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The Sad Silver Lining to the Trump Campaign’s Implosion

What the Republican nominee’s free fall means for female voters.

By Jared Keller


(Photo: Ty Wright/Getty Images)

Since the Washington Post published a 2005 tape of the Republican presidential candidate boasting about sexually assaulting women, Donald Trump’s campaign has been in a free fall.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s lead over Trump has widened from 2.7 to 6.7 points, according to a RealClearPolitics average; a similar FiveThirtyEight analysis puts Clinton up by 10 points. Make no mistake: This is entirely because of the tape. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted during the tape’s release found Clinton’s lead exploded in the aftermath of the Post story’s publication.

And this isn’t the end of the saga. During last week’s presidential debate, Trump flatly denied ever inappropriately touching women. Days later, four women came forward, infuriated by his answer, to tell tales of the Republican nominee’s aggressive behavior. The Trump campaign, deluged by a slew of accusations, has pivoted to playing champion of women’s rights and exposing Bill Clinton’s past wrongdoings (as well as calling out what he perceives to be a globalist conspiracy of international bankers).

Rest assured, this will all spell doom for Trump. His unfavorability ratings among women have already jumped from 58 percent last summer to 70 percent as of April, and a Public Religion Research Institute/Atlantic poll conducted in the weeks leading up to the tape’s release showed Clinton leading Trump by a whopping 33 points among women generally. While FiveThirtyEight notes the PRRI/Atlantic poll is a bit of an outlier, national polls from October show a significant gender gap between the two candidates, with Clinton leading by an average of 15 points among women to Trump’s five points among men. It’s unlikely Trump will make any new inroads with white female voters who have historically favored Democrats.

Even the political establishment that half-heartedly threw its support behind Trump during the Republican primary is slowly backing away. More than 160 Republican leaders don’t support Trump, with dozens abandoning him in the aftermath of the 2005 tape’s release. The Republican National Committee has halted fundraising and organizing operations for Trump under its “Victory” umbrella, while Speaker of the House Paul Ryan encouraged Republican politicians to focus their attention on individual congressional races in an effort to maintain a majority in the House of Representatives. The result is a civil war of sorts within the Republican Party: It’s Trump vs. the world, and if the polls don’t show a path to victory, Trump will tear down the GOP (and the Clinton campaign) on his way out.

All of this is to suggest that the Trump campaign, without some sort of political Hail Mary, is completely doomed headed into November. And while Trump’s campaign may have left an indelible mark on American politics — despite widespread rubbernecking during the primary fights, both Republicans and Democrats were deeply dissatisfied with the course of the campaign headed into July’s conventions — its collapse also signals a turning point for American society. Despite the historic prevalence of sex scandals in American politics, no longer will misogyny exist as a minor indiscretion among the highest echelons of political and economic power. Women make up more than half of the electorate and have voted at higher rates than men for years; now, they’re flexing their political muscle beyond the ballot box.

No longer will misogyny exist as a minor indiscretion among the highest echelons of political and economic power.

To be clear, this isn’t a Trump-specific phenomenon: Consider the backlash to Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” comment during the 2012 presidential contest. But Romney only lost women by eight points to Obama in 2012; despite his squareness, the former Massachusetts governor seems like a breath of fresh air compared to the blatant misogyny on display at Trump’s campaign rallies.

Will Trump’s controversies force a revolution on issues like abortion, access to contraception, and equal pay? Perhaps not, but the scars of the Trump campaign look to endure for at least a generation on the face of the GOP. Where the RNC’s post-2012 “autopsy” called for a more inclusive party engaged with minorities, Trump’s attitude toward women might force a true reckoning beyond anything a post-mortem analysis could catalyze.

It’s a silver lining, but a cloudy one: How many women have to endure the pain of coming forward, of telling their stories, before the Trump campaign collapses? But the result is clear: Beyond all the complicated explanations of white anxiety and economic dislocation (arguments I’ve made in these pages myself), the Trump tapes reveal the real cowardice behind America’s political leadership.

“None of this was enough to make the Republican leadership take a stand against Trump,” writesMelissa Batchelor Warnke on Trump’s long history of horrible behavior. “At best, they conveyed disapproval even as they continued to support his candidacy. His virulent racism wasn’t enough. His extensively documented hatred of women wasn’t enough. They stood in line, greedily hoping for political appointments and support.”

Perhaps now, Trump’s sexist history will be enough to turn the GOP on a path toward progress and justice. If anything, they’ll realize this lesson in November: Female voters know just how to grab them by the ballot box.