When it comes to societal perceptions, audio and video changes everything, as Charles Krauthammer incisively explains. We really don’t know anything about Donald Trump today that we didn’t know yesterday. But the power of a tape to make its mark on our consciousness is simply unequaled by written and oral descriptions. Very often, an accused who faces devastating eyewitness testimony rolls the dice and goes to trial, hoping the witnesses’ accounts can be shaken. But a defendant facing a tape-recording of his crimes pleads guilty. That’s just the way it goes.
Trump should step aside. At this point, he is not electable.
This election is more of a commentary on the electorate than it is on the final two candidates, who were both fully known quantities throughout the process. So it is a tragic reflection of what we’ve become that Hillary Clinton is electable – albeit only in the sense that a large quantum of the electorate so despises Republicans that they will put aside their reservations about Mrs. Clinton, and another smaller but not inconsiderable slice remains enamored of the Clintons no matter how despicable they are. Importantly, the mainstream media, Hillary’s most consequential constituency, falls into both these camps.
Trump’s electability, on the other hand, has always hinged on a suspension of disbelief about who he is and the hyper-optimistic notion that he’d surround himself with solid people and let them govern. “Make America Great Again” is the “hope and change” of this cycle – an empty screen allowing supporters to ignore disturbing aspects of the candidate’s background and project on him their own values.
Beyond that exercise in self-delusion, the two biggest things Trump has going for him are (a) Mrs. Clinton (the corrupt self-dealing, the criminality, the record, the mendacity, the political ineptitude, the health concerns, the fact that even most of those who will vote for her don’t like her); and (b) relatedly, the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat – the certainty that Mrs. Clinton would fill it (and other openings on the federal bench) with activists of the Lawyer Left, whereas with Trump, there is at least the chance that he would appoint constitutionalists. (This chance has been pooh-poohed by NeverTrumpers – understandably so, since it is the weakest point in their otherwise solid case. I think the commitments Trump has made in the campaign, including naming names he’d consider appointing, created the realistic expectation that he would follow through. Concededly, though, Trump is unreliable, so this expectation is more a hope than a lock.)
Thanks to the recording, however, the suspension of disbelief is untenable – a fact Trump fortified with last night’s hastily produced apology, in which he seemed more annoyed than contrite, and – exhibiting yet more bad judgment – ended on a defiant note about how “Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.”
This tone is consistent with the Trump persona: Always hit back twice as hard – no matter how insignificant the slight, no matter how inappropriate attack-mode is under the circumstances. What’s disturbing is that the Trump persona has been assimilated by his most ardent backers, who not only echoed but foreshadowed his line of defense. The most common refrain is that what counts are the Clintons’ heinous actions, not Trump’s “mere” words. As Trump himself put it, “I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between words and actions of other people.”
This is so inane it is hard to know where to begin. Trump was not “merely” speaking on that tape. He was reporting his prior actions and relating his then-current attitudes. These included trying to bed a married woman while he himself was married; 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. (Again, this is nothing that we shouldn’t have known already, but the tape brings it home in a bracing way.)
More to the point, though, Bill Clinton’s abuse of women, which Hillary not only condoned but aided and abetted, is what makes them disqualified – or at least a huge part of it. How does it help Trump’s defense to contend that other despicable, disqualified people are even worse than he is – especially when they are so analogous to him that the comparison instantly suggests itself?
And then, of course, there is the problem that Trump and the Clintons are peas in the same pod. When all of us Trump detractors were vigorously opposing the Clintons, Trump couldn’t get enough of them: He publicly lauded them, he socialized with them, and he supported them financially. There is nothing known today about Bill Clinton as sexual predator and Hillary Clinton as scourge of bimbo eruptions that wasn’t known when, up until political ambition recently intruded, Trump was chummy-chummy with them. And while I’m willing to assume that Trump, who does not have developed political beliefs, is somewhat more centrist than the Clintons, I continue to believe he is a standard-issue New York limousine-liberal who has more in common with them than he does with me.
I’ll admit it: I believe Hillary Clinton in the White House would be a catastrophe for the United States, and I have thus tried to warm to the prospect of Trump’s election as the lesser of two evils. I’ve even been cheered by the fact that Trump is willing to go bare knuckles with the Clintons in a way conventional Republicans are not – going aggressively after Hillary’s criminality, corruption, national security recklessness, and hypocrisy.
Alas, none of this changes who Trump is – as others have seen from the start, back when I was insisting that Trump’s candidacy was a lark that would end when he soon got bored. Who Trump is is unelectable. A month from Election Day, he cannot recover from this shameful episode: He was nosediving with women even before this, and he will now shed an electorally significant number of men. It is much more likely that additional dirt is forthcoming than that he can turn the sinking polls around. It is time for him to go.