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Why now?

It’s been a remarkable 24 hours. It’s been about that long since this happened:

(Couldn’t resist putting it up again. I think it’s brilliant)

Since the recording was released, Republicans first went with the tried and true “I condemn what he said, but I’m still voting for him” shtick, but as the day went on, they started an almost lemming like desertion of the good ship Trump. (I’ll be abusing the ship metaphor throughout this post, so keep it in mind)

The question is: why? Is there really a qualitative difference between what we hear on the tape and what we’ve been hearing ever since he announced? Well, there is, and while the mainstream hasn’t either recognized the anomaly or sought to explain it, many on the internet have. One of the best discussions I’ve seen is here, by Josh Marshall:

We can’t say the emergence of this tape was predictable. But the behavior is not at all surprising based on what we already knew. Indeed, I would almost say this whole line of reasoning is offensive, in this sense: Sexual assault is terrible. But it’s hardly the only terrible thing that has been dredged up by this election. What about the campaigns of hate and occasional violence spurred by this campaign? Just yesterday I wrote about how Trump has done more to normalize anti-Semitism in American public life than anyone in decades. I wrote about this because it is something I know from personal experience. But Trump’s entire campaign has been explicitly about demonizing Hispanics and American Muslims – subjecting them to escalating campaigns of hate, harassment and in some cases actual violence. Meanwhile African-Americans have served as his stage props, sometimes being targeted with racist attacks and other times as powerless non-people who only Trump can save. Is all this stuff just a cost of doing business? Sexual assault and sexual violence of all sorts is one of the most pressing issues in our society today. But it is hard not to conclude that the revelation of this tape is considered a step too far because women are a critical demographic that is in play in the election and secondarily because the politicians have wives and daughters. Most of those wives and daughters aren’t black or Jews or Hispanic or Muslim or people from any of the other groups Trump has stepped on on his way to the nomination.

I think Josh is largely right. The reaction strikes me as a variant of an “effect” I’ve named after a former Republican legislator from our area. I won’t name her here, as there’s no reason to do so. She was a down the line typical Republican, with one exception. She vigourously supported increased spending for people with intellectual disabilities. Need I mention that she had a son who was intellectually disabled? So it is entirely possible that the Republicans are abandoning Trump in part because they can see their wives and daughters in his victims. In other words, this time it affects them personally.

But I think there’s another force at play here. The Beltway media has, to a greater or lesser extent, sent a message that, for reasons unknown, in this particular tape Trump has crossed a bridge too far. Again, there’s the message sent sub silentio that his attacks on minorities may be tacky, but not wholly disqualifying. I’ve complained before about the tendency of Democratic politicians to believe that the Washington punditry somehow has its fingers on the pulse of the American people, when it’s so clear it does not. This time, I think the Republicans have fallen into that trap. They’ve bought into the punditry’s take on the American people, forgetting that even if it accurately described the majority of Americans, it doesn’t describe any of Trump’s supporters. This revelation will not lose Trump the support of 1/1000th of his current supporters. It will probably not sway many undecideds in his direction, but for the Republicans, that’s almost irrelevant. Each and every Republican candidate needs for those Trumpists to keep checking the R box in the downticket. If they decide to stop with Trump, the rest of the Rs are doomed. We’re already seeing the Republican mobs booing the Republican candidates that are withdrawing their support from the orange man, and Trump has not yet addressed himself to these turncoats.

Here’s a prediction I’m making with about 60% confidence. If the lemmings keep jumping, Trump will want to make sure that they drown, and to do that, he’ll have no qualms about bringing the entire party down with him. He is sure as hell not going to bow out. Only losers do that. A few words from him, and his followers will boycott the down ticket in any race in which the candidate has been insufficiently supportive. When he does lose, the lemmings won’t be able to pick up the pieces, because the true believers, who are, after all, a majority of the Republican base, will believe them to be traitors to the cause. So look for Trump to start attacking his fellow Republicans. I understand he’s already removed Mike Pence’s schedule from his website. If he’s going to lose, he’s going to make sure the ship goes down with him. From a tactical perspective, baling on Trump now is a stupid move for any Republican candidate. Since we can take as a given that none of them are really doing it as a matter of principle, we must conclude that most of them are stupid, or have been taken in by the stupid.

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