so close that she must obviously be nearly as awful.

On that claim, a recent article by Walter Shapiro at Roll Call does a strange thing. It’s headline, “Losing an Election that a Rational Republican Might Have Won,” has nothing to do with the core argument of the piece, which is that if the GOP nominee had been someone other than Trump it is very likely the presidential general election would have contained a serious policy debate on issues important to the health of the nation.

Mr. Shapiro, to my mind, is not saying that another Republican would necessarily have defeated Mrs. Clubton, though the implication is there, only that we would have had a better chance of choosing a president based upon policies and ideas worthy of the occasion.

Mr. Shapiro writes:

Never in modern history have issues played so scant a role in a presidential campaign. Most of the vitriolic opposition to Hillary Clinton stems from her home brew email server and the blurred ethical lines between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department during her tenure. Trump himself acknowledges this content-free campaign every time he suggests that his sexual misdeeds are less reprehensible than Bill Clinton’s.

Whatever else may be true of Hillary Clinton’s ethical lapses, there is little doubt she was prepared to campaign on the issues. Just as obvious is that Mr. Trump was wholly unprepared to understand let alone discuss any important issues of the day.

Fifteen years after 9/11, the voters deserve to hear a robust debate on the merits of America’s drone wars from Yemen to Pakistan. Three years after Edward Snowden revealed the extent of NSA’s monitoring of citizens’ telephone calls and emails, the nation has yet to hold an honest political discussion of the tradeoffs between privacy and security in an age of terrorism.

On the domestic front, what is the formula for breaking the congressional logjam on funding infrastructure projects? What are the most effective ways to battle addiction to heroin and painkillers? And is there any relief possible for those workers who have already lost their jobs from NAFTA and other trade treaties?

If another candidate had won the GOP nomination it surely would have been a different general election campaign. As for how that candidate would have performed, who knows. Rubio seemed unprepared for the big stage despite being highly touted, Bush was low energy, Cruz is obnoxious, and Christie still has his bridge problem. Still, any of them would have been able to articulate a coherent platform, and the country would have been better off for it.

It’s always fun to discuss what might have been, even to suggest that an alternative outcome is most likely, but as any fan of alternative timeline science fiction knows, change anything and you change everything.

It’s good entertainment, but a waste of time in politics.

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