With four weeks to go until election day, Donald Trump’s candidacy is diving ever lower in the polls, and the Republican Party is coming apart at the seams. Following the revelations of Trump’s trash talk and sexual assault strategies on the Access Hollywood tapes, any gains Trump made from the Clinton’s campaign stumbles have been wiped out — and this afternoon, The New York Times has broken a story of two women being groped by him, in the ’80s and in 2005. All this and more has ensured that the polls are back up to 8-12% leads in places like Virginia, Colorado and Pennsylvania, and back up to 3-5% in Florida. Once-marginal Republican states such as Arizona, Georgia and the Nebraska 2nd district are now swing states. Across the nation, Clinton’s lead after the debate was registered as high as 11 points; that has now come down to eight or so. With those new advances, other states start to open up as further possibilities: Alaska, with a 3% lead, South Carolina with a 4% lead.
Those large leads may come in as the impact of the tapes fades — indeed, maybe they’re all wrong, as per the UK 2015 election and Brexit, and the only accurate poll is The LA Times, which has been a consistent outlier and shows the race as tied*. But they may be correct, and they may get worse. There are clearly hundreds of hours of tape of Trump out there, from TV, radio shows, godknowswhat. How much damage more menacing sexual trash talk would do is an open question — indeed, if it’s any dirtier, it will be impossible for cable TV news to play it — but what if it was racial and used the N-word? What if it was racial and sexual? Trump is the right-wing white American id — that’s what his base likes about him. Everything will be in there somewhere.
The supercache would be the tapes from The Apprentice, on which Trump appeared for a dozen years, and which, according to past crew on the show, show Trump to be rude, arrogant and, once again, predatory. However, producer Mark Burnett has claimed that he does not have the legal right to produce such tapes, and pirate copies have not yet surfaced. If the Democrats or Democrat-friendly media do have them, they’ll be waiting until the eve of the third debate, on October 19, to release them.
Besides, the roll-out from the weekend just keeps going. Soon after the Access Hollywood tapes came out, tapes from the ’90s Howard Stern radio show emerged, in which Trump bragged about “walking around backstage” at the Miss Universe competition, where some of the women were naked. Today that has been followed by statements from contestants that Trump used to do this at “Miss Teen USA”, a pageant he also owned. That one’s just kicking off now, and it might be a little harder for Trump to dodge. The New York Times story, released early, in which two women speak of Trump groping them, one in the ’80s, one in 2005, has one woman — sitting next to him on a flight — saying “it was when he put his hands up my skirt that I moved to coach; he was like an octopus, with six arms”. Wounded octopus then. Nevertheless, there are testimony witnesses — people to whom the women recounted the story to at the time — and more will come. If there’s anyone with a story of an incident less than seven years old — the statute of limitations in most states — then Trump might have criminal charges to face.
Those Republicans who disassociated themselves from Trump on the weekend are breathing a sigh of relief — and those who haven’t are, as one insider told MSNBC, “waking up each morning and wondering if today is the day, or if they’re too late” — but they have earned a new enemy: Donald Trump, who in the past few days has turned much of his fire away from Clinton to sections of the Republican Party, especially Paul Ryan and the Congressional Republicans. Ryan has said that he won’t campaign for or appear with Trump again, but that he won’t disendorse him. Trump took that well.
In rallies over the last couple of days, he’s spent long stretches attacking the Republican Party — and riling his supporters up to calls of “revolution”, and to a president-only vote, ignoring Senate and House. For the first time, the Democrats are beginning to consider the possibility that they might be able to flip the House. No easy task — they would have to take 30 seats in a ridiculously gerrymandered chamber.
The current lists of districts in play only list about 40 or so, and 10 of them are Democratic seats, once at risk of going the other way. But now, they are at looking at seats with a 10%, 12% margin. Were they to take it, or come close, and take the Senate as well, then Hillary Clinton could get a budget passed, run a well-funded foreign policy and create a progressive majority on the Supreme Court. That would be a chance to cement a certain type of progressivism in place, which is why so many on the right are beginning to talk in apocalyptic language — such as Alex Jones, the “Infowars” radio host, who asserts that both Obama and Clinton are demons who “stink of sulfur”.
Currently, the Republican leadership is split, with Reince Priebus of the RNC continuing to support and fund the presidential campaign, while the Congressional wing is steering funds and support away from him. Fifty years after the Chinese cultural revolution, in which that country’s leadership was divided into warring factions, the Republican Party is staging a do-over. Most reasonable Republicans have given up on the White House this time round — indeed their strategy now is that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats will have such power that the idea of a restraining counter-president could become viable in 2020.
With all this going on — the NYT story broke as I was writing, and the one about Trump’s porn star kidnap and killing that one guy broke afterward — the Republicans have made it difficult to use the rolling WikiLeaks releases of the Podesta emails, which reveal the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches. Hamstrung also by the fact that there is no smoking gun in the emails, so far as one can tell — 7000 of a claimed 50,000 on file have been released.
Most recently, there was the suggestion of leaks of upcoming questions from Democratic-aligned CNN TV talking heads to team Hillary — a bit spicy, until CNN denied giving any access to such questions to partisan talking heads. Stuff about having a public and private position, about having open borders and being pro-socialised medicine don’t reveal anything new, and they cancel each other out. Hillary’s left! No, she’s neoliberal! Maybe there’s something in there, but, if so, no one’s found it yet — and if it’s that buried, its complexities will be well beyond the “undecided” voters the campaigns are now competing for.
What Clinton’s opponents may have hoped for — direct communication about bombing country X so that Bechtel can then rebuild it, and use the profits to shoot them a donation — ain’t there. To be honest, with Trump’s erraticism, it’s hard to know what could be revealed that would steer the uncommitted away from her. WikiLeaks, having hitherto used the single big file dump at times, is not helping itself against perceptions that it is acting strategically with the daily feed of new documents. Indeed, the process may be proving counterproductive, allowing the Clinton camp to claim that Putin’s agents are feeding and doctoring the material.
Trump’s rallies meanwhile are spinning out of control, amusingly and not so much. The abuse towards the media — with the entire audience turning to the central media enclosure, on Trump’s direction, and yelling “traitors, traitors” — is going to end in violence before polling day dawns. Trump has said he would jail not only Hillary, but her lawyers too, that the only way he can lose this election is if it’s stolen, that he’s “very good at working things out”, that if president, he wants “a veto power over the media, like Hillary has”, and that “I basically consider myself a blue-collar man”. Sadly, so do many of his fervent supporters. If only one had the business amoralism that has taken Trump to the debt-ridden “top”, one could stand outside their rallies and sell timeshare resorts, weight-loss tea, a sound engineering course, the whole schmear.
*The LA Times poll, as per an NYT story, uses very specific banding and then weighting to try and model national mood; consequently, the fact that one young pro-Trump black man in Chicago has stopped filling out the tracking survey has caused Trump’s rating in the poll to dive by several points.