Vent outrage in haste, repent at leisure. In the immediate aftermath of the release of the Access Hollywood tape, many elected Republicans rushed to repudiate prior endorsements of Donald Trump. Now that Trump seems to have stopped the bleeding and made it clear that he has no intention of withdrawing, the repudiators have begun re-endorsing Trump, the Washington Post reports:
Now that it has become crystal clear Donald Trump will not quit — that he has “unshackled” himself and plans to “limp” across the finish line — some Republicans who called on him to drop out over the weekend are reversing themselves. …
But yesterday during a radio interview, [Senator Deb Fischer] announced that she will vote for Trump after all. “He decided he would not step aside. I respect his decision,” Deb Fischer told the Lincoln radio affiliate KLIN. “I support the Republican ticket, and it’s a Trump-Pence ticket…. To me, it’s not a tough choice.”
Darryl Glenn, the Republican nominee against Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado, said Saturday that Trump must step aside. “America cannot have a man who speaks this way about women be the face of our country to the Free World,” he said in a statement.
But facing backlash from Trump supporters, Glenn — who already has no realistic path to victory — backtracked. He says watching the debate Sunday night changed his mind. “Donald Trump did what he absolutely had to do,” Glenn said on Fox News. “I think he reset this campaign.”
James Hohmann calls this Emily Litella moment “surreal.” Fischer and Glenn won’t be the last repudiators to come back to at least a pro forma position of support, at least until the next eruption from an oppo-research dump. For the moment, though, this calls into question the entire point of bailing out in the first place. In my column for The Week, I call this a Captain Louis Renault moment:
Since then, most Republican officials — including at least a few of those now repudiating the nominee — have argued for Trump on purely practical grounds. They didn’t care for Trump’s behavior and his tendency toward vulgar commentary, of which plenty of examples had emerged already. But the election was a binary choice. Clinton would be worse for the country, especially when it comes to the Supreme Court and corruption in office, so Trump’s vulgarities of the past didn’t really matter.
Now suddenly they do.
What Republican lawmakers have yet to explain is why this latest scandal surpasses the vote-Trump arguments they have offered before, even when we had countless examples of Trump’s misogyny. Trump attacked Megyn Kelly and fellow Republican Carly Fiorina in crass terms over a year ago, and more examples have emerged at regular intervals since.
That isn’t to argue that the Access Hollywood comments themselves aren’t despicable and an insight into the vulgar, entitled persona of Trump. Clearly they are both. But just as clearly, those qualities have been on full display with Trump not just throughout the entirety of his presidential run, but throughout his entire public life. They existed long before the same Republicans running for the exits offered their endorsements, and long before their repudiations, too. Trying to engage in belated virtue-signaling at this point is like Renault closing the casino while also trying to cash out his winnings.
But even that isn’t the most mystifying part of this debacle. Republicans who got behind Trump had to know that their endorsed nominee would be an oppo-research lottery jackpot. (This is a point that NeverTrumpers have been making for over a year, so this criticism doesn’t apply to them.) In thirty-plus years of public celebrity, Trump’s been everywhere and said lots of stuff for shock value to boost his status in pop culture. The only real shock about the 2005 “grab her by the p****” tape is that it came out this early in the election calendar, and if it’s the biggest hit Team Hillary has, that would be the only shock that could be bigger.
So here’s the question: How did all of these professional Republican politicians not have a plan to deal with those attacks when — not if — they arose after endorsing Trump? Rather than having a strategy to deal with the inevitable, GOP leaders seem to have just assumed that the Clintons would have no oppo research to drop late in the game, and were totally unprepared for it when it happened. Rather than think things through, they went into pure reaction mode — and wound up with egg all over their faces. Now they’re doing the walk of shame back to their status quo ante, and their credibility has gone up in smoke.
Donald Trump and his campaign may leave a lot to be desired when it comes to strategy and tactics, but the rest of the GOP ain’t covering themselves in glory, either. In perhaps abusing the cultural-reference card, let’s quote Casey Stengel: “Can’t anyone here play this game?”