proverbial frog that found itself in a pot of boiling water and wondered why it did not get out before things got so hot. This weekend, Donald Trump has given them all a gift. It is the deal of a lifetime, but it has a short expiration date. He has given them an out. They all knew who he was when they got into bed with him, but like Peter Lorre in Casablanca, they get to express their outrage, and, if they are smart, get out.
Dorothy Rabinowitz, a member of the notably Republican Wall Street Journal editorial board, summed it up succinctly last week in her op-ed endorsement of Hillary Clinton, entitled Hillary-Hatred Derangement Syndrome. Republicans have marketed Hillary hatred for decades now, and by the time Trump rolled around, he was the beneficiary of their derangement. Republicans across the political spectrum--from Tea Party firebrand Steve King on the right, to the more reasonable Deputy Majority Whip Tom Cole (R-OK), to GOP wise man Vin Weber--each poo-pooed the rabid anti-Hillary rhetoric around the time of the Republican convention as campaign bluster, suggesting that Hillary could be fine to work with if she won, but apparently many across the GOP never got the memo. Instead, Republicans, pumped up by years of well-stoked hatreds, flocked like lemmings to Trump's banner, ignoring the myriad warning lights flashing red along the way.
But the thing is, the video was not even Donald Trump's worst offense this week. It was not even the second worst. Lost in the explosion of indignant outrage over a video in which Donald Trump sounded exactly how one imagined Donald Trump would sound, were two even more disqualifying outbursts. First, at a rally in Florida, Trump expressed outrage at the exoneration of the Central Park 5. Trump has been involved with the case since it roiled New York City in 1989. Five young men were wrongfully convicted and served full sentences for raping a young woman, before being exonerated and having their convictions vacated in the wake of the confession of a man whose guilt was confirmed by DNA evidence. Trump has used the case to garner attention to himself over the years by stirring up racial animus--a precursor to his Birther movement--and did so again this week in Florida.
Then, at a meeting with a union representing border patrol agents, Trump returned to the narrative that the election is being rigged against him, which has served him well since his loss in the Wisconsin primary. Then it was the GOP primary system that was rigged, now it is the integrity of our entire electoral system, as he accused the Obama administration of opening the border to allow undocumented immigrants with criminal records to "pour into the country so they can go ahead and vote."
As bad as the newly released video of Donald Trump is, it runs a distant third to these two events, which each wantonly seek to undermine public confidence in institutions of civil society that are essential to our democracy. Yes, in that video, Trump glories in his lecherous behavior and brags of criminal sexual conduct--and whether it was ten years ago or last year, it should disgust the electorate.
But as bad as Trump's conduct on the video is, it does not begin to touch the damage that he has done and continues to do in undermining the public faith in our core democratic institutions. But this time next month, or perhaps even next week, Trump will be gone, but the damage that he has inflicted and continues to inflict by undermining public confidence in those institutions will live on. In his attacks on Judge Curiel, Trump began his assault on the credibility of the judiciary--melding his racial, anti-immigrant narrative with his own legal interests. In his attack on the Central Park 5, he went several steps farther. This time, his attack went beyond being racial and personal, to a direct assault on the credibility of the justice system, for his own political advantage. Nor does the video touch the damage his continued rigged election narrative does in encouraging his followers to doubt the integrity of our electoral system.
The video displayed Donald Trump's personal behavior, however egregious. The other two incidents displayed his blatant disregard for the institutional fabric of the nation that he presumes to want to lead. A large share of his core voters, perhaps 40% of the GOP, will believe what he says. They will conclude from his words that in New York City, corrupt officials exonerated five guilty men, facts be damned. They will conclude that corrupt Obama administration officials are letting undocumented immigrants flood across the border vote for Hillary Clinton, facts be damned.
The political landscape is littered with people who predicted that Donald Trump had gone too far, only to see him move past the affront of the moment, gather himself together and move on to new heights. Each time, some group of recalcitrant Republicans did what they swore they could never do, and got on board. Now, with four weeks to go, Trump has offered them all a chance to get out. He is going to lose, and it is going to be ugly.
It will not be enough for Trump to lose, he needs to lose badly. He has repeatedly sought to undermine essential institutions of our civil society for his own advancement. Confidence in the independence of the judiciary and integrity of electoral systems are as essential here as they are in any democracy across the globe. Yet, once again this week, Donald Trump has proven that he is willing to undermine those precious elements of our free society for his own advancement. He needs to be shamed and discredited, not just because he is a lecher indicted by his own words captured on a hot mike, but because he has no respect or regard for our national institutions. It is--as he has proven time and time again--all about him.
The video may not have been the worst Trump story this week, but it is the one that Republicans can turn to. They have a chance to get out. It is the last chance they will get.
Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at jayduret.com.