It will surely go down as one of the lowest moments in electoral history, that time a presidential campaign cratered because a video surfaced of the candidate gleefully confiding to another man that the way he approaches women he desires is to “grab them by the pussy.” The context of the vulgarity is only more damning, revealing that the candidate is bragging that he can do this to women because he’s famous: “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
“You can do anything”—not the words of someone who respects women or the notion of consent. Certainly not the words of anyone who could feasibly be president of the United States. And so for the umpteenth time, Donald Trump revealed that he’s unfit for political office. But the video, first surfaced by The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, has rocked his campaign unlike any controversy before it. Condemnation has rained down from every corner of the Republican Party. House Speaker Paul Ryan withdrew an invitation for Trump to make a joint appearance on Saturday in Wisconsin, declaring that he was “sickened” by Trump’s remarks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on Trump to apologize “for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments on that tape.” And former presidential candidate Mitt Romney tweeted:
In fact, Trump did apologize, though only grudgingly. In a videotaped appearance released last night, he tried to downplay the controversy as a “distraction.” He then previewed how he would address the issue in the coming days and at tomorrow night’s presidential debate with Hillary Clinton: by attacking Bill Clinton for past allegations of sexual assault and his infidelities. “I’ve said some foolish things,” he said, “but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.”
And yet, with the notable exception of a gaggle of conservative politicians from Utah, few Republicans have gone so far as to withdraw their endorsement of Trump. [Editor’s note: Since the publication of this story, several more Republicans have called on Trump to drop out of the race.] Even as they watch the utter collapse of their standing with college-educated women, Republicans running for Congress still need Trump’s supporters, who may see the whole controversy as another manifestation of P.C. culture run amok. “I’m sure undecided female voters are now lost,” one Wisconsin Republican told Politico. “On one hand, I don’t know how these comments are a surprise to anyone. He’s a slimy lothario. That [shouldn’t] be new information. At the same time, it certainly doesn’t disqualify him. They’re men—they think this way. It’s gross, but it’s reality.”
The fallout also raises another question: Why is this the controversy that is turning into Trump’s Waterloo? What separates it from the gazillion other things Trump has said and done in the past 15 months that also disqualified him for office? Earlier this week, in case you forgot amidst the unceasing flood of bad press that surrounds the Trump campaign, The New York Times reported what should have been the scoop of the campaign: that Trump lost nearly $1 billion in the 1990s and may have used that loss to avoid paying income taxes for some 18 years. Then Trump reiterated his belief that the Central Park Five—a group of black and Latino teenagers convicted of a brutal rape in 1989—were guilty, despite the fact that they were exonerated by DNA evidence. Trump’s original campaign against the Central Park Five remains one of the ugliest examples of his racism, and his refusal to admit fault only underscored that he is all too comfortable tapping into racial hatred and fear.
We can’t discount the sheer vulgarity of the “pussy” comments. Political discourse in this country may be in the dumpster, but a politician like Paul Ryan, who prides himself on his wholesome image, cannot campaign with a guy who uses the word “pussy.” Still, it’s hard to escape the conclusion, as Jamelle Bouie points out, that the reason the GOP cares about this incident is because it cares about the votes of women, and white women in particular. Tax-dodging and race-baiting are acceptable, because there is no significant constituency in the GOP that cares about those issues. This alone is evidence, if more were needed, of the corrosive rot that has taken over the Republican Party.
And the rot goes further. As many have noted, including Ross Douthat, this is hardly the first time Donald Trump has been exposed as a misogynist. He has been accused of sexual assault and rape. He appears to be a serial sexual harasser. He demeans women left and right, from Rosie O’Donnell to Hillary Clinton to Megyn Kelly to Carly Fiorina. “Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” Trump said of Fiorina, then a fellow candidate. “I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”
And still, Republicans voted for him. Republican politicians turned a blind eye. Worse, they hoped to corral Trump’s support and use it for their own political gain. There is nothing they can do now that could change that—the time to disown Trump was a year ago. And they deserve all the shame that history will confer on them.