Editor’s Note: This column now reads as a classic example of why prediction is a bad business to be in. That said, we don’t believe in erasing our mistakes on The Beast. – John Avlon, Editor-in-Chief
Mark down the date: October 7, 2016, is when Donald Trump lost the presidency.
I’m usually reluctant to play the pundit-prediction game but Independent and Republican women aren’t going to bounce back from this one. Not when the GOP nominee is caught on tape talking about hitting on a married woman “with big phony tits” “like a bitch” and how part of his M.O. is “grabbing pussy” because “when you’re a star” “you can do anything.”
This entire campaign has been an exercise of the electorate being slowly simmered in a pot of boiling water, losing our sense of outrage amid a steady of onslaught insults and lies. But sex and cruelty resonates in a way that financial scandals or demagoguery just don’t.
Character is what you do when nobody’s looking. And this video captures Trump in the middle of the day, sober, a few months after being married, talking with a man he barely knows, bragging about sexual assault, while wearing a microphone.
This is, apparently, the real Donald Trump. So much for any claims to having “great judgment” and “the best temperament.” So much for indignant campaign spin, like the Baghdad Bob-esque denial issued from Trump Tower this week after allegations of sexism emerged from The Apprentice set: “These outlandish, unsubstantiated, and totally false claims fabricated by publicity hungry, opportunistic, disgruntled former employees, have no merit whatsoever.” Add to that the now-classic insincerity of “nobody respects women more than I do.”
Conservative supporters have been played for fools by Con Man Donald. Shouting back “Benghazi!” isn’t going to help. You can’t deflect; you have to deal with the reality of this situation. Even Mike Pence won’t be able to shake his head over this one to make it go away. Trump’s own VP nominee will have to distance himself from this particular disgrace because it cuts against his political brand and undercuts his 2020 ambitions.
For Republicans, this is a time to head to the lifeboats. The GOP has been preparing plans to run away from the top of the ticket in an attempt to save the senate and now it’s too late to replace their nominee. He is on the ballot. The modest gains Trump had made in September have been definitively dashed. The CNN/ORC poll issued after his disastrous first debate showed Trump trailing by 14 points among women, 9 points by independents and 27 points by moderates. These numbers are all going to nosedive further, and though I suspect Donald Trump will slightly outperform the polls on election day, all the self-inflicted wounds will prove too much to build a winning coalition beyond his populist base. On the most basic level of political math, Trump is losing support in the final stretch instead of winning new converts. This does not end well.
For all the #NeverTrump supporters who have been softening over the past few weeks, rationalizing why they must fall into line behind someone they know is irresponsible, and all the reluctant Republicans who feel that they have no political choice but to support their party’s nominee, remember what John F. Kennedy once said: “sometimes party loyalty asks too much.”
On Friday night, Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who is leading the ongoing Hillary Clinton investigation/witch hunt in the House, revoked his endorsement of Trump along with his home state Governor and Utah Senator Mike Lee. Former Utah Governor and former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who had inexplicably endorsed The Donald, called on Trump to step down. Independent conservative presidential candidate Evan McMullen just had a good night as an anti-Trump and anti-Hillary alternative.
Now, Republicans who ought to know better, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain will need to move beyond their reluctant endorsements and initial denunciations to actually revoke their support. This doesn’t mean endorsing Hillary Clinton, but it does mean taking responsibility for fixing what has gone so wrong for the Party of Lincoln that it fell for Con Man Donald.
This is the most devastating October surprise in history—with a far more visceral impact than Nixon’s secret ’68 negotiations with the Viet Cong, Iran’s final refusal to release the hostages in 1980, George W. Bush’s long-lost D.U.I., Hurricane Sandy or Mitt Romney’s 47% comments. The fact that it occurs against the first female presidential nominee just makes the contrast more politically lethal. The Clintons have always benefitted from enemies who ultimately over-reach and destroy themselves.
There will be more disasters ahead in the thirty days to the Election. There will be new tapes and emails, plot twists and insults. Sunday night’s second debate could serve up an epic ego meltdown on live TV. This surreal and sordid election has felt like a dystopian novel at times, A cross between “The Plot Against America” and “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” But in the end, an ancient bit of wisdom finally asserted its authority: Character is Destiny.