Donald Trump is unqualified to be president of the United States, and Republicans ought to be embarrassed he is their nominee.
For largely different reasons, Hillary Clinton is also unqualified to be president of the United States, and Democrats ought to be embarrassed she is their nominee.
"False equivalence!" the scolds will cry. But the two need not be equivalent in all or most senses in order for them to be equivalent in one crucial matter: They both fail a basic test of fitness for the presidency of our constitutional republic.
This wasn't true of other recent nominees. Mitt Romney was naïve about policymaking, Barack Obama was inexperienced and too liberal, John McCain was a bit impetuous and under-informed on economics, John Kerry was mostly just uninspired and uninspiring, and George W. Bush was too much of a cowboy.
These are all weaknesses, and a president's weakness can always be dangerous. But our republican democracy was built for government by men (and women) and not just by angels. Our government is resilient enough to withstand a deeply flawed president.
An incontinent, narcissistic, authoritarian president would be a dire threat, though. So, also, would be a president whose decades in government taught her that she is above the rule of law and the rules of morality — that she has the right to lie and obfuscate, and to ignore the law.
Which is the lesser of the two evils? Impermeable murk makes this question impossible to answer with confidence. I can't judge any American who decides to vote based on his or her calculation of the lesser of two evils. But before even putting the evils on a scale, it's important to state that either a Trump presidency or a Clinton presidency would indeed be an evil.
Trump has done a very good job this summer of showing us why he is unfit for the job — good enough that it's easy to forget why Hillary is unfit.
Set aside her consistent bad judgment on foreign policy (see Iraq and Libya), her extreme corporatism and her continuous and unexplained flip-flopping. Those are all traits that would position her at the edge of acceptability and only slightly worse than every other major party nominee of my lifetime.
Hillary disqualified herself when she took extraordinary means to ensure she could break the transparency laws that ensure government accountability — and then consistently and constantly misled and lied about it.
Clinton set up her own email server, conducted government business on it, hiding her emails from the legal authorities. She failed to turn them over when she left office (as required by law), and she deleted more than 30,000 of them before turning some hand-picked ones over to the legal authorities.
Then she lied about it consistently. She doesn't believe that her public business is the public's business.
"It's clear Hillary resents having to explain her email handling," the Business Insider's Josh Barro wrote on Twitter recently, "therefore won't level with the public about it."
Clinton sees open-government laws and transparency requirements the way D.C. drivers see the Rock Creek Parkway's 25-mile-an-hour speed limit, and air passengers see the requirement to remove their shoes: As a stupid, annoying set of rules that she is justified in flaunting.
Clinton defenders like to snark that Hillary's supposed crime was a shortcoming in "email server management." Pretending a symptom of the problem is the essence of the problem is at best a joke. The serious matter underlying her obfuscation, deletion, and dishonesty about it all is that she thinks the public (and the rest of the government) has no business keeping track of her.
This is how scoundrels and criminals behave, because they want their misdeeds hidden. If we give Hillary the benefit of the doubt and decide she's not a scoundrel or a criminal — that she wasn't deliberately trying to cover up details about her illegal Libya war, or her family's unprecedented enrichment by foreign entities, while she was secretary of state — we are left with the conclusion that she thinks that public accountability laws are beneath her.
She's either an outlaw, or she thinks she's above the law.
A constitutional republic cannot tolerate a president who sees herself as above the law. A president above the law becomes the law, setting the republic on a fast slope to despotism.
Trump and Clinton are not equivalent in most regards. If you're a liberal, or are fine with her designs on the Bill of Rights, it's natural to prefer her. But because she clearly thinks the law doesn't apply to her, Hillary Clinton fails to meet the minimum standard of being an acceptable presidential candidate. Don't let Trump's failings make you forget that.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.