They had their chance.
Republican leaders had every opportunity to dump Donald Trump. To fully vet him and respond to his ever-growing collection of vile, hyper-misogynistic, racist vitriol. They failed to do it.
Conservative voters across the land had ample opportunity to walk into a ballot box and renounce him. They failed to do it.
With few exceptions, Republicans stood, however reluctantly, behind a flawed candidate who they must have known had more skeletons in his gilded closest than a county morgue. Of course, there were several voices who were courageous enough to challenge the former television personality, but none of them had the political might nor the financial heft to combat the string of conservative standard bearers-- on talk radio and cable news—who circled the wagons around Trump. Political naysayers were laughed off as “cucks” and “RINOs” as Trump kept on winning.
And now, with 30 days left in activate campaigning, Trump is hobbling to the finish line—weighed down by a cavalcade of controversies, including a 2005 videotape made public Friday of him making gross, sexual remarks about a soap opera actress and a married E! host. “I moved on her like a bitch,” he said of his unsuccessful quest to sleep with a married woman, who he later reportedly tried to fire because of how she looked while pregnant.
Party leaders are said to be convening a high-level meeting in D.C. to discuss their options, according to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, including preparing for the possibility that Trump might voluntarily drop out of the race. RNC rules permit the removal of a candidate, but it's too late for that now and Trump won’t step down. “GOPers looked at ballot rules on replacing Trump during the Khan meltdown,” tweeted “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, referring to the prolonged dust-up with a Gold Star family. “Bottom line: If he didn’t vacate by Sept. 1, they were stuck.”
Mired in his own morass of bankruptcies and vanity-driven profiteering schemes, as well as an apparent inability to maintain any semblance of message discipline, both his business acumen and personal character have been called into question.
He has proven, time and time again—with his verbal assaults against women, racial and religious minorities-- that he isn’t interested in big tent politics and he isn’t interested in growing his party or the conservative movement, let alone in governing. For him, the White House is simply another quality address—a chance to throw fabulous State Dinners in honor of foreign leaders, to command the comings and goings of Air Force One and extend invitations for sleep-overs in the Lincoln Bedroom.
The race was over before it started.
Friday’s revelation that Trump was caught on a “hot mic,” making repulsive, salacious comments about a woman he’d never met, sealed the deal. There is simply no way to spin remarks about “grabbing” a woman “by the pussy.” There is no explanation for trumpeting his celebrity as a free pass to force himself on a woman. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he was caught telling Access Hollywood host Billy Bush.
“I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it,” Trump said at another point in the now infamous, leaked video. “I did try and fuck her. She was married.”
For his part, the real estate magnate issued a half-baked apology and attributed it all to “locker room banter.”
“If anyone was offended…”
House Speaker Paul Ryan has cancelled a joint appearance set for Saturday, saying he was “sickened” by the remarks. RNC chairman Reince Priebus called the tape “indefensible.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, himself the father of three daughters, deemed the statements “repugnant.” Sen. Ted Cruz, who once refused then endorsed Trump? “Disturbing and inappropriate.” Sen. Marco Rubio? “Unjustifiable.”
None of them vacated their endorsements. Doing so would upset the GOP base and could further endanger the Republican congressional majority. “A senior-level Trump source with direct knowledge says the RNC is standing with Trump for now,” reported ABC’s John Santucci.
For the good of the country,” Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado) wrote in a statement, “and the give Republicans a chance of defeating Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump should step aside… Mr. Trump should put the country first and do the right thing.”
But no principled, Christian conservative can justify backing a thrice married, serial philander who essentially confessed to sex crimes. However, this race was never about principle. It was never about Republican themes like small government, personal responsibility or family values. From the start, Trump’s campaign has been predicated on sexism (and ethno-nationalistic racism). It is and always has been about white male resentment and anguish. Trump bottled that antipathy—for women and minorities— and put it on a chartered flight to Iowa.
Until now, Trump—who has more than once called women “pigs” and “dogs”—has met nearly every criticism with a shrug. He was apparently oblivious to what impact that may have on his support among women, which had already been falling precipitously. This time might well be different. There is no way for him to wake up tomorrow morning and move ahead, business as usual.
For the first time, he may have to reckon fully with his history of debasing those he believes are weak and exploitable. No apology, no matter how full throated, will be acceptable. Ardent supporters—women among them—are already rallying to his defense. Washington State Republican Party Chair Susan Hutchison defended Trump’s comments, saying the statements “were made when he was a Democrat” and “he was channeling Bill Clinton.” But, Trump simply cannot roll back decades of atrocious behavior in the span of a press conference or a recorded statement.
A 90-second video, released by Trump just minutes after midnight, was a feeble attempt to write-off his behavior, deem the damning tape a “distraction,” and raise the specter of former President Bill Clinton’s alleged infidelities. “I never said I was perfect… I said it, I was wrong and I apologize.”
His lackluster apology and his “pledge to be a better man tomorrow” will do nothing to salve the searing wounds. Trump vowed to keep talking about Bill and Hillary Clinton, and ways he believes they’ve done worse.
The real problem is that there are likely more instances of Trump’s unchecked bravado—whether on tape or witnessed by others—and Republicans have only themselves to blame. With no meaningful campaign organization and the apparent inability to self-fund his candidacy, as he falsely promised to do, Republicans have been left holding a bag of sand. Now, there is no turning back.