To get a proper sense of how serious Donald Trump’s situation is in the wake of the publication of his vulgar and abusive tape recording, it was enough to hear the hysteria that crept into the voices of conservative broadcasters who tried to contain the damage on talk radio on Friday night. What are Trump’s locker-boy antics, they wailed, compared to the horrendous things that Hillary Clinton said in her just revealed secret speeches to Wall Street? Trump may have a foul mouth, they opined, but Clinton is a danger to the future of America.
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But it won’t do them any good. Even Julian Assange’s distress leaks on Wikileaks, aimed at easing the pressure on Trump, at the bidding of Vladimir Putin, won’t spare Trump from what he’s got coming, at least in the next few days. His chances of winning the Presidency might not be dead, but they are in critical condition. If the Republicans don’t crash and burn on November 8, they certainly seem headed for a fall. And if anyone still harbored any doubts how terrible things are, Trump supplied the answer when he did what he hates most and issued a full-throated apology on Friday night. Words said a decade ago “don’t reflect who I am” Trump asserted, though many people believe, to the contrary, that the tape reflects Trump’s very essence and inner soul.
It is a good idea to remind ourselves at this juncture of all the previous unthinkable scandals that were supposed to finish off Trump but only made him stronger. There’s also no doubt that he will continue to enjoy the support of a hard nucleus of about 40% of American voters, who genuinely believe that anyone or anything, including a dead plant, are preferable to four years with Hillary Clinton as President. And of course a hailstorm of hypocrisy swept America on Friday night, given that A. Trump has said worse things in the past and B. No one who heard the new tape was even remotely surprised. Everyone knew who Trump is and what he might sound like in real life.
Nonetheless, there are several reasons why this time might be different, why some commentators threw caution to the wind on Friday night and proclaimed the certain demise of a Trump Presidency and why so many Republicans started running from Trump as if he had the plague or at least condemned him in harsh terms that were truly unprecedented for a presidential candidate, one month before the elections.
First, because one never knows which will be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back, and here we’re not talking about a light straw but about a heavy and vile pile of bile. It’s not just that Trump was being obscenely “braggadocious," as he likes to say, about his “conquests;" he was talking about actual physical abuse and sexual assault. Not only was it obnoxious, it was also criminal.
Second, because if a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture with words is worth a million. The Trump tape was broadcast a zillion times on Friday night, and with each rendition America grew more nauseous and the feelings of revulsion reached new depths. And that’s without even going into the fact that Trump’s tales of conquest and humiliation of women took place a short time after he married Melania - or that this is the same Trump who has tried to make political capital from Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities, just as he tried to deflect criticism on Friday by claiming that Clinton is even worse than he is.
Third, because the tape proves Trump’s guilt retroactively and shows him to be the misogynist pig that so many women have described. In the past week alone, Trump has had to deflect the claims of a former Miss Universe that he called Miss Piggy and to deny assertions by participants in his Apprentice reality show that he was abusive and sexist towards them as well. And if you know anyone who believes Trump’s denials, I’ve got a bridge they might want to buy.
Fourth, because the tape wounds Trump where he’s most vulnerable, among women voters, who weren’t too enamored with him in the first place. Not only could he lose so many female voters that even his theoretical chances of winning the presidency could disappear, but he might now be risking a rout of truly historic proportions. Maybe Trump won’t surpass the record set by James Cox, who lost by 26 points to Warren Harding in 1920, but he could compete with the 23 point losses of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George McGovern in 1972, or at the very least, with Walter Mondale’s 18 point blowout at the hands of Ronald Reagan in 1984.
Finally, because these nightmare scenarios and the specter of women voters running for their lives sent waves of panic throughout the GOP on Friday night and sparked a Republican intifada of truly unprecedented proportions. House Speaker Paul Ryan disinvited Trump from a joint campaign rally in Wisconsin, everyone from Marco Rubio to John McCain blasted Trump in no uncertain terms and the ultra-conservative State of Utah defected en masse from his ranks, from the governor on down. Perhaps Utah should now be listed as a potential battleground state.
Trump’s supporters will view the brouhaha as yet another brilliant satanic ploy masterminded by Clinton and carried out by her collaborators in the media. Search parties went out all over the country seeking Republican women willing to stand up for Trump, with first prize going to Susan Hutchison, chair of the Republican Party in Washington, who said Trump’s statements weren’t even a thing because he made them “when he was a Democrat." And those leaders of the Evangelical movement who sold their souls to Trump said no revolting revelation would deter them from their holy mission of preventing a Clinton presidency.
One can wonder how and why this tape, which really reveals nothing new about Trump that we didn’t know before, is so much more damaging than months on months of scandalous statements, indecent insults, shocking ignorance about the issues and an endless and contradictory babble of consciousness on both foreign and domestic policies. But that’s the way it is: what was once conventional, when Trump was a young and brash millionaire cruising Studio 54 who could talk and do to women whatever he pleased, is no longer acceptable in 2016. To paraphrase the late Spiro Agnew, the bastards changed the rules - way before 2005, by the way - but Trump didn’t give a hoot then and he doesn’t today, despite his public mea culpa.
So is it over? Maybe, maybe not. If this were November 6, two days before the elections, Trump would be toast. But there are exactly 30 days left, and anything can and probably will happen. Just look at the gushing round the clock media coverage of Hurricane Matthew, which included Breaking News bulletins every time a billboard fell in Florida: It dissipated within hours, because the real storm was happening on the home page of the Washington Post. The poor people of the southeast coast who were on the receiving end of so much sympathy from the broadcasters evolved within hours from hapless victims to annoying nuisances who are keeping us away from the far juicier story of how the tape will influence Sunday’s Presidential debate in St. Louis. Which now seems primed to break the first debate’s record for highest ratings ever.