So, as you might imagine, I had a different article planned for today...
I had lunch on Friday and mentioned to my friend what I was planning to write about. I said that I didn't expect Hillary Clinton to have a disastrous debate on Sunday, though she could certainly have an off-day and take some hits and lose the debate. But even if that happened, I didn't think it would move the polls much. And I laid out what I thought Donald Trump would attack most aggressively on and gave my detailed reasons why I didn't think that would have much affect. And I also said that if Trump did poorly -- not even a meltdown like the first time, just a lousy job -- then that combined with his 30-point loss in the first debate meant, I thought, likely that the election could be over. Two bad debates, including one disaster, would confirm to the undecided voters their biggest concerns about Donald Trump. And I gave my specific reasons. That's what I was going to, all of it.
It doesn't matter.
Instead, here are some random thoughts about The News the swarmed the country yesterday. I'm going to try though to avoid doing the type of analysis we saw on TV all day, but give it a take from some other perspectives.
For instance, as bad as this news was for the Trump campaign, and for as much as commentators were discussing what the Republican Party would do as a result of it, all I could think was -- why on earth do you think this is the worst that's going to come out??
I don't think remotely this is the worst. I say that because I've felt ever since Donald Trump announced as a candidate..this is who he was, and in the glaring light of a presidential race it would come out. I've been surprised that it's taken so long, but long or not, that's Trump. This is who he is. And not only is it possible that Access Hollywood has even more footage of Trump that they'd probably love to get out and bring attention to themselves, and do their own exclusives, but it's pretty likely that Mark Burnett Productions has tons of the kind of footage that the AP wrote about on Monday in its interview with contestants and people who worked on The Apprentice, talking about Trump sleazy actions on the set. For now, the company has gone Deep Silent and is avoiding all response, but it's not unreasonable to think the pounding pressure to release what they have will build.
Furthermore, I wrote earlier on Friday elsewhere that I thought this tape revelation would push many in the media to start looking more closely into stories about Trump that they've previously avoided, one in particular. And within hours, the eminent reporter for the NY Times Nicholas Kristof sent out a Tweet about just that, saying in the evening, "We're posting my Sunday column early: It recounts how Trump forced himself on a young woman--in Ivanka's bedroom."
So, no, I don't think we've even come close to seeing all of it, let alone the worst.
I've also been quite taken by how remarkably close this whole story is to the classic movie, A Face in the Crowd. I'm guessing that many here have seen it, but if not, I highly recommend it. Not only is it a wonderful film, but it's now almost a documentary. It's not the Exact Same Thing as Trump's story, of course, but the similarities are eerie.
If you want to see the movie, skip the next paragraph because it tells the story and all the similarities, so it's full of Plot Point reveals. Jump now the the second paragraph following.
A Face in the Crowd stars Andy Griffith as 'Lonesome Rhodes,' a hick who Patricia Neal discovers and secretly records him singing. She puts it on the radio, and he soon becomes a star and eventually gets his own TV show and comes to great national fame through it. As his popularity on television grows, appealing to the common folk, he becomes an egomaniac and starts to get involved in politics, soon becoming an out-of-control kingpin in a presidential campaign -- while throwing aside the older Neal who's in love with him and eloping instead with a very young band majorette (played by a very young Lee Remick). As his power and mania grows, he's finally brought down when Patrica Neal intentionally, and again secretly, leaves a microphone on, and the national audience hears Rhodes go on one of his wild rants, and he's destroyed. So, in the end, precisely what brought him to national fame is the same device that ends his career.
Pretty remarkable overlap with today, I'd say. And it's a great film, regardless.
As a result of yesterday's news story, we've started to see some Republicans pulling away their support. Not all that many yet, but I suspect there will be more. Maybe even opening the floodgates, because if politicians have anything, it's a survival instinct. A few Congressman have withdrawn their endorsement so far, and others have voiced criticism -- though not yet taking their endorsement off the table. Much as I appreciate seeing the former (the latter is cowardly and borderline meaningless), I find it is much too little and too late. We've known who Donald Trump is for decades, but most especially since he got into this campaign. We know all his on-the-record egregious statements, that have gone on endlessly. So, to take this yesterday and suddenly say, "Oh, now I withdraw my endorsement," all I can think is -- what on earth took you so long? You're taking away your endorsement only because you're afraid it's going to drag you yourself down. As well it might, and should. You're not doing this because you're suddenly discovered Donald Trump is offensive. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) got a lot of attention yesterday issuing a statement of Trump and cancelling their joint appearance at a Wisoconsin campaign event this weekend -- but hasn't withdrawn his endorsement. It's just a cowardly act of simply not wanting to get his picture taking with the Republican presidential nominee, hands held high in a victory wave. So, as much as I like seeing the withdrawals and criticisms -- what took you SO long??
