His debate non-apology will only exacerbate his troubles among a crucial voting block.
By Jared Keller
Hillary Clinton speaks as Donald Trump watches on during the debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo: Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)
Donald Trump has had arguably the worst weekend in American political history. Never mind that the Republican candidate’s campaign is playing damage control after his uneven performance in the first presidential debate, or revelations about his taxes by the New York Times, or his cringe-worthy feud with former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, in which Trump took to Twitter to advise the voting public to “check out [her] sex tape.” No, Trump did something worse: He blew up his chances with female voters at the ballot box and, in all likelihood, his chance at winning the presidency.
Headed into Sunday’s town hall, Trump was on the attack. On Friday, videotape from 2005 surfaced revealing Trump essentially gloating about sexually assaulting women. The video sparked a massive backlash that left Republican leaders, including Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, denouncing the nominee. Trump’s late Friday non-apology sparked a deluge of subsequent stories and videos; Trump responded by holding a press conference alongside three women who have accused President Bill Clinton of sexual assault in the past, a condemnation of Hillary Clinton’s alleged complicity in silencing the former president accusers.
The evening’s first question appeared to be a direct jab at Trump: Do you feel you’re modeling appropriate behavior for students and young people? While Clinton delivered a bland, optimistic homily to cooperation and tolerance with nary a word about Trump’s disastrous weekend, Trump effectively gave up in real time, pivoting to a canned, sedate stump speech on the perils of Obamacare and the Iran deal. When eventually prodded by Anderson Cooper to respond to his statements in the 2005 tape, Trump denied that what he described was tantamount to sexual assault. “It was locker room talk, and it’s one of those things,” he said. “It was locker room talk…. No, I have not done those things.” Unmoored and unhinged, Trump could only bubble with random morsels about ISIS and global economics.
Clinton went for the jugular:
What we all saw and heard on Friday was Donald talking about women. What he thinks about women, what he does to women. And he has said the video doesn’t represent who he is, but it’s clear to anyone who heard it that it’s exactly who he is. We’ve seen him insult women, rank women based on their appearance, embarrass women on TV and Twitter…. Yes, this is who Donald Trump is.
Trump rebutted — “It’s just words, folks. It’s just words.” — before pivoting to deride Clinton for enabling former President Bill Clinton’s sexual assaults on the four women patiently seated in the audience. Later in the debate, when needled by Clinton that he’d encouraged voters to check out Machado’s sex tape, Trump flatly denied that he’d done so, despite digital evidence to the contrary.
Trump’s failure to clear the cloud of impropriety that now hangs over his campaign will cost him: With months of polling data suggesting that Trump desperately needs a white majority of voters to counteract “historic deficits” among Latino and African-American voters, as Politico put it, he desperately needs to win over college-educated white women. That was already a tough task: A Monmouth College poll over the summer has Trump down a ridiculous 30 points, 27 percent to 57 percent, among them. It’s now next to impossible.
Trump has been alienating female voters since the onset of his campaign. His unfavorability ratings among women jumped to 70 percent last April (from 58 percent the previous summer). The downward spiral of Trump’s macho bravado may have energized working-class white men frustrated by changing economic and demographic tides, but he cost himself an essential voting bloc in the process of shoring up his base.
It’s worth noting that Clinton picked up major momentum among white, educated women following both parties’ political conventions over the summer, according to an ABC/Washington Postpoll (perhaps because of Trump’s own performance). A separate Brookings Institution analysis revealed that, though Clinton held a slight pre-convention edge over Trump (45 percent vs. 42 percent), that lead had grown considerably after the conventions (57 percent vs. 38 percent).
It’s likely that post-tape (and post-debate) polls will show a similar trend. As FiveThirtyEight points out, the white “suburban” female voter bloc has changed political alignment several times in recent years, and Trump is letting a crucial voting bloc slip through his fingers by virtue of a single, undeniable flaw: The man sees women like his hotels, assets to be managed and exploited, not individuals with political power.
In that 2005 tape, Trump boasted that women will do anything for him because he’s “a star.” Come November, women across the country could prove him wrong with their ballots.