It May Seem Bad, But...
First, the obligatory disclaimer that you’ve probably read a million times: No, I don’t condone Trump’s comments, they’re disgusting, yadda-yadda, the sky is blue. This should be obvious by this point. No one in their right mind supports his comments, not even Trump himself.
What I’m here to say is that, despite all the media hype around this latest bombshell, I still ultimately think he can pull through this. Here’s the three main reasons why:
I honestly believe that this latest “scandal” is not at all about the content of his conversation. Nobody could care less about what he said. People only care because of when this latest bump in the road was released. We are now exactly one month away from the election. As of the last few weeks, Trump seemed to be finally sobering up and becoming more presidential, as he so clearly displayed in the first debate with Hillary.
And the more you think about it, the more you must realize; this isn’t even like the usual of Trump’s past statements – on John McCain, Megyn Kelly, the Khans, what-have-you. This was not a statement he made just yesterday, off-the-cuff, in an interview or at a rally. This was a tape that someone obviously held onto for a decade and waited to release later in the election cycle.
Now I’m not going to dive into conspiracy theories about who released it, and whether they coordinated it or not – you can argue it was the Clintons (because obviously), or it was the bitter Bushes (this one seems more plausible, personally). But the fact is that it was going to be released sooner or later. I do actually believe that the individual(s) who planned its release still released it earlier than expected, if for no other reason than to distract from the revelations, on that same day, of Clinton’s infamous and long-sought-after Wall Street speeches, courtesy of WikiLeaks. Perhaps they intended to wait until the very end to release it, but this WikiLeaks dump changed those plans, giving Trump just that much more time to rebound. Who knows?
But again, the point here is not whether or not the timing affected the release of the tape – it’s that the timing affected the reaction to the tape. I firmly believe that if you swapped this controversy out with any of Trump’s other past statements – say, if he made his comments about John McCain yesterday, a month out from the election – then the reaction from the media, the Democrats, and the GOP elite alike would all still be the same. They only care about the dangerously close proximity to the election itself, not the content of this latest slip-up. We still have roughly 30 days to go, and one debate left. Anything can happen.
This may seem like the end-all for Trump’s campaign, but I think this is only as hyped-up as it is because of the prolific stature of the race itself. Rarely before has such a reveal taken place so late into the process of electing the most powerful person in the world.
But we needn’t look any further than two major past examples to see proof that, even against all odds, an underdog can still wage a glorious comeback even against a startling scandal such as this.
First, let’s look at the last major example of a celebrity, thought to be totally unfit for office, running for an executive position in very unfriendly territory, and plagued with scandal at the very end: The 2003 California gubernatorial recall election.
We all know how this story ended, of course – against literally all odds, with everyone (and even himself) writing off his campaign as a joke, Arnold Schwarzenegger – an actor, a Republican, in the state of California – won the Governorship. But what you might not remember is that just 5 days before the election, twin controversies erupted that seemed all but ready to derail Arnold’s campaign. First, the LA Times published a series of allegations against Schwarzenegger, accusing him of numerous instances of sexual assault in previous years.
And then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, ABC News and the New York Times both published a story claiming that, in a 1975 interview, Schwarzenegger, in no ambiguous terms, praised Adolf Hitler for his speaking skills and his “rags-to-riches” story.
Gee, sounds like he was destined to lose after that, right?
Obviously not. Arnold Schwarzenegger went on to win by a 17-point margin – nearly 1.5 million votes – ahead of the Democrat, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante. Also keep in mind: This occurred even when there was another major Republican in the race – the supposedly “serious” Republican candidate, Congressman Tom McClintock, who took 1.2 million votes (13%). And Arnold still won in a decisive landslide. And this was against the backdrop of him being a Republican in the state of California.
Still not convinced? Let’s take a look at another, very similarly-themed race, which took place earlier this year: The Brexit vote.
Many have pointed to Brexit already as a major bellwether for the direction of the world as we know it: A popular response against the narratives of the establishment (read: Political elite, media, big corporations, multi-nationals, and so on and so forth), in a reaffirmation of strong national identity, economic sovereignty, and pushback against illegal immigration and the rise of radical Islam. It was demonized by its critics as racist, regressive, and close-minded, while it was celebrated by its supporters as patriotic, brave, and a strong stance against the status quo while championing “the little guy.”
