Finally, Donald Trump may have managed what even Donald Trump has thus far failed to do – to produce remarks so lewd, so vile, that they blow his gravity-defying presidential campaign out of the water.
Even by Mr Trump’s standards of vulgar misogyny, the video obtained by The Washington Post and released on Friday evening is breathtaking. The candidate, while issuing the nearest thing to an apology he has yet delivered on the campaign trail, nonetheless describes it as mere “locker-room banter” dating back many years. In fact, the words were uttered in 2005, when Mr Trump was 59, the same bragging property magnate and reality TV star he is today. Incidentally, they were also uttered as his third wife, Melania, was pregant with their future son.
This time, the shock among leading Republicans and Mr Trump’s vanquished primary opponents, who hitherto have mostly stood by the party’s nominee, was palpable. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, described the remarks as “repugnant”, and made clear the apology offered was insufficient. Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House and most senior elected Republican in the land, called them “sickening”, and cancelled a scheduled joint appearance with Mr Trump in his home state of Wisconsin.
Some party luminaries would go further, urging the candidate to drop out, and the Republican National Committee to find a replacement – presumably Mike Pence, Mr Trump’s running mate, who put up a well-received performance in the vice-presidential debate earlier this week. But just 31 days before the election, it must be too late for that, not least because early voting has already started in several states. The RNC may, however, conclude that the presidential election is lost and switch its financial and organisational support to endangered Senate and House candidates, to try to preserve its control of Capitol Hill.
The revelation comes at the worst possible moment for Mr Trump. It caps a week that began with news he claimed a billion-dollar tax loss in 1995, which may have enabled him to avoid paying federal income tax for 18 years. Since his feeble showing in the first debate with Hillary Clinton, he has lost crucial ground both in national polls and in almost every swing state. That trend will surely accelerate. Many undecideds, torn between two historically unpopular candidates, will conclude that Ms Clinton is the lesser of two evils. More broadly, after this tape, can there be a woman left in America who will vote for him?
On Sunday evening the two candidates face each other in a “town hall” debate, a format at which Ms Clinton excels. She might have been in serious trouble as a result of a more conventional “October Surprise”, the Wikileaks release of a couple of those $250,000 speeches she made on Wall Street, assuring the bankers she was a friend of theirs, and waxing lyrical about trade deals she now conveniently excoriates.
All, however, will be overshadowed by the new Trump tape, about which he will surely be asked – not by Ms Clinton, but by one of the undecided voters, probably a woman, who make up the studio audience. Whatever his reply, it will only confirm what has been clear ever since he declared his candidacy in June 2015. He is unfit in every way for the job he seeks.Reuse content