The Sunday debate recalibrated the moribund Trump candidacy. It will not end this week. The stampede and groupthink calls for his resignation will ease. Trump might have lost the debate on points of detail, but by the end of hour one, he had won it on energy level and audacity.
No one has ever spoken so bluntly to Hillary Clinton in her 30 years in politics. The confrontation was long overdue. In an either/or race, Trump at least reminded the audience that he is running as a refutation of the status quo. Hillary still bores with the idea that Obama’s record is fine and her continuance of it will make things even better.
By the debate’s end, it was almost miraculously forgotten that hours earlier, Trump had been considered dead. That fact also translated into a Trump debate victory.
A leaked hot-mic tape from 11 years prior caught a married and near-60 Donald Trump talking dirty, in adolescent, misogynistic fashion — along with a celebrity scion of the Bush aristocracy.
Whether he reified his braggadocio by grabbing women and sexually assaulting them through unwarranted touching — in the manner of former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger or past president Bill Clinton — remains to be seen from future hit-leaks. If Trump was talking sex trash as he approached 60, we can only imagine what the Clinton campaign will dig up from his randier 40s and 50s — especially after Trump did well enough in the debate, and in response to more Wikileaks damage to Hillary.
Why did his decade-old locker-room talk matter? A cruder and raunchier America of Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé is now far more sexually sensitive than was the staid America of half a century ago — as if the dirtier we become, the more sanctimonious we end up. Past presidents, such as John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, trumped even Trump in unleashing their reckless libidos on quite young White House staffers, an array of mistresses, and random women. But they were then young, liberal, loved by the media, and skilled incumbent politicians holding the power of the country at key moments in history.
Private buccaneer Trump so far has no such mitigating arguments to contextualize his reprehensible private banter. In the debate Trump played the Clinton defense of Moveon.org days: He was terribly sorry and now it was time to “move on” to solve problems — an argument that long ago had resonated with the Left.
In case that did not work, Trump used another Clinton liberal tactic: reminding us of others who do worse. Bill Clinton’s leaks about his sanctimonious opponents once led to the resignations of Republican congressmen whose private lives were said to be no better than Clinton’s. Never underestimate the comparative sleaze in Washington.
Bill Clinton’s leaks about his sanctimonious opponents once led to the resignations of Republican congressmen whose private lives were said to be no better than Clinton’s. Never underestimate the comparative sleaze in Washington.
The beloved Vernon Jordan once gave us a glimpse of the gutter world of Bill Clinton on the golf course (“we talk p***y”). Long ago, 21-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky showed us evidence of presidential DNA from Oval Office bathroom cigar encounters.
Nonetheless, the Republican party expresses far more shock at Trump’s crudity of a decade prior than Democrats did of Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual assaults — or Hillary Clinton’s latest leaked hypocrisies about admitting to a contrived, schizophrenic personality and shilling for Wall Street. Conservatives, admirably, are more likely to define personal morality as control of the appetites. The Left embraces a cosmic notion that far more important egalitarian ends sometimes permit rather sordid means and creepy people to achieve them.
A far less reported WikiLeaks trove confirmed, likewise in anticlimactic fashion, what we already knew about Hillary Clinton from 30 years of the cattle-futures fraud, Travelgate, Whitewater, her demonization of Bill’s female liaison partners, contextualization of his sexual assaults, and her serial gaffes about being poor, gloating over Qaddafi’s death, lying and expressing callousness about Benghazi, abject untruths about the Clinton pay-for-play foundation, and her unlawful and reckless creation of a private e-mail server as secretary of state.
In other words, Hillary (yawn) is revealed by WikiLeaks as a hypocrite, intellectually dishonest, cynical, rich from ill-gotten gains, and willing to use any means necessary to win. Liberals can overlook likely felonies a lot easier than conservatives can tolerate Trump’s mouth.
Some final conclusions about the last week:
So-what disclosures. More WikiLeaks will do little to Hillary. The Democrats will stay united around Hillary — if anything, impressed from Wikileaks that her duplicity is all the more effective for advancing their own progressive agenda. Don’t expect socialist idealist Bernie Sanders to emerge from his tony lakeside retreat to damn Hillary on her Wall Street connivance. Liberal principles are defined as winning elections.
Trump zealots will likewise excuse Trump’s crudity. In extremis, they may even welcome his playing Samson tearing down the props holding up the Philistines’ establishment temple. Oddly, the more desperate the Trump campaign gets, the more liberated he becomes. By orchestrating the old hot-mike tape, the Clinton campaign ignited a nuclear war — one that they feel they can win.
