Trump turns his guns on the GOP
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump triggered a civil war within his own party this week, after dozens of congressional Republicans announced they could no long support his candidacy, and House Speaker Paul Ryan told his members they were free to abandon the presidential nominee and focus on their own campaigns. The exodus—which included Sen. John McCain—took place after the release last Friday of a 2005 Access Hollywood video in which the GOP nominee was caught on a hot mike bragging in graphic terms about how he “can do anything” to women because he’s a star, including “grab ’em by the p----y.” (See Controversy.) Republicans had already grown concerned that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s widening poll lead over Trump could imperil their control of the Senate, and maybe even the House, and when the video emerged, lawmakers began rescinding their endorsements and calling for Trump to step aside. In response, the billionaire businessman blasted the “weak and ineffective” Ryan for providing him with “zero support,” said “the shackles were off” of his campaign, and promised retribution against “disloyal” Republicans. Several GOP lawmakers, including Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, sheepishly reversed themselves and said they’d vote for Trump after his supporters berated them as cowards and traitors.
While fighting fellow Republicans, Trump also turned up his attacks on Clinton and her husband, Bill. For the second presidential debate on Sunday, Trump invited as guests three women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexually assaulting them decades ago (see Talking Points), and said what the former president did to women was “far worse” than his own “locker room talk” on the 2005 tape. He said that if he wins, he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton’s use of a private email server and put her “in jail.” Clinton accused Trump of living in an “alternate reality,” and said the 2005 video “represents exactly who he is.”
Polls suggested Clinton won the debate among all voters, but that Trump’s aggressive performance helped solidify his support among Republicans. Still, the RealClearPolitics.com national poll average showed Clinton opening a commanding lead of 6.2 points, up 2 points from last week. Polls also showed her pulling ahead in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, and even Ohio.
What the editorials said
The Republican Party is undergoing a “truly historic rupture,” said National Review.com. While the timing of this “open revolt” is curious—were Trump’s comments on the tape that much worse than anything else he has said?—it is welcome nonetheless. Ryan and his colleagues must now “separate themselves” from their toxic nominee, and focus on preserving their Senate and House majorities. It’ll be a tough line to tread, as “embattled down-ballot Republicans still need Trump voters.” But it’s essential we have a “check on a potential Hillary Clinton presidency.”
Trump’s promise to have Clinton locked up was a “disturbing low in presidential politics,” said The Washington Post. The unprecedented threat proves Trump would rule like an “autocrat,” using the power of the presidency to punish his enemies, the press, and anyone who dared oppose him. It’s hardly any surprise he continues to ally himself with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. In the debate, Trump dismissed government intelligence reports that Russian hackers are interfering in the U.S. election, and falsely claimed that Russian and Syrian government forces are bombing ISIS, when in fact they’re targeting Syrian rebels and civilians.
What the columnists said
“This is an absolute worst-case scenario for Republicans,” said Chris Cillizza in WashingtonPost.com. The party originally lined up behind Trump in the hope he could be “managed” or “brought to heel.” But those efforts have failed, and now they’re facing an “angry, cornered, vengeful, selfish” nominee. There is one silver lining, said George Will in NationalReview.com. Trump’s inevitable defeat will be so ugly and complete that “he can simplify the GOP’s quadrennial exercise of writing its post-campaign autopsy.” This year, it can be summed up in one sentence: “Perhaps it is imprudent to nominate a venomous charlatan.”
Trump isn’t just a charlatan, said Will Saletan in Slate.com. He’s a potential dictator who “threatens journalists,” wants to align the U.S. with Putin’s Russia, challenges the validity of our democratic elections, encourages mob violence, and now threatens to put his political opponent in jail—all violations of critical norms. “For 240 years, Americans worked, fought, and died to get us this far. We could blow it all in a day.”
Still, the Republicans’ mass defection may backfire, said Josh Kraushaar in NationalJournal.com. Their endorse-but-don’defend strategy was “awkward, but it was working”—most GOP House and Senate candidates were “running well ahead of Trump.” But if Trump loyalists now punish Republican lawmakers for abandoning ship, this could turn into a total Democratic rout. Whatever happens, this week marks the start of “the Republican civil war,” said Jonathan Tobin in CommentaryMagazine.com. If Trump loses, he’ll inevitably blame the party for his defeat—and his supporters are already “vowing vengeance.” Will they sit out the 2018 midterms, and will Trump return for the 2020 election? It’s too early to say, but mainstream Republicans certainly won’t be able to take their party back “without a fight.”
Illustration by Fred Harper. Cover photos from AP, Newscom, Media Bakery
Trump’s advisers say they’re no longer trying to expand his support base, said Monica Langley in The Wall Street Journal. The new strategy is to “amplify his no-holds-barred attacks against Clinton” in a bid to depress Democratic turnout. Clinton’s team say she’ll continue to ignore personal attacks on her and focus on Trump’s unfitness for the presidency, said Edward-Isaac Dovere in Politico.com. Her aides always knew this would be a particularly “intense” campaign, but even they’re surprised by how grim and ugly it has become. After four more weeks of savage personal attacks, many Americans will be in need of “a juice cleanse, a yoga retreat, [or] some kind of deep mud scrub.”