Why is THIS the controversy that might finally sink Trump?
October 8, 2016 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Trump's comments from the 2005 tape are, obviously, incredibly offensive. But why are they so damaging to his campaign, when nothing else has seemed to affect his popularity?

I find it odd that everyone has latched on to something he said in 2005, while ignoring all the other incredibly offensive things he's said this year, on record, while running for president. He's been caught lying numerous times, he's called Mexicans rapists and murderers, he wants to ban people from entering the country simply for their Muslim faith, he's called women fat and ugly, he's voiced thinly veiled assassination threats against Hillary Clinton multiple times, and (not from this year but) he apparently had a loss of almost a billion dollars on his 1995 tax return...

Somehow, none of these controversies have been nearly as damaging to his campaign as the 2005 tape. Paul Ryan actually uninvited him from a joint appearance. Major news outlets think this story (from 11 years ago!) is more important than 800+ deaths from Hurricane Andrew in Haiti and the closer-to-home impact on Florida. I'd like to understand why.

A lot of people are saying the problem isn't the lewdness or graphic nature of the comments, but that he's talking about sexual assault, i.e. a crime. But I don't think "it's sexual assault" fully explains what's going on. When I (a woman) worked in an auto repair shop, I heard the mechanics around me talk degradingly about women all the time, and it was almost always in terms of status and conquest. They weren't thinking "I shouldn't sexually assault women," they were thinking, "What can I get away with?" Women were sexual conquests and trophies to be won (and to be boasted about later, even when I was working next to them).

Rape culture is pervasive, and I see Trump's comments as being along that same continuum. But the media and Republican elites (I'm less sure about regular Republican voters) seem to think they're fundamentally different. What's going on?
posted by Questolicious to Society & Culture (43 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
A big part of it is that it's not just him making a statement about another groups qualities but in fact stating his personal desires and what actions he takes.

Calling Mexicans rapists is one thing for the US electorate(depressingly), but outing yourself as a sexual predator is another.
posted by Ferreous at 12:28 PM on October 8, 2016 [18 favorites]

A candidate for President is held to a different standard than workers in an auto repair shop. He is bragging about being able to commit sexual assault with impunity because of his status as a "star". I am as surprised as anyone that the previous offenses you mention seemed to have no effect on his support, but I can see how this rises above those.
posted by jkent at 12:31 PM on October 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Perhaps because after the VP debate, establishment Republicans have been impressed with Mike Pence and now see a viable alternative where there was none before. Notwithstanding that it's kinda too late.
posted by wutangclan at 12:39 PM on October 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

The best explanation I've read is this from Sam Wang:

The insta-consensus among commentators is that somehow this event is a cause of Trump’s electoral doom. I think the logic is backwards – to me, the growing obviousness of his doom created an environment for this story to blow up.


Based on past elections, I estimate that people’s “animal spirits” about a campaign start to shift when the front-runner’s win probability gets close to 95% as defined using PEC’s methods. At that point, the marketplace of ideas starts looking for a reason to pile on to the loser. Enter the video/audio recording.

posted by great_radio at 12:42 PM on October 8, 2016 [55 favorites]

*If* this becomes truly damaging to him, I'd suspect it's because all previous controversies were written off as "he's gaining traction, nothing can stop him, this is a small bump in the road." Now, this one, is "we smell blood in the water, this could be what finally does him in, let's pounce."

posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:42 PM on October 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Relevant article on 538
posted by crocomancer at 12:43 PM on October 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, I think part of what makes this misogyny more pressing is that it is specifically describing violence directed at wealthy, young, and white women. When he's describing violence directed at POC/saying stuff that's xenophobic, it doesn't hit the majority of leaders of the Republican party where they live in the same way. While I do think part of it is that people sense a tide is turning and are pouncing, I think dismissing the privilege of the targets of these acts of violence as irrelevant would be misguided.
posted by superlibby at 12:48 PM on October 8, 2016 [82 favorites]

I really, honestly believe that it's because he used some curse words. Americans are so hung up on "bad language" that this is the thing that can't be tolerated. So many of the headlines (particularly the early ones) focused on the fact that he used "lewd terms," not on the fact that he was recounting how successful he's been in sexually assaulting women.

