Donald Trump’s obscene words about women, revealed in the tape published by the Washington Post on Friday, might have doomed his presidency. That’s become quite obvious over the past 24 hours, as more and more Republicans - including his own vice presidential pick, Mike Pence - distance themselves from Trump and call on him to resign. But the reverberations and aftershocks of this shocking affair could be much more profound and long-lasting, threatening Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the short term, splitting the GOP apart and wreaking havoc on the Evangelical church in the long term as well.
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Of course, there is always a chance that Trump will put on a miracle performance at Sunday night’s debate in St. Louis, saving himself and his party from the devastation that lay ahead. He might also decide to resign from the race, though he made clear on Saturday that this was the last thing on his mind. Otherwise, the ramifications of Trump’s predicament could turn out be far more sweeping than anyone could have imagined.
Since the tape was made public, Republicans throughout the U.S. have had to weigh whether they would stick by their party’s candidate, criticize him publicly but continue to endorse him or withdraw their support for Trump altogether. If this continues to be a defining issue for Republican candidates, it could deepen the fissures that already exist in the party in the wake of Trump’s candidacy. More significantly, it could split the party’s voters, as well and make it much more difficult for many GOP candidates for Congress to muster the support they need in order to get elected.
One only had to listen to the loud and angry boos that greeted Nevada Senate Republican candidate Joe Heck on Saturday as he announced his decision to withdraw his support for Trump. It’s clear that many enraged Trump supporters won’t forgive his perfidy, and won’t support his bid to replace Harry Reid as Nevada’s new U.S. Senator. Heck must have calculated that he would pay a steeper price by sticking with Trump than he will for abandoning him.
This dynamic could play itself out throughout the U.S. on Election Day. Republican candidates who stand by Trump could alienate voters, especially women, for whom the Access Network recording of Trump’s obnoxious votes crossed a red line. This could prove devastating for those GOP candidates who cannot win without gaining support from independent and undecided voters.
On the other end of the spectrum, Republican candidates who abandon Trump will be viewed by his supporters and other GOP loyalists as traitors who stuck a knife in their presidential candidate’s back and thus paved the way for Hillary Clinton’s election. For Trump supporters, this is an unforgiveable sin for which the renegade candidates must be punished harshly. Without the support of the hardcore nucleus of GOP voters, the bottom could drop out from under many Republican candidates who have distanced themselves from Trump.
The same aftershocks, though on a different level, could shake up the Evangelical movement, whose leaders may have criticized Trump since Friday but have nonetheless remained loyal to his candidacy. The Evangelical leaders cite the greater danger of a Clinton presidency and the sweeping changes she would bring to the Supreme Court, a clear and present danger for many if not most American Evangelicals.
Nonetheless, the support for Trump, which has already sparked dissent among younger and more liberal Evangelicals, is bound to create greater unrest in the wake of the new recording. The Evangelical establishment is skating on thin ice by supporting a candidate who is so morally flawed and whose character is an antithesis of Evangelical preachings. Over time, such an internal contradiction is bound to exact a steep price and to shake the church to its very core.
Finally, the prospective implosion of the Republican Party completely decimates Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s GOP-centered American strategy. Though we have pointed out in the past that Netanyahu’s fortress GOP approach is being upended by Trump this did not take into account the devastating effect the New York tycoon’s candidacy might have on the party as a whole. Given that Netanyahu firmly aligned Israel with the GOP and created deep dissatisfaction with Israel in the Democratic Party, especially after his March 2015 speech to Congress, on November 8 his decision to burn bridges with Democrats might emerge as the most shortsighted foreign policy ever undertaken by an Israeli leader.