The news on Thursday was that things were not going well for Donald Trump, as noted in this item from Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns:
Mr. Trump has already slipped perceptibly in public polls, trailing widely this week in Pennsylvania and by smaller margins in Florida and North Carolina – three states he cannot afford to lose. But private polling by both parties shows an even more precipitous drop, especially among independent voters, moderate Republicans and women, according to a dozen strategists from both parties who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the data was confidential.
Liesl Hickey, a Republican strategist involved in several House races in swing states, said she was dismayed by a sudden exodus of independent voters in more diverse parts of the country.
“They are really starting to pull away from Trump,” said Ms. Hickey, describing his soaring unpopularity with independents as entering “uncharted territory.”
No one could possibly recover from this – no one ever had before – and the real problem was those moderate Republicans and women. They wanted a reasonable Republican candidate, not a thin-skinned bully given to temper-tantrums over perceived personal insults that had nothing to do with anything at all. They got the thin-skinned bully. The first presidential debate confirmed that. Why was this man defending his anger that his 1996 Miss Universe got a bit hefty, and his crude insults that he tossed her at the time, insults that he was repeating and extending now? Who the hell cares?
Those moderate Republicans and women were not impressed – but his surrogates were out there, everywhere, saying that he would fix that in the next debate. Wait for Sunday night. They’d see a serious guy who could stay on topic – and they’d be serious topics – public policy and all that. Women would forget that he had fat-shamed and then slut-shamed a woman who had put on a few pounds and didn’t like him mocking her and humiliating her about that. Women might not ever forgive him for that, but they’d move beyond that, because in the second debate he’d be quietly and devastatingly presidential. Wait for Sunday night.
That was the plan, but between Thursday and Sunday night, there was Friday:
Donald Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women during a 2005 conversation caught on a hot microphone, saying that “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” according to a video obtained by The Washington Post.
The video captures Trump talking with Billy Bush, then of “Access Hollywood,” on a bus with the show’s name written across the side. They were arriving on the set of “Days of Our Lives” to tape a segment about Trump’s cameo on the soap opera.
The tape includes audio of Bush and Trump talking inside the bus, as well as audio and video once they emerge from it to begin shooting the segment.
In that audio, Trump discusses a failed attempt to seduce a woman, whose full name is not given in the video.
“I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it,” Trump is heard saying. It was unclear when the events he was describing took place. The tape was recorded several months after he married his third wife, Melania.
“Whoa,” another voice said.
“I did try and fuck her. She was married,” Trump says.
Trump continues: “And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, ‘I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.'”
“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married,” Trump says. “Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.”
At that point in the audio, Trump and Bush appear to notice Arianne Zucker, the actress who is waiting to escort them into the soap-opera set.
“Your girl’s hot as shit, in the purple,” says Bush, who’s now a co-host of NBC’s “Today” show.
“Whoa!” Trump says. “Whoa!”
“I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her,” Trump says. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
“And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”
“Whatever you want,” says another voice, apparently Bush’s.
“Grab them by the pussy,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”
That’s how the Washington Post opened their scoop – just the facts which speak for themselves. What was there to say? Trump came up with this:
“This was locker-room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course – not even close,” Trump said in a statement. “I apologize if anyone was offended.”
Okay – that was that. This was old news. Bill Clinton had said far worse in private conversation with him. You have to trust him on that. And if you were offended, he was sorry, but that’s your problem, not his.
No, this was his problem:
Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which has endorsed Clinton, issued a statement from Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens saying: “What Trump described in these tapes amounts to sexual assault.”
Trump was also criticized by members of his own party. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who said he is “sickened” by Trump’s comments, said the Republican presidential candidate will no longer appear with him at a campaign event in Wisconsin on Saturday.
“Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified. I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests,” Ryan said in a statement.
In a short statement issued moments after Ryan’s, Trump said his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, “will be representing me” at the Wisconsin event.
Ryan has not yet rescinded his endorsement of Trump – that’s possible, but not likely, because as House Speaker he has to work with the pro-Trump Tea Party folks if he wants to get anything done. He cannot anger them, but others don’t have his problem:
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Trump critic, said in a statement: “Hitting on married women? Condoning assault? Such vile degradations demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America’s face to the world.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the comments are “repugnant and unacceptable in any circumstance” and made clear Trump’s brief statement would not suffice.
“As the father of three daughters, I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere, and take full responsibility for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments on that tape,” he said late Friday.
Politico covers the rest:
Within Trump’s own campaign, there was an overriding sense of doom. One aide expressed doubt that the GOP nominee, who has successfully weathered a number of scandals, would be able to ride the current firestorm.
There’s “absolutely no excuse to ever talk about women in such a crude and demeaning way,” Trump’s Texas chair, Dan Patrick, was quoted as saying.
Others simply didn’t want to talk about it, refusing to respond to emails, text messages, and phone calls.
While Rob Engstrom, the Chamber of Commerce’s national political director, said Trump should drop out of the race and allow his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, to assume the top of the ticket, few members of the Republican National Committee contacted by POLITICO said they had the appetite for that fight.