It's kind of like how any nudity/language concerns make a movie rated 'R' immediately, but the level of violence has to be in the stratosphere to result in a similar rating.
posted by Betelgeuse at 1:00 PM on October 8, 2016 [22 favorites]

My guess, based on no particular insider knowledge, is that Republicans have been wanted to drop him for a while because they think he's going to lose. This is a safe stand to take. No Republican is going to be criticized for defending women against this level of grossness, where they might've gotten shit for dropping Trump over his white supremacy.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:10 PM on October 8, 2016 [25 favorites]

I heard the mechanics around me talk degradingly about women all the time, and it was almost always in terms of status and conquest.

After which they didn't run for President.

Trump's words hurt the Christian Right's project more and more each day. Your daughters not being safe with Trump (or his fans) around is an incisive message.
posted by rhizome at 1:23 PM on October 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

All of this, and this time there's video where he then directly acts out this mentality with a woman he's been talking about. Video is visceral and damaging in a way regular reporting simply isn't. (See white people getting half a clue when there's video of police beating protesters in the 60s, or seeing tapes of police killings today.)

And lastly, this is personal in a way that policy isn't. It's two specific women that he's targeting, rather than all women. A single death is a tragedy, etc.
posted by schadenfrau at 1:24 PM on October 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

It's white women.

I won't pretend that I don't have these very same biases because I am human. However, it drives me crazy that people often can't seem to care about an injustice until it happens to them. They may fight it, even, claiming that such an injustice can't be possible because they've personally never seen it. (See all men/people who are incredulous about street harassment of women.)

Just as white men are the default of "people." White women are the default of "women." White women aren't "people" but they are "women." And who doesn't know a woman?

When the maligned class is ambiguous (foreigners) or far away from your own particular sphere, you can sit more safely in judgement. But when it's right in your own home (your own gay child, your Veteran relative, your medical malpractice) you are spurred to action.

I'm kind of surprised that this much umbrage has been taken. But I suppose the assault of a married (property) woman (paired with a video of a white woman which imprints the idea that the woman he spoke of assaulting was white) is really what gets people.

For me personally, while his casual reference to assaulting women and using his power and prestige as a shield is gross, my neck hairs stood up when the woman who was walking the two men into the studio was coerced to hug them. Blergh. This is a nuanced critique but I know some of you get it. I tried to explain this at dinner last night with some girlfriends and none of them got it. Even though they all had the experience of having to hug some dude they didn't want to hug and one of them even mimed the half-hearted, side-body, faux hug. But they didn't see why that part of the scene bothered me so much.

Anyway, all those people talking about how offended they are and in the same breath mention that they are offended because it personally affects them due to the presence of wives, mothers, daughters in their lives are just telegraphing their failures of empathy. But, hey, whatever gets us out of this Trump mess, I'll take it.
posted by amanda at 1:25 PM on October 8, 2016 [58 favorites]

I'm no pollster, but given the speculation that a chunk of Trump's poll support was wives who were teamplaying/coerced/afraid-not-to in supporting their husband's preference, this could be an out for them to split ranks, causing T's numbers to tank even further. Will love to see the M/F Republican graphs on Monday.
posted by rhizome at 1:37 PM on October 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure I agree with the "white" part of amanda's "it's women" equation but she is spot on about the creepiness factor of the two men coercing/lying/manipulating the woman who was walking up to them.

