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Donald Trump, if he had his way, would be a strongman president — an American Vladimir Putin or Hugo Chavez.

But Trump won’t have his way, and so his brand of authoritarianism is at most a faint threat. It’s Hillary Clinton’s authoritarianism we most need to worry about.

Nearly all liberals, and most mainstream commentators and media and academia types, will think that previous sentence absurd. This only reflects the reason Clinton’s authoritarian designs are more frightful: Unlike Trump, Clinton will have broad elite support in her campaigns to trample individual liberty.

Trump has spoken of “a deportation force,” he has vowed to broaden libel laws in the U.S., he has advocated war crimes and threatened to coerce any military officers who wouldn’t carry them out. He generally speaks like a strongman, he praises Putin’s strength. Trump’s crime program is to “unshackle” police and stop worrying so much about cries of “police brutality.”

Scary stuff for those concerned about civil liberties, due process and the rule of law. But Trump’s strongman stuff is made less scary by Trump’s impotence. First, he will probably lose the election. Second, if he somehow wins, it will be on the strength of an anti-Clinton vote. Trump would enter office as the least popular president in history, and his authoritarian designs would meet elite opposition every step of the way.

Nearly the entire media (including most conservative commentators), all of academia, and most corporate leaders would resist Trump’s efforts to curb the freedom of the press, circumvent due process and revive “Operation Wetback.” Trump probably wouldn’t have the follow-through, the knowledge or the institutional support even to get these initiatives off the ground.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, may well have the skills, the dedication and the elite support in her efforts to crack down on the free exercise of religion, the right to bear arms, the freedom to join with other citizens in criticizing politicians and due process of the law.

Clinton hasn’t hidden her animosity towards individuals who come together and criticize her. When she talks of the Supreme Court case Citizens United, she doesn’t get into nuances about corporate speech versus individual speech. She makes clear her real objection: “Let’s remember,” she said in New Hampshire in Feburary, “Citizens United, one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in our country’s history, was actually a case about a right-wing attack on me and my campaign. A right-wing organization took aim at me and ended up damaging our entire democracy.” She promises to fix that. “So, yes, you’re not going to find anybody more committed to aggressive campaign finance reform than me.”

Under President Hillary, one can assume, “right-wing attacks” on her will be “reformed” away. And left-wing attacks too, if they involve multiple individuals pooling their money together to mount them.

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Restricting free speech is popular in many elite circles these days, from editorial pages calling for more laws to restrict political speech to college campuses cracking down on heterodox opinions. If Hillary does decide to wage this war on free speech, she would have plenty of air support.

Freedom of religion is also in danger under President Clinton. Her judicial appointees would likely overturn the principle behind the Hobby Lobby ruling, that Americans maintain their First Amendment right of free exercise of religion even if they engage in commerce. Once that is gone, she can coerce businesses, schools and other groups to abandon their principles and assent to the Left’s cultural orthodoxy.

Got a Christian school that expects its teachers to follow a code of conduct? That code had better not include Christian teachings on sex and marriage, or it will be banned. The ACLU — “civil liberties” is part of the name — is already suing Catholic hospitals that refuse to abort babies. When the Clinton administration joins in that crusade, they could draw blood.

Clinton is not big on the Second Amendment, either, nor on the due process guaranteed in the Fifth. She proves this every time she calls for taking rights away from everyone on a no-fly list.

The problem is that these aren’t the civil liberties most of our elites in corporate America, the media and academia care much about. As the 2015 fights over religious liberty showed, our elites think opposition to gay marriage is rank bigotry that must not be allowed to exist. Gun owners and unborn babies don’t find many defenders in these circles either.

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There are plenty of ways in which a reasonable voter could decide Donald Trump is worse than Hillary Clinton — his lack of self-control, experience, humilty, knowledge, patience and self-awareness are all up there. And these reasons may outweigh a voter’s concern about authoritarianism. But on this one question, if you look beyond their words, and if you look beyond the narrow set of civil liberties that most elites care about, then Clinton arguably poses the bigger threat of dangerous authoriatianism.

Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner’s senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.

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