‘Why are all these stories breaking now, when it’s too late to do anything about it?” a puzzled friend asked, speaking of the disgusting behavior of Mr. Trump. We had the longest primary campaign in history — almost nine months, long enough to make a baby. Shouldn’t the nominee be thoroughly vetted by now?
It’s a good question, especially since the Billy Bush tape didn’t really break new ground: Anybody could have found or recalled similar stuff Trump said to Howard Stern or in his books. Other more nefarious allegations have been floating around, emerging occasionally in print, for months now. Why didn’t the 72-hour television-news cycle that made Trump’s creepiness impossible not to notice materialize before now?
Here are four good reasons:
1. Trump’s primary opponents underestimated his appeal. They were expecting him to implode on his own and they wanted to pick up his voters, so they were reluctant to drag him into the mud. Instead they concentrated their fire on each other, until it was too late.
2. Mutually Assured Destruction? When Republican officeholders started to run from Trump, Kellyanne Conway said this:
I would talk to some of the members of Congress out there when I was younger and prettier, them rubbing up against girls sticking their tongues down women’s throats uninvited who didn’t like it. And some of them by the way are on the list of people who won’t support Donald Trump because they all run around on his high horse.
Call it the Packwood Maneuver, for the Oregon senator forced to resign after multiple women staffers accused him of sexual assault:
The Senator was no Don Juan. He didn’t flirt suavely or invite women for candle-lit dinners. No, he swooped down out of the blue, usually embracing a woman under the fluorescent lights of an inner office. According to many accounts, his groping was wooden and his open-mouthed kisses oddly passionless. “I have no idea,” one alleged victim says, “why this man thinks women are going to suddenly rip their clothes off.”
This technique apparently works often enough that busy, powerful men such as Trump have not yet discarded it. I have no insider knowledge, but it’s not improbable that at least a few of Trump’s opponents have done some stuff they wouldn’t want exposed by his friends at the National Enquirer. Maybe that accounts for a small part of why this never became a big issue in the primary.
3. Trump’s GOP opponents didn’t want to take the political hit. When charges are aired that provoke disgust, people often blame the messenger. We don’t like disgusting stuff in our faces, in our living rooms. As a candidate, if you run TV ads about Trump’s filthy ways, voters are going to associate you with filth too.
Which brings us to the most important reason all the really big surprises somehow come in October:
4. The Democrats control the avenues of information to low-information and less partisan voters. This is one of the structural disadvantages conservatives face, and we need to understand and find a way to combat it. By the time we come to October, the partisans have almost all made up their mind. The election never turns on the votes of people who get their information from Fox News or MSNBC. So, it is the editors who determine what gets on CNN and the Today Show, in People magazine and other ostensibly unbiased outlets, who have real influence.
#related#Hillary didn’t have to take the heat for bringing our minds into the gutter by playing the Bush tape over and over again. The mainstream media did it for her, and in October, rather than back in January when it would have really saved the country (I hope).
But, say my liberal friends, these women are just coming forward now, and that’s why the story is coming out in October. Well, yes, of course, once the tape was played a zillion times on TV, women came forward. I’m not suggesting they were waiting until October for political reasons. But in our media-massaged reality, the decision that counts is made based on exactly when facts leap from the cold page of print and become embodied and televised over and over again.
Trump is wrong about a lot of things but he’s not wrong about this:
“The e-mails show the Clinton regime is so closely and irrevocably tied to the media organizations that she, listen to this, she is given the questions and answers in advance of her debate performance with Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton York Times,” he said at a West Palm Beach rally October 13, before going on: “It’s one of the great political phenomenons. The most powerful weapon deployed by the Clintons is the corporate media, the press.”
2016 aside, conservatives need to address this structural problem going forward: How can we create new avenues to communicate with independents and soft Democrats? What can we do to ensure that by October 2020, October surprises will be a cause for bipartisan concern?
— Maggie Gallagher is the author of four books on marriage and a longtime contributor to National Review.