When I heard the tape excerpts on the news I was disgusted, but it didn't come close to what I felt when I heard the recording in its entirety and it included their in-cahoots treatment of the woman. I can't even put into words how disturbing that was.
posted by mulcahy at 1:37 PM on October 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

Trump numbers have been dropping daily since the debate. He has continued to direct his appeal to his base and not made any effort to go beyond that base. Now, with this tape, he has made it clear that independent or uncertain white women will not support him. Without minority votes and white women, he can not go beyond his base, so his numbers (polls)decline again, and in his own party, any number of respected Republicans feel the need to make a public stand against what he had said. Further, the Oct. surprise, not much there via Wikileaks, drowned by the sex of the tape, and the Trump suggestion that he would hit Hillary with Bill's past, now a washout for him.
posted by Postroad at 1:45 PM on October 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

When I woke up yesterday morning, I thought for sure that the articles I was reading about Trump's repeated insistence upon the guilt of the exonerated-by-DNA Central Park 5 would be the story of the day. I'm a white woman who spends most of my righteous indignation energy on racism because, honestly, I feel like the fight against misogyny is so hard, most of us give up fighting that fight. So...I was fairly shocked by how much traction THIS, finally, got, and a few conversations have formed my answer to your question.

--I agree with Betelgeuse, in that most of the hateful people I know (and know of) who have been offended have focused on the language, not the concept of sexual assault. It's not just that he said pussy, but also that he was heard to say fuck. There are whole swaths of the American public who have never heard anyone, let alone a presidential candidate, use these words (contrary to Lewandowki's claim that this is how people speak around their kitchen tables).

--A male news producer in my community tweeted, "Tonight we learned the GOP values the votes of women more than it values the votes of people of color." and I was struck by how simplistic a view this was for a media professional to espouse. I pointed out that "...there's a difference between needing our votes and valuing us." This goes, somewhat, to Amanda's point. Fear of losing women, and in this race, white women were the only ones they had a chance of getting, prompted outrage out of expediency.

And yes, the rush of politicians to append "As a husband and father of X number of daughters" to their disavowals works to humanize them to their base, just as it further offends all of us who believe you shouldn't need to have a personal connection to women/gay people/Muslims/veterans to have empathy and demand individuals and groups be treated with dignity.

--Last night at dinner time, a not-particularly-famous woman (i.e., someone with about the same number of followers as I have) posted a tweet "Please RT if you're a woman who's had an intimate body part grabbed without your consent. I'm curious.". At the time, there were 119 retweets. There are now over 12,000. For those who DO take the concept of sexual assault seriously (men as well as women) there's a conversation going on now, more robust than usual, about what women (and, as noted by the original person in a later tweet, people who present as female) face from men. Back to what I said about internalizing and giving up the fight -- being sexually accosted is so common that so many of us "forget" a majority of the experiences because they are so common, and only the shock of someone speaking so crudely, so lewdly, so blatantly, and in so entitled a way, prompts us to say, "Oh, lordy, NOW you're all paying attention?"

So, my belief is that this comment got traction with different people for different reasons: profanity, expediency, and collectively increasing indignation due to the undeniable nature of the media and the increased willingness of women to speak and men (and other women) to listen.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 2:13 PM on October 8, 2016 [16 favorites]

There's also #NotOkay, which was getting 2 sexual assault stories per second yesterday.

People are seeing this as something that could happen to them, their relatives and friends. This was a very personal statement about targeting individual women, something that a lot of people have experienced personally. Sexual violence is personal in a way other acts are not, and his cavalier attitude and comments about how "he can't help himself" are fucking awful.

And this person wants to be president, to direct the country. His actions and words embolden others, and his prior statements have been normalized by the media to the point that there have been more (or at least more attention to) racist and hate-driven attacks against minorities.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:20 PM on October 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

amanda, here's someone who agrees with you.
posted by zadcat at 2:23 PM on October 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Tail is wagging the dog. The Republicans fleeing this sinking ship (McCain, just now) now finally have an acceptable "reason" to do so, but the writing has been on the wall for some time.

Before they were on the bandwagon because they needed to be for their own careers, on the chance he won (and even if he lost, the best outcome for most Republicans was to remain in ranks). Now that a Trump victory is looking less and less possible (mostly irrespective of this latest controversy I would say) they need to ditch in a way that boosts their careers. This controversy is the most strategically beneficial one to use, for reasons alluded to by others above.
posted by danny the boy at 2:23 PM on October 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

From my perspective, lots of what he says is absolutely horrible. But his supporters agree with him. Lots of his supporters want to build a wall and keep Muslims out and think his sexist comments are "okay" and he's just "saying it like it is." However, I think many of his supporters are also religious - and while much of what Trump pushes is very against the loving true message of many religions - adultery is clearly not okay.

