Good thing the #NeverTrumpers aren't running for president

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Published by: Dan Calabrese on Monday May 09th, 2016

Because presidents - like CEOs and other leaders - don't get to sit out or make delusional fantasyland choices when none of the options are appealing.

Here's a scenario a real president could face one day soon:

Mr. President, Russia has amassed troops on the borders of Poland and the Czech Republic. Putin has cut off all diplomatic contact with the U.S. No negotiations are possible. We can send troops to defend our allies. If we do, we're looking at the potential for World War III. If we don't, we will be in violation of our NATO obligations and we risk losing two key allies to Russian occupation.

The scenario is strictly hypothetical, so don't waste your time arguing with me about whether it's likely. The point is that presidents get confronted with situations like these and they need to choose between the available options. In this case, both options are bad.

Now, the president can choose to defend our allies and risk war. That could turn out very bad. He could choose to stand down and see these nations fall back under Russian occupation, which would not only be a disaster for the Czechs and the Poles but would also embolden the Russians to go further into Europe. That could be a disaster.

What he can't do is do what a #NeverTrumper would do and say this: Both of these options are unacceptable! They violate my principles! Stop trying to bully me into choosing between two evils!

He doesn't get to do that. He has to choose among the options that are actually available to him. Nor can he choose a fantasyland option because it makes him feel better about himself. He can't say: I choose to send in magical happy horse who will turn the Russian forces into Red Cross workers bringing food and medicine to the Czechs and the Poles instead of aggression. Because that is consistent with my principles.

Well, he can say that. But if he does he's essentially checking out of his leadership role. He'll have chosen not to deal with reality.

Now, his advisors might say: Mr. President, if we don't do something our allies could fall.

If he were a #NeverTrumper, he might respond by saying: That's not on me! I didn't invade! You can't blame me for an invasion I didn't choose!

But presidents don't get to think like that. Neither do CEOs. Neither do mayors, governors or anyone else who accepts a leadership role. One of the hard things about leadership is that you sometimes have no choice but to choose from a set of options that contain no good one. All you can do is choose the option you think can be best managed. If every choices brings with it some problem, you have to look at the potential problems and decide which one offers the best hope for a path back to success.

But you can't simply refuse to choose, or choose some irrelevant nonsense choice because you are oh so principled. Real life, and real leadership, don't work that way. Real leaders have to accept that they are responsible not only for the choice, but for the results.

The only real choices we have in this race are:

  1. Trump wins.
  2. Hillary wins.

If you want to choose to sit out or vote third-party, or do a write-in, you are choosing the path of our hypothetical president who wants to send in the magical horse because it makes him feel better about himself. You're choosing your own moral vanity so you can preen about it on social media, while the rest of us are left to deal with the consequences of the result you decided not to have a say in.

I could tell you I respect your adherence to principle, but the truth is I don't care about it one way or the other. I only care about the result, and I'm prepared to deal with the real-life choices we have even if you are not. One of the choices we have is a guaranteed, unmitigated disaster. The other one might be made to work if we surround the new president with the right people and give him the right counsel, and if a Republican Congress sends him the right bills to sign into law.

Anyone who understands executive decision-making knows this is an obvious, if not a perfectly pleasant, choice. Those of you who don't understand that and want to vote for unicorns instead have shown that you're in no position to judge who is suited for the presidency, because by your own actions you demonstrate you don't really know anything about it.

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