As the field narrows, the options aren’t looking great.
The primary season is underway. Iowa and New Hampshire have spoken, and voters throughout the rest of the country are preparing to weigh in soon. Joe Biden’s and Elizabeth Warren’s campaigns have unexpectedly struggled, some lower-tier contenders have left the field entirely, and Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are looking surprisingly strong.
Here on the right side of the aisle, there’s not a heck of a lot to do but watch. Outside a handful of open-primary states, Republicans won’t be able to vote in the Democratic races. And come the general election, just like they did the last time, the vast majority of conservatives are going to pull the lever for Donald Trump, even if he’s not the person they’d have picked to lead the GOP.
But not all right-wingers have gotten on the Trump Train yet. Some conservatives sat out 2016 or went with a third party — 3 percent of voters pulled the lever for libertarian Gary Johnson, with another half a percent supporting Evan McMullin (and regretting it later) — and while Trump has in many ways governed as a standard Republican, there have also been plenty of dumb scandals and ridiculous antics to reinforce the concerns of these skeptics.
Are those folks destined to go third-party again? Will the Democratic nominee be so terrible that they come around to Trump after all? Or might the Democrats nominate someone an anti-Trump conservative could actually stand voting for? Before we look at the serious contenders in alphabetical order, a fair warning: Don’t get your hopes up for one of the moderate pro-life and/or pro-gun Democrats you might have found a generation ago, the kind of candidate the party would nominate if it really wanted to give Republican voters who dislike Trump a tempting choice.
Biggest red flags: Hardly a centrist or moderate. Wants a big expansion of the government’s role in health care, would like to ban common guns and magazines, supports abortion rights, and played a starring role in the partisan attempt to derail Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court. He’s also not as sharp as he used to be, and he was never that sharp.
The conservative case for him: He is a moderate in some ways. He fought forced busing in the ’70s and ’80s, was tough on crime in the ’90s, and has worked with Republicans on assorted issues over the years. In general, he’d be a pretty standard-issue Democratic president, the kind who would focus the Right’s energy by doing plenty of bad things but wouldn’t irreversibly ruin the country. Given his age, he also might not seek a second term, providing Republicans a chance to take back power in 2024 without having to beat an incumbent. He could function as a sort of palette cleanser, in other words.
Biggest red flags: Wants your guns. Wants your Big Gulp. Allegedly once told a pregnant female employee to “kill it.” Once described the highly controversial stop-and-frisk program he oversaw as mayor of New York City in a way that sounded an awful lot like cops were just running around randomly searching the pants of young minority men, just as his critics had charged and his conservative supporters had denied.
The conservative case for him: He has been a Republican in the past, and despite his excesses he did keep crime low in New York. His mayoral administration also advanced the cause of welfare reform. Like it or not, he’s probably the closest thing to an actual GOPer in the running, even if he is most definitely not a Republican of the libertarian variety.
Biggest red flags: His moderation, like Biden’s, is overstated. He supports a $15 minimum wage, a public option for health care, abortion on demand, gun bans, and so on and so forth. His corporate-drone speak is kinda creepy.
The conservative case for him: Buttigieg is no conservative, but he doesn’t seem to hate conservatives; he appears to want to unite the country. This suggests he might be willing to moderate his positions once in office if it becomes clear that Congress won’t go along with his campaign agenda.
Biggest red flags: She, too, is a normal progressive on all the major issues who only looks moderate in comparison to the nuts to her left. And there are, shall we say, concerns about her treatment of subordinates: If reports of the way she runs her Senate office are to be believed, she’s the type of boss who will beat her interns into submission with a binder and eat their eyeballs with a comb.
The conservative case for her: Like Buttigieg, she seems to have a genuine desire to appeal to a broad cross-section of voters and might govern from the center if a divided Congress forces her to.
Biggest red flags: The guy is a self-described socialist who spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union and wants to spend trillions of dollars destroying private health insurance. His flags are about as red as they come.
The conservative case for him: He’s unlikely to get the crazier parts of his agenda through Congress, meaning he will have to stick to what he can accomplish through executive action. He’s historically been pretty moderate on guns, for example supporting the law that protects firearm companies from frivolous lawsuits trying to blame them for criminals’ misuse of their products, so he might not make gun-grabbing a big priority. Conservatives who prefer a restrained foreign policy might find a sympathetic ear in his Oval Office.
Biggest red flags: Wants to spend as big as Sanders, handing out government freebies to everyone, and has already promised insane misuses of executive action to bypass Congress, including canceling tons of student debt. Played a big role in creating the constitutional abomination that is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Lies through her teeth constantly, about everything.
The conservative case for her: Some conservatives have come to share some of Warren’s skepticism of corporate power and Big Tech in particular. Other than that, she’s mainly a candidate for people who think the Right needs to be soundly defeated and thoroughly humiliated before it can rise again in better form.