Plus, pushing "cheating" as a shame against Bill and Hillary now is very two faced that he's heard saying he was trying to have sex with a married woman shortly after he married his current wife. So not only was he trying to sleep with a married woman but he himself was married.

So this strikes as a huge "sin" that he's willing to break marriage vows. (Not that I haven't heard that this is a norm for him, but now there's evidence that he can't dispute.) It calls into question a different moral compass. Not one about those who are "other" that Trump supporters may also be against due to race or religion or whatever - but they within their own homes and communities would frown upon adultery and shun people who cheating on a spouse.

This is just my perspective as someone who was raised religious. There were many actions taken by those I was around that were very against religious message but fed their own fears and prejudice while basing it in "the word of god". But I think it's very difficult to justify spousal cheating in their view. (ETA I am atheist.)
posted by Crystalinne at 2:33 PM on October 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

I don't think the tail is wagging that dog. Now any downticket candidates who have only had support of McCain and other recanters can be rebuked on that connection.
posted by rhizome at 2:33 PM on October 8, 2016

I agree with those who say that for whatever reason the vulgar language is the tipping point.
posted by vunder at 2:58 PM on October 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Something to think about
What if Trump's polling numbers at this point put him very very close to Hillary's...And then this tape came out. Would there still be the fuss that is now taking place, with unendorsing him and/or rebuking him publicly?
posted by Postroad at 3:01 PM on October 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Regardless of the poll numbers, that's how responses to controversies always operate: will the explanations and apologies work? Without social support it's much less likely.
posted by rhizome at 3:07 PM on October 8, 2016

How much of it has to do with him going after a married woman? In that case, she already "belongs" to another man, so his primary offense is against the man as the "property owner"? I mean, we've seen that people were very willing to ignore his other lewd, misogynist comments for years.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 3:34 PM on October 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

A lot of people are saying the problem isn't the lewdness or graphic nature of the comments, but that he's talking about sexual assault, i.e. a crime. But I don't think "it's sexual assault" fully explains what's going on.

Yes, the fact that he's confessing to habitually committing sexual assault is what's going on. This is not just one of many "offensive things he's said." While his use of the word "pussy" does make for attention-getting headlines, that's not the real problem; it would be just as bad if he had used a proper term like "genitalia." It's not about what he said, it's about what he did — which has been corroborated by women.

Some people are saying we "already knew" what the tape reveals because we've heard many of his "sexist comments." But without defending those comments, they're just not the same thing as admitting to sexual assault. You can say whatever you want about his complaints that a beauty pageant winner gained weight, but making comments about someone's weight is not a sexual assault — not even close. To equate the two would be to minimize sex offenses, as if they were mere rudeness.

Your comments about you've heard some men talk like that remind me of what I've seen some women (only women, interestingly enough) saying on Facebook. First of all, most men don't talk or act like that. But even as to the ones who do, well, they're not running for president. We have a higher standard for someone who's vying to (a) have an extremely powerful/dangerous job and (b) represent our whole country in the eyes of the world.
posted by John Cohen at 4:26 PM on October 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree with what others have said, but here is my additional, very cynical interpretation.

Trump discussed trying to have sex with a married white woman. In the mind of some (whether spoken outwardly or not), married women are considered the property of their husbands and women more generally are the property of their male relatives. Similarly their worth and value is in relation to men (as wives, daughters, sisters etc.) This therefore was not an insult to women, but an insult to white men, particularly married white men.

This interpretation is supported by many republicans stating that this is insulting to their "wives and daughters" not this is insulting to "women", as women only exist in their minds in relation to men. No other insults thus far (against Mexicans, against african americans, against muslims etc.) have been an insult to white men. This is the first.

