The presidential candidate of a major political party openly bragged about committing sexual assault and is still in the running for the presidency. The scandal is still developing, so the full impact remains to be seen. Nonetheless, this confession triggered an exodus of party luminaries from his campaign. It is only the latest in a seemingly endless stream of scandals, and will doubtless not be the last. Why was this confession the line that broke the camel's back?
Let's first review the scandals of the Trump presidential campaign, although I'll surely forget some. He has:
To emphasize the insanity of that list, several times I believed I was done, only to think a few more moments or review an article to fact-check and then remember another scandal that in any typical election cycle would derail a candidacy. (His opponent, Sec. Clinton, has had her share of scandals, some legitimate and some propagated by the cottage industry devoted to attacking her. I'm interested to discuss his record here.)
With that list readily available, why is the confession of sexual assault what caused mass exodus from his campaign?
You can say on the face that it is categorically worse than his other scandals. Why though? He has admitted to gross misogyny before. He is known to committed illegal acts before. The only fact to make it categorically worse is to combine those two in a single act. There is some truth here, but it's a rather unsatisfying answer to just claim "It was really, really bad" - Trump has done countless "really, really bad" things.
Certainly an element of the answer is timing. We are a month out from the election, and some down-ticket seats are highly contentious. By 538's estimate, Trump was down roughly 4:1 to win even before this scandal, and some Senators didn't want to sink with the Titanic, instead deciding to abandon ship. Count amount these individuals Sen. Ayotte (R-NH), who was one of the first to rescind her endorsement. However, other Senators not up for re-election (Sen. Sasse, R-NE) and those in much safer races (Sen. McCain, R-AZ, and Sen. Lee, R-UT) are among the deserters.
Trump's words on the hot mic are the most direct attack on more than half of his constituents (on par or worse than Clinton's "deplorables" comment). However, if this were truly at issue, you'd expect Trump's attacks on veterans and Gold Star families to be equally damning - I certainly did. And yet, Trump was able to issue an clarification (not an apology) and move on without further consequence. With Trump's long history of misogynistic comments, he would have been disqualified long ago if this issue were at play.
No, the true factor at play here is that his potential future colleagues felt personally under attack. In Trump's boasting, he says he has little control over his impulse, even if the woman is married:
I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married.
You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.
In other words, he is a direct threat to the wife of every Congressman, and he is a direct threat to every Congresswoman. Beyond making him a terrible human, it is a horrible strategic blunder to physically threaten the Republican leadership. Combine that threat with the campaign event on Saturday, where Rep. Ryan (R-WI) was booed amidst chanting of "Trump!" when Ryan un-invited Trump, and Ryan must feel he has lost control of his party to a Frankenstein. I can't help but wonder if Ryan is thinking that Clinton, who has a track record of working across the aisle, wouldn't be such a terrible choice for the presidency.
Even if Trump doesn't win, the leadership of both political parties should realize that our nation is highly vulnerable to a demagogue that isn't such a womanizing fool. If we are to recover as a nation, a top priority of the next administration should be economic & community growth for those left behind by the economic system, removing the anguish and rage that would be fuel for the next election cycle's demagogue. That goal is something both Sec. Clinton and Rep. Ryan should get behind.