Conservative Never Trumpers will find renewed hope that Trump may not lose just by two or three points as was likely after the first debate, and prior to the Access Hollywood revelations, but could fall by 5 percent or more. That disaster might revive their own “I told you so” arguments that he was a disaster for Republicans. But barring another Trump crudity disclosure, a Hillary health moment or collapse in the third debate, or a catastrophic terrorist act or riotous violence — Trump is likely, just as before, to come up short along the old McCain or Romney margins.
There are still agendas. Despite the defects of the two candidates, as the debate showed, the race still offers two quite different visions of how America might continue after Obama’s doubling of the debt, racial polarization, foreign-policy disasters, health-care mess, and rampant alphabetic corruption of the FBI, IRS, GSA, VA, and EPA. Hillary will double down on Obamaism, not because she necessarily likes Obama, but because as a past Obama servant she is embedded within his legacy and has mortgaged her political soul to the far Left.
She also now feels more comfortable in returning to her 1970s left-wing persona than in perpetuating her 1990s third-way First Lady fraud. In contrast, Trump should dispel any doubts that he is clearly the more conservative candidate.
The turn-offs of the two candidates are a matter of relative taste and ideology: The more conservative message delivered with uncooked vulgarity, or progressivism baked in refined and polished corruption. Oddly, Obama is the real winner: The more the two sling mud, the more an absentee Obama by default looks better — as long as he stays near comatose, out of sight and sound, and leaves us with the idea rather than the reality of his failing presidency.
Nothing new under the sun. Republicans perhaps delude themselves into thinking that if they had nominated another — and more moral — candidate, there would have been far less exposure to left-wing hits. McCain and Romney were unusually decent people by any standard. They ran exemplary, gentlemanly campaigns. They were political moderates of sober speech and judicious temperament. Both lost.
Had Rubio or Cruz been nominated, by this juncture we would be reading of their deplorable personal sins — in the manner of John McCain pseudo-extramarital affair or of Romney’s supposed tax avoidance, slurs about the non-federal-income-tax-paying 47 percent, or his various crudities from dog mistreatment to wearing holy underwear.
There is no honor among thieves. The law-abiding right wing has excused WikiLeaks scoundrel Julian Assange as a speaker of truth to power in attacking Hillary. Similarly, Russian hackers are now hardly seen as saboteurs of a U.S. campaign, on the theory that they damage Hillary so far more than they do Trump.
Leftists, who pose as protectors of privacy, don’t care that Trump’s private taxes were leaked. No one worries that recordings of his private profanity of more than a decade past were dug up — any more than Obama worried about leaking private divorce records in his 2004 primary and general elections.
The ends justify the means. Nothing is private, nothing sacred. All that is different is that unethical disclosures and lies are bragged upon rather than excused. So a repugnant dolt like Harry Reid still boasts that his lying about Romney’s tax returns helped sink his campaign.
Civil war looms. The Trump hot-mike disclosures gave excuses for more mainstream panicky Republicans to jump the Trump ship – to the fury of his die-hard supporters, especially after the strong Trump debate. The bleeding will stop, but Trump is still short on blood and needs transfusions.
Only a candidate of Reagan or Eisenhower proportions could now reunite the two factions. Without both on board, no future Republican nominee retains even a slight chance of winning the presidency.
Class hatred now splits the party. The culture of the Republican establishment resembles more that of their liberal urban counterparts than of the populists in the hinterland. We are at a Jacksonian moment. The Republican party is eroding. No one quite knows what will replace it.
Trump supporters ask why their fellow Republicans are more outraged over Trump’s crudity than they are over Hillary’s crimes, de facto defense of sexual assault among them. In frustration, they ask what is the point of daily detailing Hillary’s high crimes and far-left agendas if one is not going to vote against them? They cite their own votes for moderate losers in 2008 and 2012 and demand reciprocity in 2016. The Never Trump establishment is shocked that rubes are willing to overlook anything to see their reckless outsider take power. After the election, the mainstream will blame the Trump people. The latter will certainly fault the former for sabotage — as the country goes further to hell under Obama’s third term.
Quo Vadimus? Where are we going after the strong Trump debate, the Access Hollywood tape, and the Wikileaks Wall Street speeches?
An expiring Trump has revealed yet another life, and may find yet another with a final strong debate. But barring a news bombshell, the cruder, more conservative candidate will still probably lose to the more dishonest and more liberal candidate. Money, the media, and the establishment in cahoots are hard to beat. Hillary has all three.
A resuscitated Trump is running out of lives — but, more importantly, out of time.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.