The candidacy of Donald Trump has led to many "firsts" in US politics. Among them is also the first time that both the male and female genitals have become topics of official campaign discussion. The latest - although probably by the time I finish this blog post there is already a newer - Trump scandal is about a secret tape in which he brags about grabbing women "by the pussy," which were made during a bus conversation with Today Show host Billy Bush - who, for inexplicable reasons, is still not fired by NBC.
As so often in this presidential campaign, the media is by and large failing us, breaking news (although often by being handed the information rather than by investigative journalism), sensationalizing it, and then not following up on it with critical analysis of what is really happening. So, here is my quick analysis, summarized in nine points.
(1) This is about sexual assault, not about sexist remarks!
The story was broken by Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold in a piece entitled "Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005." But the essence of the piece was not "lewd conversation," it was straight-up sexual assault and (probably) rape. In the conversation with Bush, on a bus, Trump bragged about kissing women without consent and grabbing them between their legs! Thát was the story: sexual assault, not sexist remarks!
(2) If it were about sexist remarks, there would be no reason for the "outcry."
In fact, if the story was truly "just" about sexist remarks, as also almost all GOP politicians (pro- or anti-Trump) emphasized, there would have been absolutely zero news value in it. You hardly have to go to 2005 to find sexist remarks by Donald Trump. He makes them constantly, and not just in the locker room either - just remember the "blood coming out of her wherever" remark about Fox News anchor Megan Kelly.
(3) If this is your "locker room banter" you should change your gym!
Donald Trump himself lightly dismissed the remarks as "locker room banter," a phrase that was eagerly adopted by GOP and Trump surrogates in an (not unsuccessful) attempt to distract the discussion from their candidate - as was the predictable attack on Bill Clinton, which Fox News presenter and Trump booster Sean Hanley ran away with. Again, the issue here is sexual assault (i.e. criminal behavior) and not sexist remarks (i.e. legal speech). But if you do want to go there, this is not normal locker room banter! I have never heard anyone talk openly and proudly about sexually assaulting a woman in any locker room - and I am certain that, if I had, I wouldn't have laughed like a sexually frustrated teenager (as the still not fired Billy Bush did). Still, if this truly is what your locker room banter is like, I advice you to immediately change your gym!
(4) GOP "outcry" is about the messenger, not the message.
Since the news broke most high-ranking Republicans have denounced Trump's remarks - while completely ignoring his claimed behavior - although very few have openly renounced their endorsement of him. Even the ones that are, behind closed doors, trying to get Trump to step back, are clearly much more upset about the messenger than about the message. They are worried that Trump is too damaged to win the elections. Hence, they are looking for someone else who can more successful promote roughly the same message.
(5) This is not about your daughters and wives, it is about all women!
Another striking aspect about the response of many Republicans is there personalization of the remarks. They also seem mainly concerned about their own female relatives, endlessly referring to their daughters and wives, rather than about women in general. In short, we don't want you to talk about our women like that - although Ted Cruz seems perfectly fine with working for a man who has made numerous sexist and degrading remarks about his own wife.
(6) Don't insult (our) white women but feel free to attack all non-white minorities.
Similarly, it is very telling that (only) these remarks were unacceptable to so many Republicans, who have been silent or tolerant towards Trump often even worse remarks about other groups. He has likened Muslims to snakes and terrorists and Mexicans to criminals and, oh irony, rapists. And yet, it was only when he spoke bad about (our) white women that these Republicans were "appalled" and started to doubt their support for Trump.
(7) Republicans will probably lose with Trump but certainly without him.
The fact that high-ranking Republicans are wasting their time even considering alternatives for Trump - like running-mate Mike Pence and failed 2012 candidate Mitt Romney - shows how delusional they are about both Trump and the Trump phenomenon. There is little to no realistic chance that Trump will gracefully bow out of the race - even if he would withdraw, and that is an enormous if, he will undoubtedly make it look like it was a conspiracy and he was the victim of the GOP elite. Any removal of Trump, however spinned by the Republican establishment, will ensure that a sizeable part of the real Trump electorate will not vote in next month's elections. They already now hate the GOP establishment almost as much as they hate Hillary Clinton. In short, while the Republicans will probably lose with Trump, they will certainly lose without him!
(8) It is crucial for US democracy that Trump is defeated by the electorate, not by the GOP establishment.
The backroom deals that are going on within Republican circles are not just problematic for the GOP, they constitute a serious threat to liberal democracy in the country. It will "prove" to the hardcore Trump supporters that they have no voice in the current democratic system and that when they finally play by the rules, the establishment intervenes. This will undoubtedly lead to many of Trump supporters to (again) turn their back on the democratic system and the electoral process. This is problematic from a broader democratic point of view, which holds that democracy functions best when as many people as possible participate. But it is also worrying because it concerns a specific part of the population that is particularly susceptible to conspiracy theories and is heavily armed.
(9) The only hope for the GOP is a Goldwater moment.
Those that truly want to reform the Grand Old Party, and take it back from the radical right of both Trump and Cruz (as well as many others), should let Trump contest the elections on his own accord and wait for a Goldwater moment, i.e. a massive electoral defeat that will allow political space for a fundamental reform of the party. Only if Trumpism is electorally defeated will leading Republicans have the opportunity and will (courage would be too big a term) to pull the party back into a liberal democratic direction, and (re)build the heavily damaged relationships with the groups that will define the majority of the electorate in the years to come, most notably Hispanics and women.