When your best defense is offensive, it’s time to shut up. That’s the message Donald Trump and his supporters don’t seem to be getting this morning.
Here we sit, less than twenty-four hours after the release of a video of Donald Trump talking about the way his fame entitled him to just reach out and grope any woman he deemed “gorgeous” enough to catch his eye, and his defenders can’t seem to get out of their own way. Without exception, their defenses are offensive to most mainstream voters.
Why is that? Well, because even in 2016, mainstream America still holds a few truths to be self-evident:
Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Saying your candidate is no worse than the guy you wanted to run out of office so badly, you empowered a Special Prosecutor to subpoena and force (yes, literally FORCE) dozens of men and women to testify about much more private conversations, in order to dig up every sordid detail you could possibly find that might support impeachment proceedings, is no defense at all.
When you’re with a journalist, you’re not “in private.”
It’s really very simple. When you are on a bus, with a journalist, wearing a mic, and with cameras pointed at you constantly, you are not “in private.” It’s safe to assume you either know this, or you are too stupid to be dog catcher, much less President. Heaven help you if you are wearing a mic someday while leaning in to talk to the Russian President, and you offer him some leeway after an election…
So let’s give the Donald the benefit of the doubt that he’s not that stupid, and he knew he was either being recorded, or at the very least, remembered by people who – as they say – “buy their ink by the barrel,” or in this case, their digital storage by the terabyte. What that tells me, and a lot of other voters, is that until this video was released, and he was forced to “apologize” for his behavior, Donald Trump was proud of being sexually aggressive with women, even women married to other men.
Real “Men” don’t talk this way.
As Liz Harrison discussed yesterday, while it may be true that there are people in possession of the XY chromosome combination, who are chronologically and legally classified as “men,” who talk this way, mature “Men” with a capital ‘M’ do not.
Voters – especially of the female persuasion – do not want to turn to their fathers, husbands, sons, and sons-in-law and imagine them thinking or talking this way. I have three daughters, and I can assure the Donald and his supporters, there is no way in hell I would allow any of them to be alone for five minutes with a teenage boy, never mind a grown man, who talked this way. Suggesting that I, and the majority of American voters who share my view, are at best oblivious, at worst delusional, is an insult, not a selling point.
It’s not about sex it’s about power.
Donald’s defenders don’t seem to get that people who are offended by his behavior aren’t prudes. This isn’t about his attraction to beautiful women, his use of any particular words to describe the female anatomy, or even his descriptions of what he’d like to do to a woman he finds attractive. The outrage is about his sense of entitlement, and the power he thinks he has to do things with women who have not invited or consented to his attentions, even women who have in fact pledged to remain faithful to other men in marriage.
If Donald Trump genuinely thinks his “star” status alone gave him this power, what will he think he has the power to do if he’s literally the most powerful man on the planet? If he is so confident that personal boundaries don’t apply to him before he’s the president, what could possibly rein him in once he has the power to order Secret Service to cover his tracks?
Mainstream voters, believe it or not, still understand their president is not supposed to see himself as “the King” (or Queen, in this case). One of the arguments against Hillary is that she fancies herself “above the law,” both literally, and figuratively. She seems to believe boundaries that apply to the rest of us, don’t apply to her.
The problem Donald and his defenders face is that this video exposes him as someone who feels the same way. To suggest that somehow he would draw the line and respect boundaries, as long as they have nothing to do with sex, reflects far more self-delusion than believing that “men” in general don’t talk, or even think, the way Donald Trump does about women and sex. Either you hold yourself to the same standards as those who don’t have the power you have, or you don’t. That is the very definition of character, and if Hillary hasn’t got it, neither does Donald.
The Presidential candidate sets the tone for the whole party.
Imagine you are a Republican candidate for the House or Senate, or even Governor or Mayor, and a reporter shoves a mic in your face today and asks you if you agree that “Men just talk this way in private.” How do you answer without criticizing your party’s nominee, and risking backlash from his supporters, or compromising your own ethics or reputation as a person of sound character and principles? If you are a man, you might end up with your own wife and daughters looking at you suspiciously, and if you’re a woman, you risk looking like a traitor to your own gender, someone who can’t be trusted to defend her own personal boundaries, never mind theirs.
Indeed, several high-profile Republicans have already withdrawn their support for the Donald based solely on the release of this video.
The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that Utah Governor Gary Herbert, and Representative Jason Chaffetz have withdrawn their endorsements. Governor Herbert tweeted: “Donald Trump’s statements are beyond offensive & despicable. While I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton, I will not vote for Trump.”
Representative Chaffetz said in an interview:
“I’m out. I’m pulling my endorsement.
“I can not support in any way, shape or form the comments or approach Donald Trump has taken. This is so over the top, it is not even acceptable in locker rooms. It shouldn’t be acceptable anywhere. We are talking about the president of the United States. I want someone of high moral values.”
Most notable, however, was former Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s condemnation, which he tweeted as follows:
“Hitting on married women? Condoning assault? Such vile degradations demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America’s face to the world.”
With such prominent Republicans speaking out against Trump, down-ticket GOP candidates are in the unenviable position of being forced to pick sides in an internecine battle within their own party. Rather than using valuable time before the election to make the case for their individual candidacies, they have to help defend the integrity and viability of the party they represent. In other words, they have to play defense too, and as I said at the outset, in politics, if you’re defending, you’re losing.
You can’t make America great again by lowering our standards of greatness.
If the Republican premise is that America lost its greatness because we elected too many people who lacked the character to tell the truth, set aside personal gain to provide real public service, and uphold the values of personal responsibility and moral integrity, its candidate cannot win by now arguing that these values are subjective, or that they simply don’t matter anymore.
Either greatness is the result of consistent focus on, and defense of objective values, or it’s up for grabs, something even Hillary Clinton and the Democrats can claim, as long as they can get enough people to define it the same way. In fact, they already have. You don’t need to look very far to find arguments in defense of everything from her email scandal to Benghazi that basically amount to “She’s no worse than so-and-so,” or “She was just doing what she thought was right at the time,” or “This is just how politicians behave.”
The Republicans have long insisted that they are the “adults in the room.” They have consistently insisted that “character matters,” and that what differentiates their candidates is that they are held to higher standards of personal, not just professional, behavior. By defending Donald Trump’s behavior, the Republicans have forfeited – forever – the ability to claim that with a straight face, and in all likelihood, they’ve forfeited this presidential election as well.