Seal of the President

In the race for President of the United States, President Donald Trump (R) faces former Vice President Joe Biden (D). Also on the Virginia ballot is one minor candidate, Jo Jorgensen (L).

The United States has a unique system for electing presidents, where the citizens of each of the fifty states (and the District of Columbia) vote for a slate of electors who are ‘pledged’ to a particular presidential candidate. Each state has a number of electors equal to the size of its total congressional delegation, counting both representatives and senators. The District of Columbia has three electors as well, which brings the total number to 538.

Maine and Nebraska allot their electors based on the majority vote in each congressional district, with the remaining two electors chosen at-large based on the statewide vote. All other states and the District of Columbia allot their electors under a ‘winner take all’ system, where the winner of the statewide vote receives all that state’s electors. The candidate who receives a majority vote of at least 270 electors wins the election.

If no candidate receives a majority vote, the House of Representatives is called upon to choose a president by a ‘majority of the states’ vote. Presidents are elected to four-year terms and may serve up-to two terms.

Major Candidates

Major candidates are defined by Off on a Tangent as those likely to receive at least five percent of the popular vote for an office.

Incumbent: Donald Trump (R)

Pres. Donald Trump

President Donald Trump (R) stands as the Republican Party nominee for President of the United States. He is nearing the end of his first term. He is joined on the Republican ticket by Vice President Mike Pence (R).

Trump never held office before being elected to the presidency. He holds an economics degree from the Wharton Business School and previously served as chairman and president of The Trump Organization, a ninety-seven-year-old conglomerate with interests in real estate, investing, and property management. Forbes Magazine estimated in 2019 that Trump’s net worth was about $3.1 billion

Trump was a brash, center-left outsider who had virtually no connection the party machine, but his 2016 campaign successfully tapped into widespread popular frustration both inside and outside of the Republican Party, particularly relating to illegal immigration and the economy. He broke with the party’s previous support for proactive foreign engagements, and with its longstanding support of free trade. Before his presidential campaign he had been opposed to the right to life and the right to keep and bear arms but changed positions on these and other issues when he sought the Republican nomination.

I reluctantly endorsed Trump in 2016. At the time I said, “We have no voting record on which to base our judgment, and so we can only refer to what we know about the man’s character, and what he has promised in his campaign. We do know that, while he is now the darling of the grassroots right, Trump is not a conservative. He is a center-left, big-government Republican.” I pointed out that he was wrong about torture, restrictions on free speech and press, illegal domestic surveillance, reining in the scope of the federal government, balancing the budget, and more. And, of course, I also pointed out that he is a “self-aggrandizing blowhard, a narcissist, and an opportunist.”

But he at least promised to uphold those fundamental human rights that were under the greatest threat—the right to life and the right to keep and bear arms—even though his former support for these had been lacking. And, most importantly, he promised to appoint justices to the United States Supreme Court who would stand for human rights and limited government. In the end, that was the deciding factor in my vote. Trump, for his part, kept his promises in these areas.

Some things about Trump are as distasteful now as they were before. Most notably, he spouts off with insults and half-truths far too often, and he is prone to oversimplification and hyperbole even when he is fundamentally correct. But the polemic press and the unhinged opposition has made it very difficult for the casual observer to fairly judge what Trump says and does. So much of what they report about him is only tangentially related to his actual words or, more importantly, his obvious and discernable intent.

I’ll offer just one well-known example that is emblematic of this problem. Remember how, after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Trump said there were “‘very fine people on both sides?” You probably believe that he was defending white supremacists. That’s what the press has told you. That’s what prominent Democrats have told you. But that just isn’t what happened.

You can just read the actual transcript of that news conference. Shortly before the infamous quote, he said, “I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.” And soon after it, he added, “And you had people—and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists—because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists.”

If you read the whole thing in context, or if you happened to watch the news conference like I did, it was obvious what he was trying to say, even if he was saying it in his usual inarticulate, “Trumpy” way. It was also obvious if you paid any attention to what had happened in Charlottesville that he was essentially right. The press and Trump’s political opponents (but I repeat myself) willfully chose to lie about what he said, and now millions of people believe something about Trump that is untrue—that he has never condemned white supremacists, or, worse, that he actually supports them.