Already, we are seeing the ripple effect of Brexit, with the promised rise of other anti-EU referendums throughout the continent, and the coming to power of other right-wing nationalist parties in such countries as Germany, France, Sweden, and Austria, among many others.
But I’m sure this story has not quite yet slipped the public memory: Just a week before the referendum itself, in the midst of a very tight race, a well-known pro-Remain Member of Parliament, Jo Cox, was brutally assassinated in a shooting and stabbing attack, carried out by a radically pro-Leave, far-right, nationalist individual. Campaigning was suspended temporarily out of respect, and the narrative was all too easy for the media to pick up that this could be used to represent the worst of what such referendums, and support for them, could lead to among the United Kingdom’s most radical citizens. Even I, watching the story unfold, feared that this was indeed the death knell for Brexit.
But of course, thankfully, it wasn’t.
The media spin will hurt, and could last for a bit longer than it really should. For the second time in this general election campaign, I am genuinely worried about Mr. Trump’s chances. The first, since you’re probably curious, was the Khan affair. I will not hesitate to admit that when that particular controversy arose, I was starting to believe the media narratives that Trump had “finally” gone too far; that the Khan scandal was the final nail in his coffin; that the election was over. Ask yourself the same question: Didn’t it certainly seem that way to you, at least for a while?
But that too, was also an issue of timing just as much as content – taking place during the Democratic National Convention, when Hillary was experiencing the usual poll bounce from the momentum of the convention. So naturally, that 1-2 attack really did set Trump back in the polls for a while.
If an actor with zero political experience – and not even any business experience like Trump – facing 11th-hour sexual misconduct allegations and proof of past praise of Adolf Hitler, can still manage to win as a Republican in the state of California, then perhaps Trump’s chances aren’t so slim.
If a faceless referendum with the exact same message – and exact same criticisms – as Trump can still win by a considerable margin, even after one of its supporters commits the most atrocious kind of act possible, then perhaps Trump can overcome this latest stumble too.
Nothing New, Except Doors
To close out, I’ll be returning to a take on this latest development that you may have already heard before.
First, as many supporters are already saying, this gave Trump the excuse he has been looking for all this time. As his apology video foreshadowed, and the second debate confirmed, it is clear that if Hillary is willing to go this far as to use this against Trump, then he now has unspoken permission to go to the same territory with Hillary herself – and her husband. It is indeed the moral high ground that Trump can claim here: If Hillary really wants to make sexual misconduct an issue of this campaign, then she had better be prepared for Trump to swing right back, 10 times as hard (as he always has).
As statements towards the end of his video proved, Trump is ready to use the mantra of “Actions speak louder than words.” Yes, he said stupid things over a decade ago – Hillary has gone out of her way to enable a confirmed, repeat sexual predator by discrediting, mocking, and ridiculing his victims…even as their numbers are more than a dozen. This is especially atrocious because Hillary has always been championing herself as an advocate for women’s rights, and stated in the past that all “survivors’” claims of sexual assault and/or rape should be believed. The hypocrisy is blinding and deafening at the same time.
This also ties into another rather brilliant point made by cartoonist-turned-political-predictor Scott Adams, who summed up the entire ordeal with the following: “On the persuasion level, all that matters is whether this new development changes what you already assumed about Trump.”
Obviously, the attack line of him being a “misogynist” has been done to death, as recently as the vice-presidential debate. By now, most people get the idea that Trump has made rude or vulgar comments about certain women. What’s shocking here, again, is the timing. As I said before, switch this out with his comments on Megyn Kelly, and the reaction would be the same.
But it’s part of the same tired narrative that we’ve heard before. It’s nothing new.
By contrast, the direct attack of Bill’s sexual misconduct, and Hillary’s complicity in said behavior, is not by any means “the same old,” if for no other reason than the media has been desperately covering it up ever since she’s been running for public office. Because the media is so in her pocket, no one has ever brought it up or put her in a position to legitimately answer this question in front of an audience.
That all changed with the second debate. This is indeed new territory for Hillary Clinton, and she has nowhere left to hide.
Nowhere left to hide. The gloves are off. Batten down the hatches.
Follow this author on Twitter @EricLendrum26