No one wants that fight. They’re stuck with him, but that has consequences:
Republican strategists, many of whom are convinced the GOP is confronting a long and painful post-election rebuilding process, expressed concern that their nominee could be a stain on the party. Particularly concerning, they say, is that Trump is deepening his already sizeable deficit with female voters – damage that may not be easily reversible…
While Trump has a mile-long list of controversial remarks, there was a sense that the newest headline had the potential to damage not only Trump in this final phase of the 2016 contest but down-ballot Republicans hoping to survive a tumultuous election year as well.
Trump could ruin everything for them:
Over the last two weeks, Trump has come under fire for attacking the weight of a former beauty pageant contestant and over revelations that he may have avoided paying taxes for nearly two decades. Those developments followed a lackluster performance in the first presidential debate.
“When it rains it pours,” said Robert Blizzard, a GOP pollster.
Republicans are growing increasingly concerned about what impact Trump will have on their congressional majorities. Pollsters, who have been checking for signs that the volatile GOP nominee will demolish their fragile hold on the Senate, say they’ve seen a precipitous decline in Trump’s numbers since the Sept. 26 debate. Asked about Trump’s comments, one top party strategist who is playing a key role in down-ballot races said, simply, “It sucks.”
It does, and then the “losers” piled on:
Trump’s ousted primary opponents – many of whom warned that he would spell disaster for the party in a general election – teed off on the nominee.
“As the grandfather of two precious girls, I find that no apology can excuse away Donald Trump’s reprehensible comments degrading women,” said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
“Make no mistake the comments were wrong and offensive,” said Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “They are indefensible.”
Told ya so, right? But then there were the perpetual defenders of Trump:
Not everyone was convinced the comments would be a deal-breaker, however. Some in the evangelical community, which has established a tenuous alliance with the brash New Yorker, rushed to his defense.
“I think it will have little or no impact. People of faith are voting on issues like who will protect unborn life, defend religious freedom, grow the economy, appoint conservative judges and oppose the Iran nuclear deal,” said Ralph Reed, the founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a Trump supporter. “In their hierarchy of concerns, an eleven-year-old tape of a private conversation with a talk show host on a tour bus ranks very low.”
And Trump’s main booster in the conservative media, Sean Hannity, said it’s time for Trump to go after Hillary Clinton for her husband’s infidelity.
What does going after Hillary Clinton for her husband’s infidelity have to do with any of this? No one knows, but Mark Joseph Stern knows this:
What Trump describes in the recording is, quite literally, criminal sexual assault.
Sexual assault statutes vary state by state, and we don’t know where the alleged conduct occurred. But consider the sexual battery statute in California, where the conversation in question took place. Under that law, any person “who touches an intimate part of another person” for his own sexual gratification and without the victim’s consent has committed sexual battery. That is punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment. Or consider the law in New York, where Trump lives. There, an individual is guilty of a sex offense if he “forcibly touches the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person, or for the purpose of gratifying the actor’s sexual desire.” A person found guilty of this sex offense risks imprisonment of up to one year. In Connecticut, where Trump long maintained a vacation home, the law is similar: An individual is guilty of sexual assault when he “subjects another person to sexual contact without such other person’s consent.” (“Sexual contact” need not even involve the touching of “bare skin.”) Again, an individual convicted of this form of sexual assault faces up to a year’s imprisonment.
Trump boasted of kissing women and touching their genitals without their consent. In much of the country, including those states in which Trump lives and works, that is sexual assault. And if he was telling the truth on tape, he could have been prosecuted and imprisoned for a considerable amount of time.
Gentlemen, don’t grab pussy. You could go to jail. When you’re a star, they let you do it – you can do anything? That may not be true. Actually, that isn’t true.
Michelle Goldberg adds this:
In an election in which no individual outrage seems to matter, it’s possible that this one might. It’s not just that we have further evidence of what sort of person Trump is. Trump’s words sounded an awful lot like cavalier boasts about sexual assault. They’re particularly disturbing when you consider that Jill Harth, the makeup artist who accused Trump of attempted rape in a 1997 lawsuit, said that Trump grabbed her sexually. Ivanka Trump defended her father by insisting that the man she knows is “not a groper.” Now we know that Trump himself says otherwise. It is thus not just legitimate but imperative that journalists ask Trump what he meant by “Grab them by the pussy.” Luckily, there is a debate on Sunday.
Will they ask him that? The second debate is a town hall. Perhaps some civilian will ask him that, and Trump’s pivot to Hillary’s husband’s behavior in the nineties won’t help much:
Ever since his disgraceful performance in his last faceoff with Clinton, Trump and his surrogates have been threatening to bring up Bill Clinton’s affairs. If he does, Hillary Clinton has every reason to discuss Trump’s unapologetic talk about pursuing a married woman. “I did try and fuck her,” Trump said on the Bush tape.
Explain that, Donald. Hillary could ask the question, and a lame apology won’t do. Tara Golshan covers that:
For a man who rarely apologizes – let alone recognizes any personal wrongdoing – surprisingly Trump’s statement acknowledged not only what he said but also that people would be offended by it. And while, yes, Trump did use the phrase “I apologize,” to be clear, this was not an apology.