Hardened Trump haters won’t hear this because they don’t want to. Some will accuse me of being a pro-Trump partisan; I’m not, of course, but my commentary will be summarily dismissed by them anyway. C’est la vie. Many people are completely unhinged about this president. They hate him so much that they will believe anything negative about him, no matter how absurd, no matter how thinly sourced, no matter how easily debunked. Even when an accusation has been conclusively disproved, his detractors will just repeat it as fact anyway and then yell insults at you if you dare to question or clarify it. It’s insane . . . and far beyond the indefensible, condemnable, hateful vitriol that was directed at either President George W. Bush (R) or President Barack Obama (D).

Anyway, with that out of the way we can turn to some key accomplishments for which Trump and his administration deserve praise.

First, the government has begun to defend our borders more effectively. There is much more to do, and Trump has faced constant opposition on this front, but progress has been made. Second, the Trump administration has made great strides in eliminating harmful and unnecessary federal regulations. Third, improved economic and tax policies under Trump allowed the economy to kick itself out of its Bush/Obama slump, and we were on track for record growth before COVID-19 got in the way. Fourth, and most importantly of all, Trump has nominated capable textualists to the United States Supreme Court—Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh—which has shifted the court into a narrow majority for human rights and limited government. We can assume that, if we reelect him, progress will continue in these areas.

On the largest crisis to face the country during this presidency—the COVID-19 epidemic—Trump has done better than he gets credit for. Before we analyze the administration’s response, we must first acknowledge that the blame for this whole debacle falls at the feet of the government of China and at the World Health Organization (WHO). As the disease began to spread in Wuhan, China, the Chinese government tried to hide it, did not make the required notifications to the WHO, prevented outside researchers from evaluating the situation, and later lied about the severity of the disease and how it was spreading. The WHO, showing a troubling deference to the Chinese regime, did not take appropriate steps to determine the reality on the ground even after China finally made the proper notifications. Once the WHO finally had the information it needed, its leaders still failed to recommend travel lockdowns and other containment measures until it was months too late to do any good. Once COVID-19 was a pandemic, the WHO spent weeks advocating for useless containment measures and dragged its feet on moving the world into the mitigation phase. Hundreds of thousands of people died as a direct result.

This means that the U.S. government had no real opportunity to prevent this epidemic from happening, or to stop it from killing as many Americans as it has. That ship had sailed in Wuhan thanks to China and the WHO. When this is over, they should both be made to pay for their failures. As far as the U.S. response, it has been imperfect but generally sound. Arguments to the contrary are based only in some mix of shameless politics, hatred of the president, and ignorance about this virus and epidemiology generally. The people who think our government failed us are the same people who are wearing masks when they’re in their cars by themselves.

With 20/20 hindsight we know we should have made travel lockdowns earlier, and we should have ramped-up production of personal protective equipment (PPE) more quickly. But we kicked ourselves into gear and caught up. The White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) made sound recommendations to the governors, who were free to adapt that guidance to their local situations. We were able to ramp-up and distribute PPE efficiently after those early missteps. We produced and distributed more COVID-19 tests more quickly than any other nation in the world. And the federal government—especially the U.S. military—responded rapidly to state requests for assistance during flare-ups, most impressively at the height of the outbreak in New York City, when the U.S. Navy deployed the USNS Comfort hospital ship and the U.S. Army established a field hospital at the Javits Convention Center.

It is easy to cast bricks at your political opponents and claim they are mismanaging a crisis, but it is much harder to propose sound alternatives. It is not clear what, if anything, a Democratic president would have done differently. Each state has the primary responsibility for managing this crisis within its borders. Some did well, and some did not. The role of the federal government is to provide clear guidance and support and coordinate the state responses. That’s exactly what it did and what it is still doing. State-level failures in New York and elsewhere cannot be laid at the feet of the president.

