Englishman Thomas Hobson, lore has it, was a 16th Century livery stable owner who offered his customers the horse in the first stall or no horse at all.
It wasn’t really a choice, obviously, but “Hobson’s choice” made it into Merriam-Webster anyway.
Never Trump Republicans feel they are facing such a dilemma now. They can reluctantly succumb to the Democratic “horse in the stall” or write in the name of their favorite poet or dead president at the ballot box on Nov. 8 in lieu of the Republican. Donald Trump isn’t an option.
But additionally damning news last week of Hillary Clinton’s wildly unethical and perhaps illegal actions as secretary of state has made this election a true Hobson’s choice in the end, at least for voters who insist on a White House occupant with a modicum of ethics.
The choice is Libertarian Gary Johnson or no horse at all, even if he blew the question Thursday morning about Aleppo, the Syrian city at the center of that nation’s refugee crisis. Johnson can get smarter about foreign policy. Clinton's and Trump's deficiencies involve character, and no briefing can fix that.
Both Clinton and Trump have shown they can’t be trusted with power — period. Neither tells the truth — the constant mistruths are almost pathological — and each has a default switch that pursues personal gain over public good, even over public security in Clinton’s case. To put a finer point on it: Trump and Clinton have morally disqualified themselves from the presidency.
Never Trumpers have spent months cataloging the fatal character flaws of the eventual Republican nominee, opening us up to fair criticism that we were letting Clinton off the hook. I’ve been guilty of that.
Last week’s release of a new crop of Clinton files by the FBI — on a Friday before Labor Day, no less — cured me of any remaining notion that Clinton is fit to serve as president, especially when there’s a well-qualified alternative available.
Johnson, a former two-term Republican governor of deep-blue New Mexico, and his running mate, former two-term Republican governor of deep-blue Massachusetts Bill Weld, have been in the public eye for decades without dishonor. They are demonstrated small-government fiscal conservatives and social liberals, though no more so than either Clinton or Trump, depending on the day.
It’s insulting to speak of governors of genuine prestige and accomplishment as backup choices for president and vice president. Yet there they are. But they’re more than that, too: Johnson and Weld are a blessing to Americans who have been looking despondently at two empty stalls, unaware that there’s a third.
But Johnson and Weld need to make their move now. They need to get better known, and fast. If Johnson doesn’t reach 15 percent in the designated national polls, he won’t be allowed in the national debates that start later this month at Hofstra University. Johnson is currently averaging 8.4 percent in the national polls, according to Real Clear Politics.
Never Trumpers, myself included, have for some reason been unwilling to go all in for Johnson-Weld up until now. It may be their stand-offish foreign policy or their liberality when it comes to things like marijuana laws. Maybe we don’t want to be tagged as liberals ourselves, or perhaps we just don’t want to go out on the limb for a long-shot ticket and risk looking stupid.
But when the alternative is a former secretary of state who used her office to enrich her family with foreign money, putting national security at risk in the process, or a famously untrustworthy candidate absent any core moral or philosophical convictions, is there really any choice at all?
Welcome to Hobson’s Stable.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.