Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photo: Getty Images
the national interest

Anti-Anti-Trumpers Say the Character Issue Between Biden and Trump Is a Tie

Every Trump flaw must have an equal and opposite flaw in his rival.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photo: Getty Images

Imagine you are the sort of conservative who can’t stand Donald Trump but hates the Democrats more. As an anti-anti-Trump conservative, your dreams of moving gently past the ugliness of recent years by turning to Ron DeSantis are turning to dust. You are staring at the likelihood of a Trump-Biden rematch, which will put you in the uncomfortable position for the next 16 months (or longer) of once again sort of defending a professional swindler and confessed sexual predator with a narcissistic personality disorder.

Well, now you can breathe a sigh of relief. Evidence has emerged that Joe Biden is not the kindly grandfather he has been made out to be. The “character issue” is now a tie.

The new line is beginning to emerge in the wake of stories reporting that Joe Biden does not acknowledge one of Hunter Biden’s out-of-wedlock children as his grandchild and sometimes scolds his staff. “Mr. Trump, who comes across so bold, and Joe Biden, who wishes to seem so sly, strike me as roughly equal in their depravity,” proposes Joseph Epstein in the Wall Street Journal, “Low and seedy are the corruptions of which Messrs. Trump and Biden have been accused: molesting women, entering into dubious financial dealings with foreign corporations and governments, cavalierly mishandling important documents, and more.”

Biden’s “character is just as lacking as his predecessor’s,” writes Kaylee McGhee White in the Washington Examiner. “At least Trump didn’t try to pretend otherwise.” In a column titled “Joe Biden is an Asshole,” National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke concedes only, “I will freely stipulate that Donald Trump is an asshole, too — and that, in some ways, he’s an even worse one.” In some ways — not all ways, though, and not necessarily overall. Who’s to say which asshole is worse?

Before registering the astonishing level of partisanship that is required to equate the two candidates, I will concede a couple points. First, Biden’s character is a perfectly suitable subject for criticism.The president has generally benefited from the perception that he is a nice, caring person, and perhaps the recent stories ought to prompt some course correction from the general image of empathetic grandfather that has prevailed.

And second, character is perhaps the most subjective aspect of politics. Every human being contains a mix of positive and negative traits, and nobody even tries to hold some objective system for gauging which ones matter more than others. I think of John McCain as having a good character, but having an affair with a lobbyist and instructing your staff to lie about it is certainly not admirable behavior. These are matters of personal taste. It is generally difficult to say somebody’s assessment of a person’s character is “wrong.”

That said, it is impossible to imagine any kind of moral construct that would equate Joe Biden and Donald Trump as human beings. Even if we accept the harshest interpretation of his flaws, Biden has attracted a loyal coterie of aides who stayed by his side for decades. He enjoys giving personal counseling sessions to kids with speech impediments. He has maintained friendships with people ranging from Amtrak staffers to Republicans in Congress, many of whom speak of him in glowing terms.

“If you can’t admire Joe Biden as a person, you got a problem,” said Lindsey Graham in 2016, reflecting a general bipartisan consensus. “He’s the nicest person I think I’ve ever met in politics. He is as good a man as God ever created.”

I feel extremely confident that no Democrat in politics has ever said anything like this about Trump. Indeed, Trump is routinely depicted as amoral, comically vain and sociopathic by his own staffers.

Trump’s character flaws are so vast, and encompass so many realms of human behavior, that it poses an impossible task even to adequately summarize them. He has devoted his career in business to systematically swindling people through a long array of scams ranging from simple (refusing to pay tradesmen for services rendered) to the complex (creating a fake university designed to drain the bank accounts of his targets). He assaults women and calls them ugly when they complain about it, lies pathologically, and by universal consensus lacks even the slightest care about any person other than himself. His relatively small offenses — faking an injury to evade the draft, cheating his way into college, committing criminal tax fraud — would have alone disqualified a normal candidate but are simply drowned out by his other flaws.

Trump is the worst person ever to inhabit the presidency, and arguably one of the worst human beings in the United States of America. Even if you take the least charitable interpretation of Joe Biden’s character, he is orders of magnitude better of a person by any metric you wish to use: honesty, empathy, generosity, treatment of underlings, etc.

This absurd equation of the two is a revealing case, in extremis, of the general strategy used by anti-anti-Trumpers. On the whole, even the Trumpiest conservatives do not expend much energy making positive defenses of Trump. Instead they rest their argument on the most hyperbolic possible denunciation of his critics and rivals. Is Trump a crook? It’s no worse than the allegations against Biden claimed by various missing and/or fugitive Republican witnesses. Did Trump attempt a putsch? Let’s talk about liberals who oppose Bush versus Gore. Does Trump threaten the Constitution? Sure, just like Biden’s student-loan relief plan.

This enables them to justify support for Trump without defending him directly. The anti-anti-Trumpers can pose as honest critics, calling out with equal passion the flaws of Trump and everybody who stands in Trump’s way. (Except, of course, for Ron DeSantis, who obviously would never say anything rude to a staffer.)

To make this worldview hold up, every awful thing about Trump must have an equal and opposite flaw in his opponent. And so in the end, with everything else being a tie, they will vote for the candidate who signs the tax cuts and appoints conservative judges.

This column has been updated to include Epstein’s Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Anti-Anti-Trumpers Say the Character Issue Is a Tie