The handling of PPE, ramp-up of COVID-19 testing, dissemination of guidance to the states, and deployment of military support would likely have been almost the same under any president. I trust that President Barack Obama (D) would have been just as effective, as would have a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton (D). There might have been some small differences in travel policy and interstate coordination, but these would have made little difference. Indeed, when the Biden campaign proposed its own seven-point COVID-19 response plan, it proposed six things that the Trump administration had already done and one that the administration lacked the legal authority to do anyway—the imposition of a national mask mandate. It is unclear what good that would have done anyway since almost every state imposed one of their own.

With all this in mind, how shall we evaluate Trump as president?

First, brush aside the miscommunications, gaffes, flubs, and obnoxious Tweets that Trump is prone to make every day or two. These are often regrettable, but, at their core, they are only distractions. Sometimes they are distractions on purpose; a lot of you keep falling for it. Also brush aside the false reporting and lies that you hear about Trump and his administration from his political opposition and what little is left of the American press. Most of these have been manufactured (like the “good people” controversy described above). The few that have been real have been blown far, far out of proportion.

Once you have done this, examine what remains with an open mind. You’ll find, perhaps to your surprise, that Trump has done an okay job.

Joe Biden (D)

Joe Biden

Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) stands as the Democratic Party nominee to challenge incumbent President Donald Trump (R). He is joined on the Democratic ticket by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Biden began his career as a law clerk before becoming a public defender and then an attorney in private practice at a firm in Delaware. While practicing law, he also served as a member of the county council of New Castle County, Delaware. He holds a history and political science degree from the University of Delaware and a law degree from Syracuse University.

In 1972, Biden was elected to the United States Senate representing the state of Delaware. He was reelected six more times and served in that body until his resignation in 2009. As of this writing, he was the longest-serving senator from Delaware, the eighteenth longest-serving U.S. senator, and the youngest senator ever to cast over ten thousand votes. Biden unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and 2008. From 2009 to 2017, Biden served as Vice President of the United States under President Barack Obama (D).

Biden has a reputation as a down-to-earth politician with middle-class and blue-collar appeal. During his senate career he famously traveled between Delaware and Washington, DC, on Amtrak trains, and his political style harked back to the days when politicians across party aisles had good personal relationships with one another and were willing to seek compromise. For much of his career he was considered a moderate or mainline Democrat, but in recent years he has shifted much more in line with his radicalizing party.

This year’s Democratic primary contest was unusually complex and raucous. Biden defeated twenty-eight other candidates, including Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), an independent senator and self-described socialist. The primary was largely seen as a contest between the ‘old guard’ mainline Democrats and the party’s rapidly growing socialist wing.

The primaries, and the state of the modern Democratic Party, left Biden with a stark choice: He could stand his ground, defend his pragmatic record, and resist the radicalization of his party . . . and possibly lose the nomination . . . or he could lurch leftward himself in a craven effort to win votes. He chose the latter. One example of this shift is his changing position on the “Hyde Amendment,” which prohibits federal tax dollars from being used for abortions. This is widely supported, even by many supporters of so-called “abortion rights,” and Biden championed it for decades. Well, in the John Kerry style, he was “for it before he was against it.” He repudiated his position on the “Hyde Amendment” earlier this year, thus abandoning the last shred of compromise he made with his own conscience on the human right to life.

Biden’s human rights record is indeed troubling. His longstanding denial of the right of every human being to live—recently hardened—is joined by consistent opposition to the right to keep and bear arms, freedom of speech for groups, free exercise of religion, and freedom of association. He does not support any apparent limits on government. There are other problems as well; he supports numerous policies that violate the equal protection clause—affirmative action, “progressive” taxation, etc.—and all kinds of ill-advised big government (and big spending) programs. He calls these “bold ideas.” I call them unconstitutional nonsense.

It would be bad enough if these things would be limited to his actions over four or eight years as president, but, like four years ago, the next president is likely to have great impact on the future balance of the U.S. Supreme Court. Here, Biden is likely to appoint justices who will consistently oppose our most basic and essential rights under some fuzzy “living constitution” concept of jurisprudence.

