The news that Donald Trump was caught on a hot mic sounding like a dirty old Hollywood pervert hit the race for the White House like an exploding bomb last Friday evening. His unguarded remarks to Billy Bush about how he could molest any women he wanted because of his celebrity destroyed his chance to be the 45th president of the United States. The remarks were raw and they were ugly, even in the context of what he later explained was “locker room banter.”
He survived to fight for four more weeks, but it will not be enough. There have been too many foot-in-mouth moments, and I’m guessing there are more to come.
Trump: “I just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Billy Bush: “Whatever you want.”
Trump: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Although the remarks were made 11 years ago, most of the public cut him no slack. Even some diehard Trump supporters, forced by their loathing of Hillary Clinton to stick with him through thick and thin, found this latest revelation beyond the pale. Certainly many folks not tuned into the campaign spectacle found the remarks unsavory.
How can we elect someone president when we could not let our children hear his profane remarks?
Prominent GOP senators and governors jammed the doors as they jumped off the Trump train in the wake of the revelations. From former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, some of the biggest stars in the GOP firmament announced they had turned off their support for Trump. The Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will never appear with Trump again, despite the obvious threat a landslide defeat for the Republican at the top of the ticket poses to Ryan’s majority in the House of Representatives.
He has survived half dozen scandals that have historically wrecked more convention candidates. He lost my vote when he vowed to deport all undocumented immigrants, even if they had lived otherwise law-abiding lives and even if they have citizen-born children. He said he would ban all Muslim immigrants, insulted POW’S and Gold Star families and so forth and so on. But this simple tacky racy scandal is too much for too many. It has a special repugnance because all of us have been there, saying things out of school. We know when someone has gone over the line, even for a locker room.
When he made those remarks that would later destroy Billy Bush’s career on NBC and the Today Show, Mr. Trump was 59 years old, hardly a high school jock in a sweaty gym. I am of his “Mad Men” generation and admit to occasionally engaging in locker room banter back in the day, sometimes with Mr. Trump. But even in that context the hot mic conversation on the bus with Billy was graphic and lowbrow. In the current climate of heightened awareness of sexual harassment and sexual assault, it was grotesque. The cavalier arrogance he displayed when talking about his sexual prerogatives makes it impossible for less hard-core Trump supporters to continue to associate with a candidate who was already running well behind Hillary Clinton.
Going into Sunday night’s second debate, Trump needed a miracle performance to salvage his crippled campaign. He didn’t quite get it, although he did better than expected under the circumstances. His stunt with the purported victims of Bill Clinton’s predatory behavior was outrageous, ill mannered and out-of-line, but it worked despite the fact that Bill is not running for president, Hillary is.
As president, Bill Clinton paid for his transgressions with impeachment, only the second in the history of the land to be so humiliated. Still, viewed objectively, Trump’s stunt with the ladies, and his implacable attacks on Secretary Clinton’s E-Mail scandal and her essential honesty seemed to wear Hillary down.
He narrowly won that debate by going nuclear, and there is no doubt that his most fervent supporters are defiantly cheering his bare-knuckled performance. He attacked relentlessly in a way unseen in modern American history. He had some good, cutting lines, including his pledge to put Secretary Clinton in jail if he is elected. That got a huge gasp from the audience in St. Louis and the millions watching on television, but it heartened his deflated followers.
So thanks to his swaggering and extraordinarily aggressive debate, he dodged the “Access Hollywood” bullet and rallied his base. But it will not be enough to reverse his political fortunes. No candidate for national office can prevail with the support of just his core of high school-educated white folks.
Mr. Trump needed to broaden his support to make up his dearth of support from Latinos, African-Americans, Asians, Muslims, Jews and suburban white women, especially those with college education. He did not do that Sunday night. He survived to fight for four more weeks, but it will not be enough. There have been too many foot-in-mouth moments, and I’m guessing there are more to come.