As we head into the debate tonight, millions will have seen or heard of the 2005 video in which Trump was bantering crudely with an apparently approving Billy Bush, as well as the Trump mea culpa video on Facebook early Saturday in which a sober Trump admits his failings. Apologizes! (Whoa! Stop the presses! Weren’t we told Trump didn’t have the maturity to ever apologize?) And then pivots to the gloves-off contrast the leaked video now permits him: lewd words vs. actual assault, focus on issues facing the country vs. avoidance of track record.
For that is the entire zeitgeist of this election for many who are still undecided, and thus the target audience of this debate: Which candidate is least bad?
When you saw the video, did you wonder: Are we in Casablanca, that hypocritical world where the authorities are Shocked, Shocked, that Trump might talk this way? Trump’s supporters’ are thinking “Huh? What did you think he talked like when alone bragging with the guys?” But those who never wanted Trump as the candidate are in high dudgeon, and those in the media and on the Left are acting as though this is new news — which it is not.
(One wonders: Were they bothered by how the Kennedys talked about and treated women? Or how Bill Clinton did? Nah. Crocodile tears.)
Will this latest outré outrage make a difference? I think not.
First — Those who support Trump aren’t doing so because they thought he had high moral character, admirable business practices, or the disposition of a statesman. They don’t.
Many Trump supporters don’t care for Trump personally. But what they like is that he’s an outsider, and what they particularly like is that he’s not her. They already know he’s rough, crude, and lewd. Moreover, they think those characteristics may be necessary to clean out our modern Augean Stables: the institutionalized corruption that increasingly defines Washington. Rather than undermining that narrative, the video reinforces it.
Second — Expect Trump to survive this the same way he does everything else, by changing the subject, and attacking his opponents for using mud to obscure with old news their present failings. He will repeat that he has made mistakes, has never pretended to be perfect, and he is not running for saint. He just wants to make America great again.
Third — He will remind people that he recognized that he owed, and gave, the American people an apology — and unlike the video, Trump apologizing is contrary to type, which will help with those waiting for him to act presidential.
Fourth — Trump will turn this to his advantage, and take the counter-punch opening it provides, starting with reminding us that, unlike himself, Clinton feels she owes us nothing, and that no apology, for anything, will be forthcoming from her.
Even more, Trump should say “My words might have offended many of you but her corruption and failed policies have hurt you.” Even her husband, Bill, thinks the Affordable Care Act is horrific — and she will make it worse. (Indeed, Trump needs to talk about Obamacare in a more heartfelt way than he has to date, both because it is an issue that is particularly resonant with women, but also because Bill Clinton’s comments were no accident, but the first step in justifying single-payer, government-run health care.)
Expect Trump to repeat that she’s been at this 30 years with failure as the result, and if you want a true politician, vote for her.
Clinton will bait him with attacks on his character and certainly has plenty of new fodder this week (no taxes, sexist, misogynist).
After his experience last time, don’t expect him to squander time defending himself, but rather to be more like Pence in his demeanor — calm, unruffled, and on offense, hopefully leavened with humor and zingers. Expect him to use his time to attack her (the secret emails released this week, the lies and cover-ups, the immunity deals, etc.) and to sell his own policies.
Trump, if well-prepared, will paint a vivid picture of daily life under corrupt politicians, their cronies, and powerful special interests, versus an optimistic future where the American people get a government that puts them first.
His bar is low for Sunday. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t come to the debate better armed and more on offense.
I’ve got my popcorn. Round two, here we come!