Ironically, it was a conversation that Donald Trump had in 2005 with a member of the Bush family — Billy Bush — that is putting his candidacy in jeopardy. Trump claims he apologized for his repulsive misogynist remarks in his 90-second midnight video, but it was unconvincing and embarrassing. The line of defense he appears to be taking this time is that whatever he did, Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades twenty years ago were far worse. But this seems to be a bridge too far for many GOP politicians to accept.
As Dan Balz writes, “The apology video quickly devolved into an attack video. Republicans were incredulous at what they saw and heard.” Before you could say Trump-Pence, one Republican after another disavowed their former support, and announced that they would not vote for the Republican Party’s candidate on Election Day. The figure is now up to 120, an unprecedented event in election history.
Other prominent Republicans and conservatives announced that they too had made the same decision. This morning Hugh Hewitt, the conservative talk show host and commentator, announced that he had withdrawn his support, and hoped that Trump would step down as candidate. Writing in National Review, Andy McCarthy concluded that not only is Trump not electable, but that the video reveals that it is no longer possible for conservatives to show suspension of disbelief. He points out Trump was talking about prior actions he had already taken — trying to sleep with a married woman while his wife Melania was three months pregnant, and “expressing the view, based on what he indicated was lots of experience, that women are playthings; and lacing it all with a beyond-weird arrogance and sense of entitlement.”
For a candidate who was losing the support of Republican suburban women, the revelation of the video is nothing less than a disaster. And if people believe that suddenly Trump is a changed man, they have to discount all he has said and done since the current campaign. We know who Trump is; what the recording did was make it impossible for those who were on the fence to remain supporters. And the recording comes after the previous two weeks in which it was revealed that he had fat-shamed a former Miss Universe. There was also his bad first debate performance and a series of tweets that further eroded his credibility. I almost forgot the New York Times story about his manipulation of the tax codes, which possibly allowed him to not pay any taxes for almost twenty years.
The tapes in fact do matter and will erode his support with other groups also. Here I defer to University of Chicago political scientist Charles Lipson, who writes:
There may not be many undecided voters, but there are plenty of weakly committed ones. After learning what Trump said about women, some of his least-committed supporters will simply stay home. That is particularly true of Christian conservatives, who were never comfortable with Trump to begin with. The nomination of Gov. Mike Pence reassured them; these tapes rattle them, as they did Pence himself…. Conversely, the tapes will galvanize some of Hillary’s previously weak supporters to come out and vote, less for her and more against Trump.
Lipson concludes by warning that the recording will “make it easier for Hillary to win and significantly increase the Democrats’ chances on Capitol Hill.” Indeed, they will now most likely take the Senate, and even the House is in jeopardy.
So it all comes down to the as yet unknown. How will Donald Trump do in tonight’s debate? If he cannot hold himself in and takes Hillary Clinton’s bait, he will go off script (if indeed his advisers tried to give him talking points) and start ranting in a way that will hurt him tremendously. On the other hand, if he tries to remain “presidential” and is able to hit Clinton on all her obvious weaknesses, he may be able to recoup some support.
This, however, is highly unlikely. By now, we know who Donald Trump is—a man patently unfit to be president of the United States. Little he could say tonight will change that judgment for most people.