In the second Presidential debate, Donald Trump made a probably fatal mistake. Some of us knew it immediately. Others took a while longer.
Trump knew it by the following day, though he still won’t admit he’s finished.
The prelude to his YUGE mistake was when he pulled another DC-Post Office Hotel trick on the press shortly before the debate. He told the press pool they were being invited to watch some debate prep, then held a 4-minute press conference with women who had made sexual allegations against Bill Clinton over the past 40 years, plus a woman whose rapist Hillary Clinton defended as a Public Defender in Arkansas. Trump barely introduced the women, each briefly spoke, Trump answered no questions, and the press pool was escorted out.
Then there was a little-reported crisis over Trump’s plan to seat the women in the Trump “family box.” Frank Fahrenkopf, the Republican co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, found out about it and vetoed the idea, relegating the women to general seating. Trump was bitterly disappointed, having intended to force Bill Clinton to greet the women on the way in, and in front of cameras.
All this was a bad mistake, but not the worst.
During the debate, Trump promised to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate everything about Hillary Clinton and strongly implied he planned to throw her in jail (or, as his screaming hordes frequently put it, “Lock her up!”) His spokespeople later claimed his “you’d be in jail” was a mere “quip” that we should not take seriously.
Considering the contempt Trump frequently expresses for the Constitutional limitations on the presidency, one can be excused for not being too comfortable with that assurance.
But that’s still not the worst. When he dismissed confessing that he had a habit of grabbing a woman’s private parts unasked as “locker room talk”? No.
The way he creepily stalked Secretary Clinton while she was talking directly to the assembled undecided voters (undecided? Really? How does that work at this point? Did they just escape from an underground bunker?)
But I digress. No, that was not what tossed a flaming tampon into the pile of gasoline-soaked rags the Trump campaign had become since the “pervert on the bus” video surfaced two days before.
It was this:
COOPER: Just for the record, though, are you saying that what you said on that bus eleven years ago that you did not actually kiss women without consent or grope women without consent?
TRUMP: I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.
COOPER: So, for the record, you’re saying you never did that?
TRUMP: I’ve said things that, frankly, you hear these things I said. And I was embarrassed by it. But I have tremendous respect for women.
COOPER: Have you ever done those things?
TRUMP: And women have respect for me. And I will tell you: No, I have not.
In all probability, if you could have looked in on a room full of people well-trained in the history and art of political campaigns, you would have heard audible gasps. Someone on TeamTrump might have screamed “NOOOOOOOOOO!” and begun weeping into a pillow. A glass might have been dropped.
Because it was obviously untrue. And, knowing the public persona of Donald Trump, it was only a matter of time (a very short time, as it turned out) before someone begged to differ.
And, as the political corpse of Donald Trump continued to strut around the stage, oblivious to the reputational bullet he’d just lodged in his brain, all over the country, the differing began to take shape.
As of today, Trump is flailing against charges that he
*molested a stranger on an airplane in the 1980s
*ogled females as young as 15 when they were naked or half-dressed when he owned beauty pageants (this is hard to deny since he laughed about it with Howard Stern)
*pulled a receptionist (not his) close to him and kissed her on the mouth without her permission while they were both waiting for an elevator in 2005
*engaged in conversation so inappropriate at a 1993 White House dinner it repulsed a woman at the table who begged to be moved because, “He’s the most vulgar man I’ve ever met.”
*tried to rape a make-up artist in his daughter’s bedroom 20 years ago
*sexually molested a People reporter in 2005
I haven’t seen the news yet today. I may be missing some.
Now, you may be one of those Trump fans who will only give him up when they pry your lips from his cold, dead rear (talking to you, Sean Hannity), but most normal Americans haven’t been hypnotrumped to that extent. In fact, even before the “pervert on the bus” video started to char the edges on Trump’s Letter of Intent to Occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a fair number of voters (especially women) were #MaybeTrump at best.
Post-debate, cable news talking heads repeatedly said Trump had “stopped the bleeding” started by the pervy video (presumably because he made it through 90 minutes without urinating on himself or raping anybody.) Sadly, 24 hours later it was clear the Trump campaign was bleeding out.
If Trump thought he could get any more female or millennial voters in the next several weeks, he’d better find a Plan B. And I don’t mean the morning-after pill (though that would probably help him with mil—who am I kidding? He’s done.)
Here’s the problem. No matter what comes out of Russia and WikiLeaks and huge caches of documents stolen from private citizens (which conservatives used to have a problem with, in the abstract anyway), millennials find no word in the English language more coma-inducing than “emails.” Ask a college student. They are pretty sure the only problem is that old people (all the candidates, by the way) don’t understand the Internet. The exception there, of course, is Al Gore, who is also their Climate God and on Hillary’s team. As Bernie Sanders made clear, they shouldn’t care about Hillary’s damn emails. And, by the way, they are “triggered” (yes, it’s real) by sexual predators.
The other problem is women. White, Black, Hispanic and Asian, rich and poor, straight and gay, (and, in Illinois, living and dead) women.
They know that voice on the bus. Every woman does.
That’s the voice of the man behind her on the sidewalk, the voice of the flasher on the subway, the waitress’s customer that leers at her chest, calls her honey, and tells her dirty jokes. It’s the voice behind the boss that’s going to predicate her raise upon her smile, the depth of her cleavage, and what she looks like bent over a file drawer.
It’s the voice that she knows will always limit her prospects, control her options, prefer his buddies, and resent whatever power she can find by being excellent, dedicated, and smart.
And she knows, in her heart, all the rest of it, too.
She knows the man with that voice will leer at her—and at her 15-year old daughter. She knows the powerful pervert on the bus undoubtedly does grab women however he pleases, to kiss or to conquer, and just because he can. And he can because he has power. And money. And no one can stop him.
Now, she has a chance. Now, she has a voice. Now, she has a vote.
Women are the majority of the electorate, and they are more likely to vote than men.
The latest Fox News poll spells it out:
Since last week, the largest declines in support for him are among women ages 45 and over (down 12 points), voters ages 65+ (down 11), suburban women (down 10), white women with a college degree (down 7), GOP women (down 6), and white college graduates (down 6).
Women know now, without a doubt, that if Trump wins, they lose. But if he loses, they send that message: the pervert on the bus needs to stay on the bus and grab his own private parts.