All the talk about Hillary Clinton’s health following her collapse in New York on Sunday should remind conservatives—and all Americans—of a simple and upsetting truth: the best-case scenario for the next four years is that we end up with President Mike Pence. The second-best scenario is that we get President Tim Kaine.
I don’t mean to be insensitive. It’s not like I hope Clinton is seriously ill. Same for Donald Trump. I hope they’re both in good health. But the events of the last several days have been a stark reminder that voters have no good choices in November.
At a fundraiser two days before her fainting spell, Clinton lumped half of Trump’s supporters into what she called a “basket of deplorables,” calling them racists, sexists, and bigots of one stripe or another. She said some of these people are “irredeemable.” The next day, sensing that maybe it’s a mistake to insult millions of voters two months from election day, she issued an apology of sorts—but reiterated that Trump panders to racists and bigots and the like. She vowed, “I won’t stop calling out bigotry and racist rhetoric in this campaign.”
Trump seized on the remarks, releasing a campaign ad Monday attacking Clinton for “viciously demonizing hard-working people.” The accusation might have had some bite if it didn’t come from a candidate who has himself disparaged—if not “demonized”—immigrants, Muslims, women generally, and even a federal judge of Mexican ancestry.
The exchange underscores the absurdity of this election: Clinton is just about the only Democrat who could lose to Trump, and Trump is certainly the only GOP candidate who could lose to Clinton. If there’s such a thing as a “basket of deplorables,” it’s this Clinton-Trump race.
Clinton’s troubling collapse, which her campaign eventually said was the result of previously diagnosed pneumonia, might now force voters to consider what would happen if a President Clinton or Trump were to become incapacitated while in office: the vice president would of course take over. With Clinton and Trump nearly tied for most unfavorable presidential candidate ever, disaffected voters might like nothing more than a Pence or Kaine administration.
Admittedly, Pence is not all that conservative. He has a long track record of jettisoning his principles at the first signs of resistance—like he did with Indiana’s insipid religious liberty bill, Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, and a shameful Common Core bait-and-switch. But like so much else this election season, his virtues lie in what he is not. Pence is not a lifelong Democrat. He is not an intemperate, thin-skinned carnival barker who regularly says incoherent things and lashes out at the media. He’s just a milquetoast politician of modest accomplishment who will not start a nuclear war with China. And that counts for something.
In the same way, there’s plenty for conservatives to dislike about Kaine, a mealy-mouthed career politician who is functionally ignorant of the long-held doctrines on marriage in his own church, and who flip-flopped on his own long-held abortion views when he entered the running for VP. But he doesn’t have a decades-long record of lying to the American people, mishandling classified information, and running a massive pay-to-play scheme using the State Department as a front. So he’s got that going for him.
Maybe Clinton and Trump are as healthy as they claim, and neither one of their running mates will ever be president. But given the basic unfitness for office of the two major-party nominees, it’s easy to see why having an ethically challenged, highly unpopular, elderly president in dangerously ill health might be appealing to voters this year. If so, could you really blame them?