You have to wonder why people seemed so surprised? Everyone knew that Donald Trump has been a serial philanderer, that much has been a running saga in the New York Daily News for decades now. The guy has a thing for models and beauty pageants. There have been any number of civil suits related to his unwanted sexual advances. The videotape was sickening in demonstrating his narcissistic entitlement born of power and celebrity to sexually assault women of his choosing, but are people really surprised?
Republicans who committed to Trump have watched one outrage after another for months now. Yet there they are, like the proverbial frog that found itself in a pot of boiling water and wondered why it did not get out before things got so hot. Last weekend, Donald Trump gave them all a gift. It was the deal of a lifetime, but it has a short expiration date. He has given them an out. They all knew who he was when they got into bed with him, but like Peter Lorre in Casablanca, they get to express their outrage, and, if they are smart, get out.
Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of the notably Republican Wall Street Journal editorial board, summed it up succinctly last week in her op-ed endorsement of Hillary Clinton, entitled Hillary-Hatred Derangement Syndrome. Republicans have marketed Hillary hatred for decades now, and by the time Trump rolled around, he was the beneficiary of their derangement. Republicans across the political spectrum — from Tea Party firebrand Steve King on the right, to the more reasonable Deputy Majority Whip Tom Cole (R-OK), to GOP wise man Vin Weber — each poo-pooed the rabid anti-Hillary rhetoric around the time of the Republican convention as campaign bluster, suggesting that Hillary could be fine to work with if she won, but apparently many across the GOP never got the memo. Instead, Republicans, pumped up by years of well-stoked hatreds, flocked like lemmings to Trump’s banner, ignoring the myriad warning lights flashing red along the way.
But the thing is, the video was not even Donald Trump’s worst offense last week. It was not even the second worst. Lost in the explosion of indignant outrage over a video in which Donald Trump sounded exactly how one imagined Donald Trump would sound, were two even more disqualifying outbursts. First, at a rally in Florida, Trump expressed outrage at the exoneration of the Central Park 5. Trump has been involved with the case since it roiled New York City in 1989. Five young men were wrongfully convicted and served full sentences for raping a young woman, before being exonerated and having their convictions vacated in the wake of the confession of a man whose guilt was confirmed by DNA evidence. Trump has used the case to garner attention to himself over the years by stirring up racial animus — a precursor to how he used the Birther movement — and did so again this week in Florida.
Then, at a meeting with a union representing border patrol agents, Trump returned to the narrative that the election is being rigged against him, which has served him well since his loss in the Wisconsin primary. Then it was the GOP primary system that was rigged, now it is the integrity of our entire electoral system, as he accused the Obama administration of opening the border to allow undocumented immigrants with criminal records to “pour into the country so they can go ahead and vote.”
In these two events, Donald Trump demonstrated his willingness to undermine public confidence in core institutions of civil society — in this case the integrity of the election system and independent judiciary — if it serves his political interests. A large share of Trump’s core voters — perhaps 40% of the GOP — believe what he says. They will conclude from his words last week that in New York City, corrupt officials exonerated five guilty men, facts be damned. They will conclude that corrupt Obama administration officials are letting undocumented immigrants flood across the border vote for Hillary Clinton, facts be damned.
Donald Trump needs to be shamed and discredited, not because of words captured on a hot mic, but because of the damage he has inflicted, and continues to inflict, on public confidence in institutions upon which our democracy depends. This is the reason Republicans should stand against him, and this is the reason history will condemn them if they don’t.