Rather, “Trump is offering a non-apology here,” according to Edwin Battistella, a linguist at Southern Oregon University and the author Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology – an apology expert.
In other words, Trump’s response to the video was the exact opposite of an apology: It normalized an extraordinarily degrading kind of banter, attempted to deflect the attention to a rival public figure in Bill Clinton, and used a conditional “if anyone was offended,” placing “the onus on others to react, to claim that they were offended or not,” Battistella points out. “A morally serious apology would respond to the content of what he said – demeaning women – and the effects of his comments.”
Trump’s statement is the kind of response typical for celebrities and politicians attempting to deflect the moral subjects of their wrongdoings, Battistella said… In this case, he was “reframing the comments as ‘private, as ‘banter,’ and as a past action to try to lessen the impact, and bringing Bill Clinton into the discussion as a type of distraction,” Battistella explained.
That’s a clever strategy, not an apology. Everyone knows this, so Trump tried again:
Donald Trump on Friday apologized for lewd comments that he made about women in 2005 but said that his “foolish” words are much different than the words and actions of Bill Clinton, whom he accused of abusing women, and Hillary Clinton, whom he accused of having “bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.”
“I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not. I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade-old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize,” Trump said in a brief video statement released late Friday night as a number of prominent Republicans distanced themselves yet again from their presidential nominee.
Trump said that the lewd comments – which were made public by The Washington Post on Friday afternoon – are “a distraction from the important issues we are facing today.” He then attacked his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
“I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims,” Trump said. “We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday.”
So he is going to make everything about Hillary’s husband’s behavior in the nineties and how she lashed out, at times, in defense of him, because that’s far worse than Trump groping married women and scaring the hell out of them back in 2005 or so. He will ask America to put all this in perspective.
That may not work. It seems people have already done that. Ezra Klein argues that a Donald Trump presidency would bring shame on this country:
This isn’t about fitness for the presidency. This is about basic human decency… Donald Trump’s leaked 2005 conversation with Access Hollywood’s Bill Bush isn’t merely lewd or colorful. It is an explicit description of sexual assault, and of Trump’s comfort with using his power to take what he wants, and to harm others.
This wasn’t “locker room banter” at all:
The [first] apology is perhaps the most telling part of all this. Trump doesn’t think what he said was so bad. He thinks it’s normal. He thinks it is how men talk in locker rooms. He is sorry if anyone was offended.
This is not normal. This is not how men speak in locker rooms. And the problem here is not that someone, somewhere, was offended.
The problem is if the rest of us are not offended.
That’s the big “if” here:
After the audio broke, I saw some on Twitter quoting Joseph Welch’s famous comment to Joseph McCarthy. “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
But the question isn’t whether Trump has any decency. We’ve known for some time that he doesn’t. The question is whether we have any decency – whether we will elect this man, or even come close to electing this man, knowing all we know about him.
And we do know lots:
Here is the compliment I can pay Donald Trump, and I pay it with real gratitude: He never hid who he was. Perhaps he lacked the self-control, or the self-awareness, but whatever the mechanism, he never obscured his cruelty, or his misogyny, or his greed, or his dishonesty.
He wasn’t hiding, he was just incompetent:
He is not a clever demagogue but a crude one.
He mocked a disabled reporter while the cameras were rolling. He accused his opponent’s father of conspiring to kill John F. Kennedy. He attacked the parents of a fallen war hero. He retweeted white supremacists. He accused a judge of bias because of his “Mexican heritage.” He directed the world to watch a nonexistent sex tape of a woman he body-shamed a decade ago. He lies, constantly, fluently, and shamelessly.
And add this:
Trump knows nothing about policy and has learned nothing about it. He has incited violence at his rallies, joked about the assassination of the Democratic nominee, and casually thrown the NATO alliance into doubt. He has proven himself a man of little discipline and less grace, incapable of either forgiving or forgetting, and completely unable to control his own reactions. He believes only what he wants to believe, trusts only the polls that show him ahead, listens only to the people who flatter his ego.
Everyone knows this, and might think of acting on that knowledge:
He has done all this in public, and he has done all of it repeatedly, almost gleefully. If we elect him, there will be no excusing our actions to future generations, no pleading ignorance in the face of threat. It was all here. It was all obvious. It will all be visible to our children, and to historians.
Trump told us who he was, showed us who he was, again and again. The test here is not of his decency, but of our own.
That may be why the Republican defections are beginning – the unimportant rescinding their endorsements. Others, key Republicans, may follow. There are those, now just a few, but more may follow, demanding that Trump withdraw, that he quit right now. Trump is defiant – this is really about Hillary defending Bill way back when – but, for Republicans, that defiance may be beginning to look like madness. If they’re going to lose this presidential election, it’s probably best not to lose it defending a mad man. People remember such things, and they have daughters.
It’s coming up on midnight here in Los Angeles. Saturday starts in a few minutes. The second debate is Sunday night. That should be surreal, if there is one.