Extra cynical interpretation over.
posted by Toddles at 4:27 PM on October 8, 2016 [19 favorites]

I think it's the tipping point for Republicans who want votes from white women. This is why you are seeing statements from Senators saying they don't support him now--because they need votes from white women to win their own races. If they don't disavow him, or at the least his statements, they risk white women who might have held their noses before just not turning out on Election Day. These candidates never had much support from POC women or Muslims, or other minorities, so all the earlier shit he has said wasn't going to hit their bottom line like this will. For politicians seeking reelection it is purely a political calculation that has tipped them over.

And Fuck them all for it, I hope they get dragged down like they deserve to be for turning a blind eye all this time.
posted by msbubbaclees at 4:47 PM on October 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

For anyone thinking "most men don't talk or act like that," you might want to check out #notokay trending on Twitter (or see here). Over a million personal stories of sexual assault in less than a day. The reality is that too many men do act exactly like that. Let's not brush it under the table.
posted by Questolicious at 4:59 PM on October 8, 2016 [17 favorites]

From a distance (several hours away), the difference is that this time it appears that we have certainty not only about what kind of person Trump is (which we knew already), but now we know that Trump knows and admits it himself.
posted by tillsbury at 5:38 PM on October 8, 2016

Another thing is that the victim in the story was Nancy O'Dell, Billy Bush's co-star(!) on Access Hollywood and people who watch the show every day probably feell like they "know" her, making the connection seem more personal. But I think all of the above are right, to varying degrees.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:29 PM on October 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

From a distance (several hours away), the difference is that this time it appears that we have certainty not only about what kind of person Trump is (which we knew already), but now we know that Trump knows and admits it himself.

More than admitting, it's full-on bragging. As if admitting he sexually assaults women isn't enough, he makes it part of his swagger among other dudes, then he doesn't address what he said in his "apology." He doesn't say "I used my position and power to force myself upon women, and for that I am ashamed and regret that I cannot undo my actions or take back my words, but I can promise that this is not who I am now."

Instead, he said "I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade-old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me, know these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, it was wrong, and I apologize."

He's saying "I'm sorry for my words," not "my actions." It's not just what he said over a decade ago, it's what he did as recently as 2010, and given that his Tic Tac tactic was repeated in 2005 and 2010, it sounds like his MO, one he likely used more than twice, and possibly more recently than 2010.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:04 PM on October 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Honestly? This is my cynical take: the idea of gross locker room banter is, "yeah, she was hot and we totally banged" or "she was hot and I'm gonna bang her cause she was all over me", like, stuff that makes the narrator sound desirable.

This wasn't even that. This was literally saying that women don't find him desirable.

So the sexual assault angle is a big part of it, but I think there's also something so desperate and unattractive about it that even locker room bros are turned off.
posted by redsparkler at 9:56 PM on October 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

This NYT news analysis has an answer: the visceral impact of hearing those exact crude words coming out of his crude mouth.

I'd like to think anyone reasonable listening to Trump over the past year would realize he's a monster. But everyone pays attention to different things. For a surprising number of people, particularly Republican men wrapping themselves in a cloak of chivalry, this thing was the one that was too much. Not fantasizing about "banging" his daughter, not the racism, not the narcissism.
posted by Nelson at 12:17 AM on October 9, 2016

But the media and Republican elites (I'm less sure about regular Republican voters) seem to think they're fundamentally different. What's going on?

Madonna/Whore, essentially. In the kind of retrograde gender-essentialist mindset that a lot of conservatives (hell, a lot of Americans in general) have, "good" women are Delicate Virginal Flowers right up until they become Mothers, at which point they are Bastions Of Civilization. And "good" women (Madonnas) simply should not be spoken about - even in private - as if they were whores. Which means that "acceptable" locker-room talk is something like, "Susie's got a nice ass, I'd tap that", which is expected, because Men, poor dears, are Slaves To Their Baser Urges. It's OK, though, because there's always a Madonna to tame those base urges. In private, they can't help talking about what they'd like to do, but there's a difference between verbally fantasizing/boasting and actually doing. And then there's the belief that it's OK to talk about "whores" in whatever crude language you want - which is probably how your mechanic co-workers thought of it, in a kind of circular logic sort of way; if they were talking about women as conquests and trophies, well, therefore those women were ipso facto "whores", because that was how the guys were viewing them, and therefore it was OK to talk about them that way.