That is a significant threat in any election, but it took on special significance in 2016 and, thanks to an unexpected confluence of events, it takes on special significance again now. Following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death last month, Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the court. She is likely (but not guaranteed) to be confirmed by Senate before the election. This would move the court into a much more solid pro-liberty state, which is a good thing . . . but many hard-left Democrats see Barrett’s nomination as a serious threat to their longstanding strategy of rewriting the constitution through the court. And more reasonable Democrats and moderates also point out, correctly, that only four years ago Republicans themselves declared that such a nomination should not be acted upon in a presidential election year.

As a result, prominent Democrats have advocated “packing the court” if Barrett is confirmed and Biden is elected. The U.S. Constitution does not specify the number of Supreme Court justices—it is fixed at nine by law, and law can be changed. By adding seats to the court, the sitting president at the time would be able to ‘rebalance’ the court in their favor. Biden has repeatedly refused to answer the simple question: Would he “pack the court” if Barrett is confirmed?

Biden’s policy positions also include a lot of debunked nonsense. His opponent is certainly not immune to falling for nice-sounding gibberish, but while Trump’s blather is good for laughs or facepalms, Biden intends to actually base policies on absurdities that charlatan “experts” have sold him and his party. His campaign statements hit all the trendy, postmodern buttons . . . a lot of half-baked talk about imaginary wage gaps, gender theory, white privilege, and climate change. Either he’s pandering to the wackiest corners of the Democratic base or he’s pretty gullible . . . or both.

All in all, he is a typical, doctrinaire Democrat. This was less worrisome in days past when the party was less radical, but as it flings itself off the leftward cliff Biden seems to be going right along with it. He is likely to support bad economic policy, bad tax policies, bad spending policies, and a mixed-bag of good and bad foreign policies. He is likely to reimpose countless unnecessary regulations, especially relating to the environment.

We must also look at how a hypothetical President Biden would deal with the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Although the worst of it is now long past, it is likely to continue simmering into the next presidential term. As discussed earlier in this review of the 2020 presidential candidates, the current administration’s handling of this crisis has been imperfect but generally sound. Amusingly, when the Biden campaign proposed its own seven-point COVID-19 response plan, it just listed six things the Trump administration was already doing and one that presidents have no authority to do. Biden eventually provided more in-depth information about what he might do differently . . . but those additions can be summed up as, “Spend trillions of dollars we don’t have on a whole bunch of hand-outs, mostly for the Democrats’ pet groups and issues.”

Our relief efforts so far have struck a reasonable balance between providing useful assistance and not bankrupting the country. Biden seems to think we should err much more on the “bankrupt” side. Our national debt was already at a crisis point before COVID-19, brought about by decades of insane spending by congresses and administrations of both major parties. This epidemic forced us to take on more, but we must show at least some restraint. We can’t just spend like our national credit line has no limit. There is a limit. It’s not possible to know exactly what it is until we hit it, but, when we do, the economic impact of COVID-19 will end up looking like a tiny blip in comparison. More COVID-19 relief may be necessary, but we have to be really careful about not going overboard. We must not create an economic catastrophe greater than the one COVID-19 wrought.

Minor Candidates

Minor candidates are defined by Off on a Tangent as those likely to receive less than five percent of the popular vote for an office.

Jo Jorgensen (L)

Jo Jorgensen

Doctor Jo Jorgensen (L) stands as the Libertarian Party candidate for President of the United States. She is joined on the Libertarian ticket by Jeremy “Spike” Cohen (L). Jorgensen is a psychology professor at Clemson University who holds a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University, an MBA from Southern Methodist University, and a PhD from Clemson.