All this ultimately lead to news reports in the evening about high-level Republican meetings to deal with what they should do if they can get Trump to drop out of the race. I think that's unlikely -- Donald Trump does not appear to be someone who wants to be humiliated by not just quitting a presidential race, let alone being the first major party candidate in U.S. history to do so. Besides, given his meglomaniacal ego, I suspect he still believes he can win. And for that matter, who in the GOP hierarchy does he respect enough to deliver the message? But as for its possibility, I oddly have mixed feelings --
On the one hand, I do want Trump to drop out because I don’t want ANY possibility of him winning. (Which now, of course, is next to nil, but as long as he's on the ballot it’s absolutely possible.) On the other hand, I want to see him stay in the race because it will likely go a long way to hurting all the down-ticket Republicans running, who have largely supported and nurtured him. But also, I think it's important that Donald Trump actually LOSE and be repudiated by the American public for who he is and what he stands for, not just get off easy by fading off into the shadows. And further, I don’t want to see any remote risk of enough people coalescing around Mike Pence. There are many voters who fled the GOP because they couldn’t ever see themselves voting for Trump, but I imagine that they could see themselves returning to vote for Pence. I doubt such coalescing would happen substantively enough, and I doubt it would be effective since the party would be in total disarray -- and lose so many of the outraged base and happily-described "deplorables," but I can’t dismiss it.
Also, so that this other story doesn't get completely lost, Friday was also the day WikiLeaks chose to finally make its first big release of documents about Hillary Clinton. Okay, so how is that for really bad timing? Even if there was a blockbuster revelation, it probably would have been buried in the avalanche. Given though that it was hilariously empty of substance is all the more reason for its lack of attention. In case you missed it, which seems largely to be the case for most everyone, WikiLeaks released a great deal of hacked material from Hillary Clinton's speeches to Wall Street. And some hacked emails from her adviser John Podesta. But the thing is, it wasn't even her speeches exactly, but just notes that someone had taken from (I believe) her speaker's bureau. Weakening things, there are reports some of this, or much, could be forged. But even if not, what little I read was...almost hilarious in its meaninglessness and blandness. Distant corners of the far right are going wild, shouting treason and that her campaign is now over, but they're howls in the wilderness at the moon. For instance, yowling about a supposed million-dollar bribe to Bill Clinton for Hillary supporting the Keystone Pipelines. One big problem (among other problems...) -- she came out against the Pipeline. There were some things about international open trade across borders, and her being able to understand why there are segments of people who believe parts of life are rigged against them, and how she is quite well-off now but always remembers her middle-class upbringing. Damning stuff, like that. Material that Julian Assange once asserted would no doubt get her arrested. Now, I'm sure there are more revelations in this hacked release. And probably other material to come. But if this is the first and most attention-getting, a whole lot of disappointed folks on the far right are going to be deeply disappointed.
Of course, now that material from her Wall Street speeches have been released, that raises the question - does this mean now that Donald Trump will keep his promise to release his taxes...?
In the end, the oddest thing of this all on Friday is that I think Donald Trump has said as bad, if not far worse things that should have disqualified him long, long, long ago. About Muslims, about Mexicans, about Blacks, about grieving Gold Star families, courting white supremacist groups, tweeting material from Neo-Nazi sites, suggesting death threats against his opponent, making fun of the disabled, attacking a judge for his race, having close ties to Russia, praising Vladimir Putin as a great leader at the expense of President Obama, calling on Russia to hack the Clinton campaign, admiring a range of dictators, calling for more countries to have nuclear bombs, showing near-total ignorance about issues, demeaning the military, not releasing his taxes, the revelation that he wrote off $950 million and may not have paid taxes for 18 years, and earlier and perpetually reprehensible things about women, and much, much, much more, endlessly. Yet this tape has been the one that seems to have caught on and set the wild fire ablaze.
What was said on the tape was disgusting and deserves all the visceral scorn it's gotten. But so too with all those other things for the past year-and-a-half. The difference, I think, is not which is worse (they're all horrible, despicable), but the others generally only impact somewhat small constituencies. Women, however, are 52% of the electorate. So, not only is a far more vast group being smeared and therefore rightfully outraged -- but the Republican Party sees a majority of voters potentially being outraged and that, to a party, is ghastly. As well it should be.
But all these other "smaller" issues? To have seen all those and not think something like this on Friday was coming is burying your head in the sand. Because this is who Donald Trump (R-Trump Towers) is.
Many months ago, back in April, I wrote an article here about why no one should expect Donald Trump to pivot and suddenly become "presidential." Because while you can pivot on your positions, you don't pivot on who you are. And Donald Trump is a racist, misogynistic, egomaniacal, empty, insecure, con man.
This is who he is. And we didn't need to hear it on tape to know that.
But it certainly helps.
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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