ST. LOUIS – What is truly shocking is that Donald Trump’s Republican enablers are shocked.
True, Trump’s comments in the 2005 video made public Friday by The Washington Post are shockingly vile, astonishingly disgusting and disgracefully open about the freedom Trump felt (because he was a “star”) to grope and, let’s face it, assault women.
But while the investigative reporters deserve our thanks for fully exposing Trump, no one needed to rely on their work to know who he is. Only political opportunism allowed leading Republicans – from House Speaker Paul Ryan to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on down – to pretend that Trump was an acceptable presidential nominee.
Indeed, it should offend and enrage Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, American Muslims and everyone else Trump has attacked that none of these prior offenses had turned the Republican establishment away.
Birtherism? No problem. The verbal assaults on the Gold Star Khan family? Bad, but not enough to justify rescinding endorsements. Mexicans as “rapists”? This was just “that Mexican thing,” explained Mike Pence. The trashing of a former Miss Universe for gaining weight? We can get by that, too, they decided.
But now there’s audio catching Trump describing women in the most vulgar and obscene language. For Trump to try to justify this as “locker room banter” is an insult to the athletes who populate locker rooms. And his later apology sounded more angry than sincere.
Maybe the Republicans who are now oh-so-outraged and are pulling their endorsements have done their political calculations. They figured that they could write off African-Americans, Muslims and Latinos, but could not possibly offend all women, too. Perhaps they remembered the things they have said about “family values” and the importance of “character” and realized they just couldn’t roll with this one.
But if they cared about “character” and “family values,” Trump had already made clear that these meant nothing to him. This is a guy who bragged about sleeping with (terribly Victorian of me, I know, to use that term) married women.
As for character, the brave and good Republicans of the Never Trump movement have been citing chapter and verse about what a horrific man this is – someone who walked away from his debts, often failed to pay the people who worked for him, demeaned John McCain because he was a prisoner of war, and gleefully gave his opponents belittling nicknames.
Sadly, sickeningly, even those whom Trump had besmirched fell into line. McCain, who has so much to be proud of, endorsed Trump. He is now reduced to saying that Trump “alone” should pay the price for this episode. His meaning: Please don’t punish the party that enabled and nominated Trump or the candidates who have carried his water. Ted Cruz – aka Lyin' Ted – caved in and supported the man who had defamed Cruz’s father and wife.
And what about the devout conservative Christians (Pence, for example) who claim to care about how people live their lives and then embraced this despicable man? The conservative writer David French put it well Friday evening. “Honestly,” he tweeted, “pro-Trump evangelicals, in future elections don’t try to argue that character matters. Just don’t.”
Even when Ryan was rebuking Trump, he seemed to be looking for an escape hatch. “I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests.”
Really, Mr. Speaker? Do you honestly think that Trump can now demonstrate his “respect for women” and that the video you blandly sanitized as “this clip” is somehow an aberration? Then again, Ryan should have distanced himself from Trump long ago, so maybe this isn’t so surprising.
There must be accountability here for an entire party that was complicit in the rise of Donald Trump and tried desperately to pretend that he was fit for our nation’s highest office.
The Never Trump movement tried to block Trump, but its champions were resisted by the GOP hierarchy. Priebus actively pushed back against efforts to derail Trump at the national convention. The supply-siders were bought off with his tax cuts. The congressional leadership just wanted to hold the House and Senate and were willing to prop Trump up to minimize the damage he could cause.
This is the most shameful episode in the history of the party that gave our nation Abraham Lincoln. A steep electoral price must be paid to jolt Republicans into a period of reform, renewal and, yes, repentance.
E.J. Dionne’s email address is email@example.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.