Why choosing the 'least worse candidate' in the U.S. election is a false argument

Why the choice between Clinton and Trump is no choice at all.


Canada’s position next to the United States is like a mouse living next to an elephant. If the elephant rolls over, it could put the mouse’s life in serious danger. No wonder Canadians are watching the U.S. presidential election campaign in the same way a bystander might gravitate to a gruesome car crash.

Political scientists and keen observers of elections have not seen anything like this race to the bottom by a presidential candidate in our lifetime. Exactly one month before the election, a despicable “hot mike” video starring a lewd and vulgar Donald Trump emerged. In it, he is heard discussing what can only be interpreted as sexual assault. The video, shot 11 years ago, threw Trump’s campaign into a tailspin and brought a new low to American politics.

Trump has apologized (sort of) for those comments. But it is clear that what he was bragging about was more than just “locker room” talk. It is not a stretch for anyone who has followed Trump over the years to believe that he may be capable of groping women and kissing them without their consent, as evidenced by the growing list of women who’ve accused him of sexual misconduct.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks has published hacked emails of the Democratic Party campaign staff and exposed some of the inner workings of the Clinton campaign. The impression that the Republican Party is giving is that Hillary Clinton is also a flawed candidate. The argument they are making is that Hillary Clinton is duplicitous, power-hungry and secretive. For those of us who try to be balanced and fair, there is a tendency to listen to both sides of the argument before making any judgment on either candidate.

But I am careful not to buy into the false equivalency narrative—that somehow there is a comparison to be made between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The notion that these two candidates are so bad that Americans have to hold their noses and choose "the least worse candidate" is ridiculous. On any objective measure, Clinton is by far the superior candidate. Trump is demonstrating, apart from his moral and ethical failings, that he is totally unfit for the position of president.

While I understand that Trump's supporters are loyal and willing to overlook his ineptness, there is a growing sense that, despite Hillary's flaws, she has a better temperament; she actually reads and grasps the science behind climate change; she has political, legislative and executive experience; she has extensive foreign policy experience; she has a track record of fighting for women and girls, not only in the U.S. but around the globe; she is measured and diplomatic; and she thinks and speaks coherently. She has a well-vetted socio-economic policy platform that actually makes sense to most legitimate economists and other academics.

To see the difference between Clinton and Trump, all you have to do is to read any transcript of Trump's debate speeches to realize the extent to which Trump is inchoate, superficial, misogynist, sexist, bigoted and tone-deaf. Just because he says he has "the best temperament" or that he has "the best words" doesn't make it so. Trump has always been prone to self-aggrandizement, self-promotion and "truthful hyperbole" but during this campaign he has also revealed himself to be petulant, thin-skinned, intellectually not curious, dishonest and demagogic in a very scary way. Now that he is losing in the polls, he is blaming the media, international banks and financiers, his own party, and minority groups.

Recent national polls indicate the gap between Trump and Clinton is widening. Given his performance in recent days, my sense is that the gap will increasingly widen and may even hit that 15-point difference that some observers speculate it should have been already at this stage. And as we get closer to election day, the "bandwagoning" effect could kick in as independent voters, millennials and undecided voters see the writing on the wall and realize that Trump is unable to expand his base.

Every time I listen to Trump and his surrogates, I feel like tearing my hair out. But instead, I simply invoke Obama: "Come on, man!”

Is this the best we can expect of someone who aspires to be the leader of the free world? Our American neighbours should not delude themselves into thinking that somehow Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are "equivalent." They are not.

W. Andy Knight is professor of international relations at the University of Alberta.