The Trump Tape Fallout
The Winners and Losers of the Most Explosive October Surprise in History
The Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump making lewd and explicit comments about women obtained by the Washington Post has elevated to the level of an existential threat to the Trump campaign and the Republican Party at large. I won’t go into the substance of what was on the video, which you can view for yourselves. Rather, I will focus on the immediate fallout and consequences.
The Fallout: Winners
· #NeverTrump Republicans: Elected officials, operatives, activists, and media personalities who refused to endorse Trump or actively opposed him from the beginning have been taking a victory lap during the past few days.
· Mormons: Mostly located in the Rocky Mountain West, Trump had problems with this demographic in part because of his brash attitude and language. He lost the Utah caucuses by 55 points. A key constituency who opposed Trump early on and one of the first to rise up against him in the immediate aftermath of the tape story.
· Mitt Romney: I would make special note of him for opposing Trump since last spring when the primaries were still ongoing (Remember “trickle-down racism”?). Also, as a candidate he looks a lot better now than he did four years ago. Trump makes Romney look like Karl Marx for paying a 14 percent tax rate and the millions of dollars paid in taxes and donated to charity on his tax returns.
· John Kasich: Trump’s nemesis in the primary explicitly did not endorse him, and the two have occasionally reignited their war of words over the past several months. In his statement released after the story broke, Kasich pretty much spiked the football and told anyone who would listen “I told you so.”
· Jeb Bush: Trump’s “low energy” jab was devastating in the primary, but Jeb refused to take the low road, and unlike Ted Cruz, he refused to endorse Trump after he insulted his family. He probably won’t run for elected office again, but at least he came out of it with his integrity and credibility intact. He probably took a great deal of enjoyment in writing the tweet blasting Trump’s comments. Perhaps the greatest irony of all is the fact that Trump made his now-disqualifying comments on Access Hollywood to then-host Billy Bush — Jeb’s cousin.
· The Associated Press: Their story last week about Trump using lewd and sexist language on the set of The Apprentice was the impetus that led to the discovery of this Access Hollywood footage.
· David Fahrenthold: The dogged Washington Post reporter was already one of the media’s breakout stars of this race because of his relentless reporting on the Donald Trump Foundation. He was presumably rewarded for that tenacity with the biggest scoop of his career.
· John Podesta: His hacked emails published by WikiLeaks hardly got any attention because of the Trump tape story which broke on the same day.
The Fallout: Losers
· Donald Trump: His presidential dreams are effectively over, but not before triggering a messy civil war within the Republican Party which could be devastating up and down the ballot on Election Day. To cite Bob Dylan, “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.” Trump has subsequently decided to go full Breitbart for the final four weeks of the election.
· Kellyanne Conway: Trump’s campaign manager received much of the praise for the more disciplined on message candidate Trump became for much of the month of September. However, the events since the first presidential debate have shown just how little control Conway had on her client to begin with.
· Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer: The RNC chairman and the party’s chief strategist became enthusiastic Trump surrogates after he locked down the party’s nomination last May. The party had to nip a potential anti-Trump insurgency at the convention in the bud, and they spent considerable human and political capital setting up Trump’s ground game in the states which the Trump campaign should have set up for themselves. Now there are calls for the RNC to drop Trump and reallocate resources away from Trump in an effort to save down ballot candidates to keep Republican control of Congress. The RNC and Speaker Paul Ryan have apparently decided to make political calculations with different outcomes. Priebus’s priority is to elect Republicans up and down the ballot, and in order to do that he needs Donald Trump’s base of die-hard supporters to go to the polls. His concern is that if the party alienates the nominee who was chosen by the voters, those voters could stay home on Election Day in protest, depressing turnout and resulting in an Election Day landslide.
· Paul Ryan: The RNC and Paul Ryan have apparently decided to make political calculations with different outcomes. Ryan’s priority is to keep Republican control of both houses of Congress, a control which polls show is now in jeopardy. He figured it was better to give his caucus members permission to abandon or support Trump as they deem it necessary to ensure their political survival. Now, the Republican nominee has openly declared war on the highest Republican elected official in the country.
· Mike Pence: He was already in politically perilous territory in his home state of Indiana, so he bet his political capital and career on being Trump’s running mate. After a good debate performance and calls for some to make him the presidential nominee, Pence has difficult task of riding out rest of this election cycle while at same time wondering how he can rid himself of toxicity of being associated with Trump if he decides to run for president in 2020.
· Ted Cruz: He made a politically risky move of not endorsing Trump during his speech at the Republican National Convention and was shunned for it. On September 23, he endorsed the man who insulted his wife, accused him of infidelity, and accused his father of being involved in the JFK assassination. If he had kept his mouth shut for two more weeks, he would have been a hero with all the integrity, credibility and moral authority in the world to bash Trump and potentially lay the groundwork for a 2020 presidential run. Jumping on the Trump bandwagon very late in the game but just before it crashed into a ditch will make this meme all the more devastating.
· Scott Walker: When he dropped out of the GOP primary a year ago, he made a not-so-veiled reference calling on the party to unite around a candidate that wasn’t Donald Trump. Last July, he announced he would be endorsing Trump during the Republican convention.
· Sean Hannity: Perhaps no one in conservative media had been as big of a booster of Donald Trump, or had so much invested in his campaign’s success. He went into ethically questionable professional territory by appearing in a pro-Trump ad, accusing Fox News colleague Megyn Kelly of pro-Hillary Clinton bias, and hyping unscientific online polls showing a Trump debate victory despite guidance from his network’s own polling director to not use these polls on the air.
· Kelly Ayotte: She may have committed the biggest gaffe of this campaign cycle when she called Donald Trump a role model for children during a debate. She realized her mistake and released a statement hours later saying she misspoke, and several days later became one of the Republican senators to announce she would not be voting for him. However, the damage may already be done and this race could potentially determine which party controls the U.S. Senate next year.
· Trump Surrogates on TV: They have valiantly tried to defend or spin Trump’s controversies for months. Perhaps some of them had hopes for jobs in a Trump White House or elsewhere in the executive branch. But this latest controversy was too much even for them to put a good spin on it.
· Julian Assange: He had been teasing a Clinton October Surprise on WikiLeaks for weeks, releases the John Podesta emails, and the story gets drowned out by the Trump tape which came out the same day.
· NBC News and Access Hollywood: For sitting on their bombshell and not releasing it immediately when they had the chance, they both committed journalistic malpractice and got scooped on their own story.
· Billy Bush: He was hired to host the 9 am hour of the Today Show, presumably with the long-term goal of making him NBC’s next star talent. The Trump Tape effectively ended his career at NBC.