By BRET STEPHENS
Sept. 12, 2016 7:17 p.m. ET
Q: How can you call yourself a conservative columnist when you’re rooting for Hillary Clinton in this election?
A: Because Donald Trump is anti-conservative, un-American, immoral and dangerous.
Q: And Hillary Clinton is a conservative who personifies all that we hold dear as Americans and has a terrific record in government?
A: Not at all. She’s conventionally liberal, politically opportunistic and ethically challenged.
Q: And you support her?
A: I wish it weren’t so. But what’s the choice?
Q: The choice is a Republican candidate who may disagree with Wall Street Journal orthodoxies on trade and immigration but otherwise wants to cut taxes and regulations, strengthen defense, appoint conservative judges, and take advice from people like Mike Pence and Paul Ryan.
A: You seem to think we elect a policy menu. My fundamental objection to Mr. Trump is that he is unfit, as a person, to be president.
Q: Oh, please. I’ll grant he’s a bit rough around the edges, but that’s because he’s a nonpolitician. He’s also a brilliant businessman who made billions of dollars.
A: I might believe that claim if he would release his tax returns, or if six of his businesses hadn’t gone bankrupt, or if he hadn’t been involved in more than 4,000 lawsuits, or if he didn’t routinely shortchange his suppliers or stiff his charities.
Q: Spoken like an elitist who doesn’t know what it’s like to run a business.
A: The successful entrepreneurs I know run their businesses with prudence, openness and integrity.
Q: Still, you can’t argue with success.
A: What Mr. Trump has achieved isn’t success. It’s notoriety. He has more in common with Kanye West than he does with Steve Wynn. And he isn’t just rough around the edges. He’s rotten to the core.
Q: Why, because every so often he says something ill-considered or politically incorrect? We’ve all said things we regret. Hillary lies all the time.
A: The difference is that Mrs. Clinton lies tactically to protect herself politically. Mr. Trump lies compulsively to aggrandize himself or belittle vulnerable people, whether it’s a handicapped reporter or a bereaved mother.
Q: They’re both flawed characters. But we’re electing a president, not the pope. And as a conservative, his views are much closer to mine.
A: Mr. Trump’s nativist brand of politics is much further removed from conservatism than Mrs. Clinton’s mainstream liberalism.
Q: And how do you define conservatism?
A: A principled commitment to limited government, free markets, constitutional rights, equal opportunity, personal responsibility, e pluribus unum and Pax Americana.
Q: Trump believes in most of that.
A: Except he doesn’t, starting with the Constitution. His plan to end birthright citizenship runs afoul of the 14th Amendment. His threat to “open up those libel laws” so he can sue his critics is a threat to press freedom. His attack on “Mexican” Judge Gonzalo Curiel was an assault on the American creed.
Q: That was just Trump spouting off.
A: What you call “spouting off” is an insight into Mr. Trump’s mind. It betrays an instinctive illiberalism. That’s why he attracts so much praise from Jean-Marie Le Pen and David Duke. It’s why he keeps praising Vladimir Putin.
Q: Trump praises Putin because he’s popular at home, respected abroad and gets things done. That used to be true of U.S. presidents like Eisenhower, but it isn’t true of Barack Obama. Isn’t it time we had an effective leader?
A: Putin isn’t respected. He’s feared. Any thoughtful conservative would sooner have an incompetent democratic government than an efficiently autocratic one.
Q: We’ve got $19 trillion in debt, a murder rate on the rise, Islamic State on a rampage, and millions of working-age men who have given up looking for work. Sorry, but these are not normal times.
A: We’ve overcome worse—think of the 1970s. What isn’t normal is the sudden taste for buffoonish leaders preaching drastic remedies. It’s one thing for the Philippines to elect a character like Rodrigo Duterte. It’s another for his American equivalent to become leader of the free world.
Q: This is America, with institutions to provide checks and balances against an overreaching president. Speaking of institutions, what have you got to say about the fact that we’re one justice away from losing the Supreme Court to liberals for a generation?
A: What makes you so sure that a man who disdains a strict interpretation of the Constitution would appoint strict constructionists?
Q: Look, with Hillary I know what I’m getting and it’s a disaster. With Trump, there’s a chance he’ll keep his promises and grow in office.
A: If you’re truly confident in American institutions, then we’ll ride out Mrs. Clinton just as we have Mr. Obama. As for Mr. Trump, the man you see as nominee is the man you’ll get as president, only with more vanity and vastly more power. As the man himself likes to say, “You think I’m going to change? I’m not changing.” That’s one promise you know he’ll keep.