Donald Trump signaled very clearly in his apology video where he’s going now. Yeah, I may have said some awful things, but the Clintons did them: “I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed, and intimidated his victims. We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday.”
A normal politician—well, first of all, a normal politician would never have said these things on tape to a reporter. So there’s that. But what I was going to say was, a normal politician, confronted with a revelation like this, would try to pivot away. He’s spend three days apologizing, and not just publicly but privately—making phone calls to key supporters, eating the requisite humble pie, pleading for them to stick with him. We know Trump’s not going to do any of that. Then he’d let the media decide they’d kicked him around enough on this one and try to roll with a change of topic.
But that ain’t Trump. He’s leaning in. Imagine the transcript of last night’s conference call—Trump, Roger Ailes, Steve Bannon, maybe Roger Stone, and Kellyanne Conway (not “poor” Kellyanne Conway—she has free will, and she decided to do this). I can imagine Conway, who was brought in to stop him from doing stuff like this, begging him to just apologize and leave it at that. But it’s not hard to see how she would have been outvoted.
Interestingly, it has echoes of Bill Clinton’s own nationally televised apology to the American people in August 1998. It was the night of the day that his testimony before Ken Starr’s grand jury was released, which was when America heard him admit for the first time that yes, he did have “inappropriate” relations with Monica Lewinsky. But then he went after Starr, saying the investigation had “gone on too long, cost too much, and hurt too many people,” insisting that “even presidents have private lives.” The media savaged Clinton.
Trump did exactly the same thing, except, being Trump, he did it on steroids. And he signaled where he’s going to drag this election for the final month. Perhaps inevitably, Donald versus Hillary is going to end as a war of the sexes.
I would expect that in Sunday’s debate, he’s going to rip into Bill and Hillary about Lewinsky, Gennifer Flowers, Juanita Broaddrick, and who knows who else. This might be difficult given that it’s a town hall, with questions from regular voters; but surely the subject will come up in some way, shape, or form. And depending on how it goes, he’s going to, ahem, keep it up, the whole rest of the way, getting coarser and coarser as he becomes more and more desperate.
What Trump has done this entire election has been to reduce arguments to their crudest and most basic form: We white people just don’t want this many brown people around. That’s essentially what he communicated to voters. A large enough percentage of Republicans generally agree, which is why he won the nomination. Americans generally don’t, which is why he’s behind now.
That’s what he does. He reduces everything to the caveman level. So that’s what he’ll do here. Emotionally, his play will boil down to: Yeah, I’m a cad. So what. But Bill’s a cad too. All men are cads. Grow up, America, and deal with it.
As with all of Trump’s caveman declarations, there is some (emphasis on some) truth to it. All men aren’t cads, but a lot are. And I would imagine that far more 60-year-old men talk like this sometimes than many people would prefer to think. In the coming month, Trump will represent that America.
Hillary will represent the America that doesn’t think like that anymore. Which America is bigger? I’m not entirely sure. I actually suspect Trump’s might be. Today, across America, men will fill sports bars to watch their favorite college football games. Some women will be at those bars, too, of course, but it’ll be 80 percent men. They’ll talk about Trump. Won’t a lot of them laugh and kind of sympathize? Sure they will.
However—most of these men will probably also know that a guy who talks like that, while they might buy him a beer and a shot, maybe shouldn’t be the president of the United States. And by the way, of course he talks like that. He said in his statement that “anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am.” Right. In 16 months of serial lies, that may have been the lie-i-est lie of them all. Trump and Ailes were probably talking like this last week. This week. Unfazed, because they’re utterly un-faze-able people, they’ll probably do it today.
But yes, these sports-bar men will know that Trump crossed a line. So that may be the saving grace here: The fact we as a society agree publicly that there have to be such lines. Conservatives call it political correctness, and they revile it. Other people call it manners. Whatever you want to call it, I think it will prevail here. But not before Trump drags us all through yet another gutter, the most sordid and Freudian one of all. Hard as this concept may be to grasp, I’d advise you to grasp it: We haven’t even seen nasty yet.