There is a certain conventional wisdom that the Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump showing his predilection to sexual abuse opened the floodgates and sent his campaign into a tailspin. I'd written elsewhere that I thought the reason the tape had such an impact on the public was not so much that it shocked people, but rather that it confirmed what the public already long-believed about him. I'd also written here long ago what I thought would happen in the election, that Democrats would pound away at Trump, criticizing him relentlessly which -- being deeply insecure and unused to anyone telling him he wasn't great -- he wouldn't be able to take being told he was "Wrong" and so often, and would eventually have a meltdown. And I noted that as we neared the election, the public actually takes voting for the president seriously, as opposed to voting in a primary, and people would start pouring away from Trump the closer we got to actually, really, seriously voting when it counts.
I saw a chart yesterday from RealClear Politics, which consolidates polls from all over, much like Nate Silver does at FiveThirtyEight. And what it shows pretty much supports where things actually have been heading all along for the past month.
You'll note that the two lines for Clinton and Trump start to separate around October 1. The Access Hollywood tape, however, didn't come to light until over a full week later, October 9. By that point, Trump was already in freefall and Hillary Clinton on the ascendance.
What October 1 is, though, turns out to be a week after the first Presidential debate (which post-debate polls showed Hillary Clinton won by up to 23 points) and the 3 AM tweetstorm a day later. That, you'll recall, was when Donald Trump began his meltdown about Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe, who Secretary Clinton had brought up at the debate. And this tantrum continued all week, getting more and more out of control, as Trump even started tweeting that people should watch the "sex tape" she was supposedly in (which wasn't that at all) and on and on throughout the week.
And then on October 1, the polls -- which already showed a lead for Hillary Clinton, though within range, started to separate further.in both directions. The public had seen the un-presidential, out of control Donald Trump that they suspected was there all along, and saw too a Hillary Clinton who was calm and presidential. And since Americans do actually take the presidency seriously when voting nears the polls started to separate significantly.
When the Access Hollywood tape finally came to light a week later, Trump was already plummeting at that point, and the tape confirmed an additional opinion -- but this time it wasn't something they merely suspected was there all along, but rather what they'd actually seen for the past 18 months, his abuse and lack of respect for women. The tape just gave direct words and proof to it. And so it was at that point -- on October 9 -- you see the bottom drop out for Trump. And preferences going to Secretary Clinton.
This isn't to say that the tape didn't have an impact. In fact, of course it had a huge impact. It's one thing for a campaign to be in freefall, it's another to have opinions solidified from which turning around becomes drastically difficult, not yet to the level of impossible but you can see it from there.
The larger point is that this chart refutes the Trump campaign charges about any conspiracy about the tape. (Not that any sane refutation is actually needed, but still...) The campaign was already collapsing at that point and , thanks to Donald J. Trump himself, melting down because of that's who he is and what he does. And he showed it clearly.
If the game is rigged, he rigged it against himself -- just by being himself.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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