Like most Libertarians, Jorgensen is right about many of the important issues. She supports most of the human rights, especially those of liberty and property, including the right to keep and bear arms. She advocates for a much less expansive federal government. Her political party is the only one with a consistent and clear-headed belief in individual freedom. This is paired, however, with an indefensible denial of the right to life. Jorgensen—again, like most Libertarians—sees abortion only through the lens of the mother’s right to her own body. She fails to understand the moral and scientific fact that another person’s life is taken without their consent. Most Libertarians acknowledge that government can and should protect innocent people from being harmed by others. This is why governments exist. The right to life is a disappointing blind spot in their otherwise sound reasoning. Here, one person’s liberty rights are improperly elevated over another person’s life rights, which are higher in the hierarchy of the human rights to life, liberty, and property.

While a Libertarian president would be unlikely to sign laws or take executive action to protect the unborn, they would be likely to appoint Supreme Court justices who would return the issue to the states and eliminate the unconstitutional federal imposition of so-called “abortion rights.” This would be an improvement from the status quo but would fall short of the firm reassertion of the right to life that the court ought to adopt.

­Jorgensen would enact sound economic policies, work to reduce and eventually eliminate the national debt and deficit spending, end involvement in foreign wars and bring home all of our troops stationed overseas, adopt free trade policies with no tariffs or trade barriers, and eliminate most restrictions on immigration. On some of these issues she goes too far; the U.S. does have a role to play in the international sphere, and open immigration must be paired with reasonable security precautions and enforcement.

Overall, Jorgensen’s policy proposals are sound . . . and in some ways they are better than those put forth by either of the major candidates. And yet, she denies the foremost human right—the one upon which all others rest. If there is no right to life, and if governments cannot defend that right, then none of the other individual rights and freedoms she talks about are worth a hill of beans.

Conclusion

Here we are again . . . faced with a mess of a presidential election.

We can come to one conclusion right out of the gate: Voting for former Vice President Joe Biden (D) would be a very bad idea. On nearly every important issue facing the country, he is wrong. As his party shifts further off to the socialist left—and Biden follows right along with them—he becomes more and more likely to do serious harm to the nation, especially in the areas of human rights, the economy, and taxation. He would appoint justices to the United States Supreme Court who would uphold and expand a lot of “living constitution” flimflam. It’s true that Biden is a likeable guy; he’s like America’s lovable, goofy uncle. I’d love to sit down with him, have a beer (non-alcoholic, in his case), and talk politics. But as much as I like him I just can’t vote for him.

President Donald Trump (R), for his part, presents a quandary much like the one he presented in 2016. He’s not a good guy. He is crass and opportunistic, and there is little indication that he really believes in anything other than himself. He is an embarrassment. Character counts, and Trump apparently has none. But character counts less than policy, and, on policy, Trump has generally done a better job than I expected him to. He and his administration have improved border defense, slashed harmful federal regulations, and adopted generally sound economic and tax policies. Most importantly of all, he sent two textualist justices to the United States Supreme Court, and a third is now awaiting confirmation (process concerns about that appointment notwithstanding). Having said all that, I have serious quarrels with him on free trade and deficit spending.

Doctor Jo Jorgensen (L) presents her own quandary. She is on the right track on many key issues, including limited government, individual liberty, deficit spending, and trade. Yet she is disastrously wrong about the first and most important issue—the human right to life—and too extreme on the Pollyanna side of foreign policy and border security. And there is another factor that must play into our consideration every time we look at “third party” candidates like Jorgensen. Do we vote for the best available candidate, even if they have no chance of winning, or do we vote for the “lesser of two evils” among the candidates that have a chance? This is not an easy question to answer. I have used both approaches in different races, and the usual deciding factor between them is my estimate of how damaging the worst of the two major party candidates might be. If they are likely to cause irreparable or long-term harm, then I’ll try to deny them the office by voting for the better of the two major party candidates. Otherwise, I’ll vote for the candidate I think is best, regardless of their chances.

