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Detroit News editorial board members Nolan Finley and Ingrid Jacques discuss the endorsement of Libertarian candidate for president Gary Johnson.

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Today this newspaper does something it has never done in its 143-year history: endorse someone other than the Republican candidate in a presidential contest.

Since its founding in 1873, The Detroit News has backed a Republican every time it has made a presidential endorsement (three times we have sat on the sidelines — twice during the Franklin Roosevelt elections and in the 2004 Bush/Kerry contest).

We abandon that long and estimable tradition this year for one reason: Donald J. Trump.

The 2016 nominee offered by the Republican Party rubs hard against the editorial board’s values as conservatives and Americans. Donald Trump is unprincipled, unstable and quite possibly dangerous. He can not be president.

His Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, has an impressive resume and a presidential bearing. And although we disagree with her nearly across the board on the issues, we acknowledge she has the temperament to be commander-in-chief and leader of both a diverse nation and the free world.

But character matters. Her career-long struggles with honesty and ethics and calculating, self-serving approach to politics trouble us deeply.

So we find ourselves in the same position as a vast number of voters in looking for an option other than skipping the presidential portion of the ballot.

Gary Johnson meets that need. We recognize the Libertarian candidate is the longest of long shots with an electorate that has been conditioned to believe only Republicans and Democrats can win major offices.

But this is an endorsement of conscience, reflecting our confidence that Johnson would be a competent and capable president and an honorable one.

Fit for the presidency

Gary Johnson has excelled at public service. In his eight years as the Republican governor of New Mexico, he cut taxes while balancing the budget, and left the state in better fiscal shape than when he arrived. He also was a champion of school choice, and the state under his guidance made great strides in improving education.

Johnson is joined on the ticket by William Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, who likewise posted a record of good government and fiscal discipline. Johnson says he and Weld will govern as a team. That is encouraging. These are two honest, principled politicians who would put the interests of the nation first.

With a few significant exceptions, the Libertarian candidate shares our views on the important issues.

Like this newspaper, he holds that an individual should have maximum freedom to navigate his or her personal decision-making, with little meddling from the government.

His position on trade is the most responsible of any of the candidates in the race. He voices a healthy respect for free markets, and recognizes that unrestricted trade — absent crony capitalism — is a boon to the economy. He is the only candidate who would sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal negotiated by President Barack Obama.

“Ultimately (the TPP) is going to result in more and higher paying jobs for the United States,” Johnson told The News’ editorial board. “China is not a part of this, and that is an advantage to the U.S.”

Johnson extends his free market philosophy to immigration, taking a position we’ve long advocated that immigration policy should match the demands of the economy.

“Make available to anyone who wants to come into this country a work visa,” Johnson says. “And a work visa should entail a background check and a social security card so that applicable taxes get paid. Don’t put the government in charge of quotas. That’s one of the reasons for 11 million undocumented workers.”

Those undocumented immigrants, he says, should have a path toward legal status.

Our apprehension about Johnson rests with foreign policy. He holds to conventional libertarian non-interventionism. But he understands America’s position in the world, and we are certain that once the weight of leadership is on his shoulders, he will meet that responsibility.

He pledges to honor all existing treaties and obligations, and supports NATO, though he wants the European nations to live up to their commitment to pay 2 percent of GDP for the common defense; a reasonable expectation.

Trump divides America

Now consider again Donald Trump, and why this conservative newspaper with an established affinity for Republican presidential candidates can not consider supporting him.

For starters, Trump is not a conservative. From his protectionist position on trade to his penchant for buying votes with high-price new social programs to his soft spot for hiking taxes, Trump does not meet any true conservative standards.

Except, of course, of those who wrongly e­quate conservatism with racism, sexism and xenophobia. Trump has attracted support from too many of those who represent the worst of human nature.

Evidence of Trump’s bullying side was presented during Monday night’s debate when Clinton recited his many crude and devastating put-downs of women. Few groups have been spared from his bile.

We have seen no hint that Trump has a guiding set of principles. He changes positions hour to hour, as he demonstrated on immigration. He seems to develop policy on the fly, without thinking through the consequences, as witnessed by his early threat to abandon NATO, which sent our allies into a panic.

But the most worrisome thing about Trump is that he is willing to stir the populace by stoking their fears of sinister forces at work from within and without to tear down their traditions, values and families. He has found profit in dividing Americans from each other, and from the rest of the world.

His sort of populism has led to some of history’s great tragedies. The recklessness of his rhetoric can too easily translate into action. He is a braggart who boasts he can tame the world by tossing around bombs, and poses as a Putin-style strongman. In fact, Trump gushes more glowingly about the Russian dictator than he does many of his fellow Republicans.

Under Trump, America would stand alone in the world. Our allies could not embrace his flamethrowing foreign policy.

A vote not wasted

In abandoning the GOP nominee, The News has plenty of company among traditional Republicans and conservatives. In this decision, we join such longtime GOP luminaries as the Bush family, the 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the party’s mega-funders Charles and David Koch, and many, many others.

We anticipate our decision not to support either of the major party candidates will bring charges that we are throwing away our endorsement. Our contention is that an endorsement based on conscience is never wasted.

We urge readers who share our disillusionment with the presidential ballot and disdain for the GOP nominee to join us in casting a conscience vote for Gary Johnson.

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