But the vulgar talking yam flat out admitted, on tape, in extremely crude language, that he actually treats "good" women - married blonde mothers - like whores. He crossed the line separating the madonnas from the whores, which is unacceptable for people whose belief that there IS a clearly defined line is a core part of their worldview. Note how many of the Republican elites who objected to the tape couched their objections in terms of "women should be revered" or "cherished" - phrases that still are patronizing and/or Othering and/or don't allow women true agency. They're defending the Madonnas that Trump admitted he attacks.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:26 AM on October 9, 2016 [19 favorites]

This latest reveals not only what Trump thinks, it has him explaining what he does.
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:37 AM on October 9, 2016

Right. To me, it was a bunch of things - it was that he was blatantly boasting about how he regularly forcibly gropes and kisses women because he "can". This wasn't him spouting off about something he would do if elected (build a wall, deport all Muslims), this was him recalling actual things he had done which he found worth bragging about. Assaults.

It was definitely also the vile language - "tried to fuck her", "went after her like a bitch", "grab them in the pussy" - these are all forceful, aggressive, if not violent actions. And it wasn't one comment, it was minutes of conversation.

It's also because it's just clearly and plainly him on video. He couldn't deny it (like the "John Baron" publicist bullshit), he couldn't blame the media for twisting his words, he couldn't put it on someone else. He was fucking straight-up caught live on camera.
posted by Bretley at 4:12 AM on October 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Interactive NYT timeline of Trump statements and Republicans who said they would not support or vote for him.

"As the camel falls to its knees, more knives are drawn."
posted by mlis at 7:26 AM on October 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

i wondered exactly the same thing. yesterday i was searching for previous quotes just to reassure myself that this really was "normal for trump".

one idea i had, which i don't think is mentioned above, is that even in a culture where this kind of talk is not so weird (i'm nearly 50 years old white male, thinking back to childhood in the uk in a not particularly well-off environment) it still sounds weak and insecure. for me, it instantly brought back memories of inexperienced, immature, adolescent boys.

so a possible theory is that in powerful, white, male-dominated republican circles, where other things have said have been acceptable because they're aimed at minorities, etc, this one just made him look "beta" (i dislike the whole "alpha/beta" thing, but i think it fits here).

(but then he often sounds weak and immature, so i am not sure this is any different....)
posted by andrewcooke at 7:58 AM on October 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

People have been talking about women as the one area where Trump might still pick up votes. They saw this and knew he was doomed. (My source is a quote from a R on Twitter that I don't have time to go find right now, but consider also HRC's camp's long messaging focus on women.)
posted by salvia at 11:55 AM on October 9, 2016

I enjoyed Mike Pesca's 5-minute take on why this is the thing that seems to be sticking. Another link if that one fails - https://overcast.fm/+BmH6k3TSI
posted by amanda at 12:29 PM on October 9, 2016

Because it's candid. Every other one of Donald's extremist, outrageous statements could be justified on the grounds that he's just playing a crotchety-old-man character; whenever someone tries to hold him to account for saying something crazy, he writes it off as "just a joke," a braggadocious exaggeration. That's what happened to "ban all Muslims" or "Hillary is the founder of ISIS" or "Second Amendment people." But this is a recording of him saying awful things when he's not playing a character, and it's equally awful. The usual defense just doesn't work.
posted by miyabo at 8:45 PM on October 10, 2016

it was that he was blatantly boasting about how he regularly forcibly gropes and kisses women because he "can". My vote is for this. He outed himself as an evil rich guy. He is not James Bond who charms and seduces women, he's a predator who knows he gets away with it because he's rich and famous.

I do think that a similar effect could have resulted if the tape had had him boasting about something else similarly immoral and illegal. Dodging the draft, for example, or not paying small businesses, or only renting to white people. I don't think people like rich people who brag about abusing their power.
posted by kjs4 at 3:13 AM on October 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

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