In 2016, after much difficulty, I endorsed and later voted for Trump. Evan McMullen (I), a Republican running as an independent, and former Governor Gary Johnson (R-NM), the Libertarian Party nominee, were objectively better choices . . . but it was most important to try to prevent former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) from winning. I voted accordingly, and I encouraged others to do the same. As I said then, “Four or eight years of President Clinton won’t destroy America . . . but ten, twenty, or thirty years of her nominees serving on the Supreme Court very well might.” The court was hanging in the balance, and with it hung our most fundamental rights and our most precious liberties. The seriousness of the threat warranted a “lesser of two evils” vote.

Are the stakes that high today? Well . . . it’s complicated.

On the face of it, the answer seems to be “no.” The Supreme Court now has a narrow “conservative” majority. Following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett—a textualist—to the court, and she seems likely to be confirmed by the Senate (thanks to shameless Republican hypocrisy on election year nominations). It is reasonable to assume that, if Barrett is confirmed, the court would have a reliable majority for human rights and constitutional government. But there are two problems with this assumption.

The first is Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts was appointed to the court by President George W. Bush (R) and was part of the “conservative” bloc on the court when conservatives were in the minority, but as the ideological makeup of the court shifted to the right Roberts shifted to the left. He now has a bizarre habit of sacrificing facts and logic at the altar of precedent, comity, or both. The narrow “conservative” majority is turning out to be more of an even balance.

The second is the credible threat by prominent Democrats to “pack” the court if Barrett is confirmed and Biden is elected. The U.S. Constitution does not define the number of justices on the court; it has been set at nine by law since 1869. Many Democrats are suggesting that, if Barrett is confirmed and Biden wins, the number of justices should be increased so Biden can realign the court to his liking.

This is not a new idea. In 1937, frustrated that the Supreme Court kept finding his unconstitutional “New Deal” initiatives to be (surprise!) unconstitutional, President Franklin Roosevelt (D) proposed his own “court packing” plan. It failed after facing strong congressional opposition, even from within his own party. But there is a real danger that Biden and Democrats in Congress will take their revenge on Republicans—who they believe are “stealing” the Ginsburg seat—by following through.

Biden has so far refused to say whether he would support or oppose any such plan. With the idea gaining real currency on the political left, his persistent silence is starting to smell like a deniable endorsement. Even if Biden came out in opposition, as he should, it would be difficult to trust him. Would he keep his promise if his own party in Congress sent an actual court packing bill to his desk? Neither party seems to be very good at letting principle guide them when there are real political points to be scored. Even if Biden is inclined to keep his promise, he will face immense pressure from his own party, especially if the court ends up overturning some “progressive” precedent.

The depressing fact of the matter is that the court is still hanging in the balance, though the situation is not as critical as it was four years ago. It is unfortunate that we have given the Supreme Court so much power to rewrite the constitution to its political whims, but that is where we are now. The only way to reassert the right to life and right to keep and bear arms, and the only way to protect our other human rights, is to get more sane textualists on the court. And the only way to do that is to deny the presidency to those, like Biden, who would appoint “living constitution” activists . . . especially when the threat of “court packing” is on the table.

A Biden presidency is less likely to lead to an existential crisis for human rights and limited government in America than a Clinton one in 2016 . . . but voting for Biden is not “safe.” He would still pose a threat to these most cherished values, and he would seriously undermine our immigration enforcement efforts, reinstate countless harmful regulations, enact counterproductive economic and tax policies, and add to the national debt even faster than Trump. Even just on the subject of economics, a return to Bush/Obama malaise policies under Biden could be catastrophic, since COVID-19 already has the economy in a precarious position.

I tried very hard to avoid endorsing Trump. I don’t like him, and I don’t trust him. I have long argued for a more civil, respectful kind of politics, and Trump is . . . well, the exact opposite of that. One draft version of this article endorsed Jorgensen. Another concluded with no endorsement at all. For a few moments I seriously considered endorsing Biden, as some old-guard conservatives and “small-l” libertarians have . . . though that notion never made it past the first couple of paragraphs.

But, given the situation in this country described above, we have no choice but to vote for the “lesser of two evils” in hopes of denying the presidency to Biden. I reluctantly endorse the reelection of President Donald Trump as President of the United States.