The Donald Trump campaign is in deep trouble. Is the election over, almost a month before Election Day?
Trump’s recent slide in the polls seemed to begin around the first debate. His performance in that debate was abysmal: his answers were rambling nonsense, he interrupted Hillary Clinton constantly. In the aftermath of that performance, he sought to aggrandize himself by claiming he could have done worse–he could have alluded to Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs and sexual assault accusations. Seemingly missing the point that mentioning what you didn’t mention is actually mentioning it, Trump grew increasingly exasperated with the way the media treated him. You’d think he walked on the water, the way he praised his own debate performance, the way he grew angry at his surrogates for conceding he’d lost the debate. The days that followed the debate were ugly, and his poll numbers took a dive.
Then, this past Friday, Trump received an October Surprise for the ages: leaked audio of himself bragging about sexually assaulting women. The remark which seemed to gain the most media traction was his boast that he could “grab [women] by the pussy.” The context of the video is essentially irrelevant, but it was unaired footage from Access Hollywood’s archives from 2005. Host Billy Bush, who gleefully bantered with Trump about how famous men can do whatever they want to women, has now seen himself suspended from his current gig on NBC’s Today show.
Within hours, Trump offered a half-hearted non-apology which concluded with an attack on Bill Clinton for having engaged in similar behavior and worse. With the second debate looming the next evening, Trump apparently decided that, since nobody wanted to praise him for holding back from attacking Bill Clinton, it was time to take the complete opposite tack. In a press conference prior to the debate, Trump paraded around some of Bill Clinton’s past accusers including Paula Jones and Juanita Broaddrick. He even went so far as to try to seat them in the VIP box at the debate, though the debate commission put a stop to that just minutes before the cameras started rolling.
I know this has been a strange campaign season, but let this sink in for a minute: a Presidential candidate, in a fit of pique, decided it was a good idea to curry favor with women who had accused his opponent’s spouse of adultery and sexual assault. And far from stopping there, he wanted to place them in the front row at the debate in order to intimidate said opponent. And this is right on the heels of a media cycle which revealed him to be fond of having his way with women, of sexually assaulting them without regard for their own wishes. It’s beyond hypocrisy, beyond sleaze, beyond repugnance. It’s a degradation inflicted upon the entire country–a reduction of our Presidential election process into tabloid filth.
I don’t blame the media for covering the tape, either. It is a story that must be told. The real disservice would be to bury it. But this is a moment that must not be forgotten. The Republican Party failed to stop a demagogue, no matter how racist, Islamophobic, sexist, or hateful he revealed himself to be. Only now that his brand has become completely toxic are we seeing Republicans flee from him like rats from a sinking ship. Senator John McCain said in a statement condemning Trump’s remarks that Trump “alone” should face the consequences of his actions. But he shouldn’t. He didn’t make the GOP into what it is today–the past 20-30 years of Republican officeholders, pundits, and voters did that. Trump is a monster of their own making, and they cannot be allowed to forget, nor to escape the fallout from his actions.
Even in the course of condemning him, Republicans couldn’t help but display their own subtler forms of sexism. Republican luminaries like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush referred to women in terms more suitable to a beloved family pet than thinking, feeling human beings with agency and rights. Women only get to be people by proxy–they are mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters. In the minds of Republicans, they are never independent human beings. So as much as they claim to detest Trump’s behavior, all they really wish is that his misogyny was more coded, less obvious to the voting public.
And where were they when he called Mexicans “rapists,” when he suggested that all Muslims everywhere are a threat? Republicans seem to care about the white women in their lives, albeit conditionally and paternalistically. They see little reason to speak out against Trump’s anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim bigotry, so does that mean they simply don’t know any Mexicans or Muslims? Or are they merely too cowardly to stand up for people who aren’t white Christians, after having spent decades building the perfect platform for an ethno-nationalist wannabe-fascist?
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus have all but thrown Trump under the bus. They have stopped short of un-endorsing him, but in essence have told their fellow Republicans to do what they must to survive the Trump disaster. Republican politicians seem to have deluded themselves into believing that they are nothing like Trump, that he’s some kind of outlier who doesn’t represent the very core of their beliefs. The abyss is staring back, and they cannot stomach it.
Trump is, at this moment, ranting about the disloyalty of a party he never showed one ounce of loyalty to in the first place. His poll numbers are tanking right as early voting is ramping up. (I put my ballot in the mail just last week.) It’s been noted that he may well lose the election before November 8th, based on early voting results. But the rest of the GOP should suffer, as well. Trump is their perfect manifestation. He is the uncontrolled id of the conservative voter. He is the candidate of ignorant, hate-filled know-nothings because that’s exactly who he is, too.
Whatever intellectual credibility the GOP may have once had, it is long gone. The best minds of the conservative movement slinked away into the darkness soon after Trump appeared on the scene, hoping someone else might snatch their party back from the brink. But it’s too late now. A giant barrel filled with all the hopes and ambitions of the Republican Party is headed right over the waterfall, and there is nothing they can do to stop it. They look about ready to write off 2016 altogether, which may be the wisest thing they do all year. No doubt they will work to make 2018 as bare-knuckled a fight as possible, sharpening the knives for 2020 where Hillary Clinton may really end up in the fight of her life, instead of trapped in a circus alongside an orange clown with implausible hair.