A lot of liberals are crowing that, with the revelations of Trump’s braggadocious sexual conversation from 2005 in which he discusses groping women and casting a wide and forceful sexual net, this election is over. Not so fast.
AMMAN – To say that the recording in question is not good for Donald is quite the understatement. I’m not here to go over the contents in detail; plenty of other people will do that. I’m here to provide a dispassionate analysis as to why this is not going to have the effect that many hope (and that it should) have.
At this point, it’s lost on me why people think Americans collectively possess the capacity to react in a rational way and to punish candidates for wrongdoing and reward them for doing the right thing. This is the year where any such claim has been proved to be inane beyond a reasonable doubt, and let us count the ways…
The Republican primary field of 17 candidates had at least a dozen candidates far more qualified and that were far better human beings than Trump. These candidates committed nothing like the offenses that Trump routinely committed throughout the entire primary season, beginning with the day he announced his presidential run when he implied large portions of Mexican immigrants were rapists, drug traffickers, and murderers. Trump has ridiculed prisoners-of-war and the disabled. He attacked the appearance of the wife of one of his opponents and attacked the same opponent’s father as being linked to the assassination of JFK based on a tabloid report.
He talked about his penis size on stage during a nationally-televised debate. He repeatedly made misogynistic comments about female members of the media who criticized him and about Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. He cursed and used vulgar language repeatedly on the campaign trail and casually played around with stoking or excusing violence at his rallies.
He changed his positions on many major issues casually and sometimes repeatedly unlike any candidate before him. He called for banning all immigrants of a certain religion and for giving a religious test to immigrants. He questioned a federal judge’s objectivity based solely on that judge’s Mexican ancestry. And he lied many times. Pretty much every day (and every 5 minutes when talking), which was far more than any other candidate.
And all that was during the primary.
Additionally, ample evidence exists that Trump’s businesses frauded customers, misled investors and clients, and failed to pay contractors for their work. Trump attacked parents whose son died fighting in an American uniform in Iraq. Trump’s campaign team has ties to Putin—America’s enemy—that even in the most generous terms would have to be described as shady. Trump has repeatedly made comments about Hillary Clinton that the Secret Service and many other have deemed as threatening, and he also encouraged the Russian government to hack Clinton’s personal information. He lied about his role in (and about who started) the racist birther controversy about Obama’s birth certificate.
The list can go on and on but I’ll stop there.
The point is, though, if none of these caused Trump to lose a significant amount of support before because he rose, and rose, and rose in the polls despite and sometimes seemingly because of these things, is this latest Trump pile of awful really that dramatically different from his others to the degree that it will cause him to lose a lot of support? I would venture a big fat no, despite my strong wish that this not be the case.
Yes, Trump’s numbers seem to be dipping a bit since his abysmal debate performance against Clinton, but he’s only about 3% behind Clinton (about 44% Clinton to about 41% Trump in four-way races with Johnson and Stein) even factoring in her recent upswing, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average. Of course, this was before this weekend’s revelations. You’d think that this would mean certain doom for a normal candidate in a normal election year, but Trump is not a normal candidate and this not a normal election year.
In my last article, I discussed how few voters were truly open to switching votes: basically, Trump’s deplorables aren’t going anywhere. That still leaves undecideds, again, people that I find so strange and incomprehensible that I am not willing to make any strong projections for how they will break one way or another, even in light of this latest Trump foot-in-mouth demonstration. Maybe this might galvanize some third-party supporters who are so disgusted by Trump and are hit viscerally by this scandal in a way that helps them wake up and move to Clinton in larger numbers than they would have otherwise, but, again, he has such a long list of awfulness that I still find it hard to envision this as a tipping point when no other items on the list proved to be.
Other points to consider: while I personally find the remarks by Trump awful and reprehensible and incredibly objectionable, the sad reality is that Mad Men was one of the most popular shows in America and many Americans talk like this (as a former student-athlete, I heard this stuff in many a locker room, and let’s not forget misogyny is a very popular part of popular culture in terms of movies, TV, music, and video games). People are not bothered that deeply by this and will certainly not place the greatest weight on this scandal over the issues that drive them the most, e.g., if you were going to vote Trump because you are most concerned with getting conservative Supreme Court justices appointed, this won’t make you vote differently or stay at home.
No matter how much public outrage, then, we must admit that far too many of us, pathetically, don’t care about this stuff in the way we should. And think about the people that are likely to me be particularly animated by this: they weren’t going to vote for Trump anyway. In fact, I have a hard time envisioning the Trump voter who switches to Clinton because of this, and I question how many people who are undecided will now choose to move to Clinton because of this latest Trump outrage when all the previous outrages failed to do the trick. Among other things, this depressing election cycle is reminding us how bad sexism still is in this country.
Today, we are seeing some Republican elites—former and current officials, particularly those in competitive races—running away from Trump (many are doing this now, at this moment, because they feel vulnerable in their reelection bids out of political convenience and that doing so will help them win, not because of any great moral moment of truth; note how proportionately many more senators are fleeing Trump than congressman, and that senators are elected statewide by a much wider group of voters; representatives are voted into office by more narrow-minded partisans in much less diverse, smaller districts, and they are by far mostly sticking with Trump).
Liberals are gleefully pointing this out, and as a card-carrying liberal, I surely won’t deny that this has been entertaining schadenfreude, but if there’s one thing the 2016 GOP primaries taught us, it’s that the gap between elites and elected officials in the Republican Party on one hand and the mass of GOP voters on the other is HYUUUUUGE.
Basically, Trump voters don’t care about this Senator or that Congressmen of this intellectual or George H. W. Bush and Mitt Romney not supporting Trump; in part, these people are voting Trump to say a big “FU!” to these people and to Washington. So all the media coverage of the Republican elites abandoning Trump is not going to give us an accurate picture of the mind of the voters, who gleefully chose Trump despite the resounding disapproval of said elites.
Again, this leaves us with those pesky undecideds, only roughly 4.5% of voters. And right now, rather than this scandal, I think tomorrow night’s debate itself is going to be far more important one in shaping voters’ views, and who knows what new horrors await us in the final weeks of this dreadful and disheartening general election.
In other words, we have a month of campaigning and two debates and who knows what the hell else before Election Day. Anyone who think this insane election is over because they are predicting rational, humane responses to Trump’s tirade of sexual outrage or who wants to gauge Republican voters’ feelings based on how congressmen or senators are acting in the heat of the moment right now might want to calm down and not get ahead of themselves buying their Inaugural Ball outfits.
If anything, if people think Clinton will run away with the election, that might make voters complacent at a time when they should be anything but.