WASHINGTON, October 9, 2016 — What Bill Clinton was to “DNA stain,” Donald Trump has suddenly become to “pussy.” America’s political lexicon has added an ugly new growth, thanks to Trump.
The comments that included that term would have caused a normal man to apologize abjectly then ponder leaving the race. But Trump isn’t normal. The embattled candidate told a reporter from the Wall Street Journal that he would “never, ever give up,” reiterating to the Washington Post, “I’d never withdraw. I’ve never withdrawn in my life.”
One almost admirable trait shared by Clinton and Trump is their dogged determination to persevere in the face of their own, self-destructive bad behavior.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only trait they share: Both use women like a teenager uses a rag, with casual disregard for the woman’s humanity.
Trump’s supporters might claim that Trump is no worse than Clinton, and that the “liberal, mainstream media” were, after condemning his behavior, solid in their support of him. They could add that Hillary Clinton’s own words and behavior have been reprehensible.
They have a point, but it’s a bad one. To defend the indefensible because others have is still to defend the indefensible, and “they did it, too” is no defense. It’s an excuse.
Trump’s comments are beyond awful. He seems to celebrate his capacity for sexual assault. He made them ten years ago, but his comments can’t be passed off as the indiscretion of a younger man. As the Deseret News observed, “it is disheartening to see otherwise decent individuals now attempting to defend Trump’s talk, dismissing it as mere ‘locker room’ bravado. At the time of the audio recording, Trump was not a hormonal teenage athlete, but rather a 60-year-old husband of an expectant mother and the father of four children.”
At 60, you are very much the man or woman you will be until death or dementia takes you. The Trump who said those things is the same Trump who is running for the presidency.
No decent person could defend those comments, nor make them. Trump’s running-mate, Mike Pence, and almost every elected Republican who has commented in public, has characterized them as indefensible. The political question now is whether his supporters will withdraw their support.
A related question is why they gave it to him in the first place.
Those questions apply to two distinct groups: party leaders and the rank-and-file. GOP leaders haven’t abandoned Trump en masse, but several have, and more will follow.
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman said on Friday that Trump should drop out of the race. He told the Salt Lake Tribune, “In a campaign cycle that has been nothing but a race to the bottom—at such a critical moment for our nation—and with so many who have tried to be respectful of a record primary vote, the time has come for Governor Pence to lead the ticket.”
Huntsman is joined by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, Sen. Jodi Ernst of Iowa, former governor George Pataki of N.Y., and Sen. Mark Kirk of Ill., all Republicans. There are others, and the list is growing.
Why did a man like Huntsman support Trump in the first place? Huntsman is no fool. He has a distinguished record and is well-regarded by people across the political spectrum. In fact, he’s been held in much higher esteem by liberals than by conservatives.
Was Huntsman surprised by Trump’s comments? Did he consider him a bit rough, a bit abrasive, but essentially a decent man?
That people like Huntsman are now dismayed isn’t a surprise; it’s an embarrassment. They have no reason to be surprised. The Trump we see today is the same Trump who has been strutting in front of us for the last year. Hillary Clinton is awful—corrupt and corrupting—but were they so horrified of her that they could shut their eyes, pinch closed their noses and embrace Trump?
Apparently. They might have hoped that he could defeat Clinton, and then they could tame Trump, but now both parts of that calculation look badly flawed. Trump is doing his best to show America his worst and lose to Hillary, and he is as tamable as a boar in rut.
And so they abandon him, and so they should. But at this point it’s an act of political self-preservation, not courage. They are like the frog in the story of the scorpion in the frog: Shocked when the scorpion stings it in the middle of the river, the frog asks, “but why? Now we both die!” The scorpion replies, “I’m a scorpion; it’s my nature and you knew it.”
The GOP is already stung. Abandon Trump? What difference does it make at this point?
The impact on Trump’s rank-and-file support won’t be known until pollsters can ask them, but supporters have rallied at Trump Tower and sent waves of online support.
If the past predicts the future, the impact won’t be strong. At this point, lines are sharply drawn. That Trump is crude and not inclined to practice “conventional” sexual morality is already well known; his comments are less a bombshell than a confirmation of what we already knew.
Some of Trump’s supporters strongly distrust or dislike Hillary Clinton. She’s corrupt, in service to no one but herself and her desire for wealth and power. She brings with her a corrupt network that is dedicated to protecting her and the wealth that she can send their way. People who believe that will support Trump no matter what.
If these voters don’t share values with Trump, they do share interests. They see Trump in terms of supreme court nominees, department secretaries and policy priorities. Even if they aren’t ideologically on the same page as Trump, they consider him closer to them than Clinton is, and less likely to forge a dangerous liberal consensus in the courts.
For some this is a purely political calculation, and it makes sense. Many others are “values” voters, however, and their support of Trump is harder to understand.
Evangelical leader Gary Bauer, chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, speaks for many of these values voters. Bauer says that Trump’s “grossly inappropriate language” changes nothing. “I continue to support the Trump-Pence ticket. … Hillary Clinton is committed to enacting policies that will erode religious liberty, promote abortion, make our country less safe, and leave our borders unprotected.”
For the sake of defeating Clinton, evangelicals will forgive Trump anything. As Steve Scheffler of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition puts it, “the Bible tells me that we are all sinners saved by grace and I don’t think there’s probably a person alive that I know of that hasn’t made some mistakes in the past.”
In His need, God can use the worst sinner to accomplish His purposes, and God needs Donald Trump.
Some voters support Trump for more immediate, personal reasons. A large swath of the electorate has been on the economic ropes for years as they’ve seen their jobs and prospects wither away. They don’t hate immigrants, but they’re economically threatened by immigration. Clinton is for open borders and is in bed with Wall Street, which got all the help after the financial meltdown. They got squat.
Trump is a pig? At this point, what difference does it make?
His rank-and-file supporters have their reasons for following Trump, and they aren’t all bad ones. They won’t defend his comments, but they won’t be swayed by them, either. They don’t believe they can afford to vote for Clinton.
They don’t have to vote for Clinton, but can they vote for Trump and respect themselves in the morning?
Or for fear of Clinton, have we let Trump grab us by the collective … Oh, America!