The Final Straw that Broke the GOP’s Back

By Olivia Heersink

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Caricature of Donald Trump

It seems like there has finally been a remark from Donald Trump so outrageous that the elephant’s back has been broken. “Grab them by the pussy,” Trump said on a hot mic in 2005, while explaining to former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush that his star power allowed him to “do anything” he wanted to women. Since video of the exchange spread across the internet, the GOP’s response, for once, has been swift and severe. But why did it take Trump insulting white women for the GOP to care about his presidential qualifications? Instead of their usual backpedaling, top Republican officials have clamored to disavow both the candidate and his comments, calling for Trump to withdraw from the race entirely.

His entire campaign, after all, has posited itself as a harkening back to the Good Ol’ Boys Club when men, both in private and public, could freely exchange quips about a woman’s body without fear of collective backlash. For the last year and a half — and indeed, for far longer as the candidate’s history has revealed — Trump has been the rich sleaze in the corner of the bar rating women as they walk in; he is the president of the Boys Club. He has unapologetically and irrevocably been ‘The Donald.’ And up until this week, the GOP has largely appeared unconcerned by that.

Trump’s campaign plays like a highlight reel of unimaginable insults. From the declaration that Mexicans are “rapists” and “criminals” during the announcement of his candidacy to his public feud with former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, none of it has been enough to spark such an outrage from the GOP.

Calls for his withdrawal didn’t come when he beckoned for voters to “check out the sex tape” allegedly featuring Machado, who he had previously called “Miss Housekeeping” because of her Latina heritage. Instead, the GOP gave Trump a slap on the wrist for what has become his usual firestorm of late night tweets. House Speaker Paul Ryan basically gave the “Trump will be Trump” defense, telling reporters that the candidate “gave a unique Donald Trump response to the status quo” during the first debate, and sidestepping direct comments on the feud with Machado.

There was no outrage from the GOP when Trump recently made his pitch to black voters, telling them: “You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?” Instead, a GOP spokesman defended those comments, arguing that the nominee couldn’t possibly be racist because he so graciously allows black people into his Mar-a-Lago club.

Another moment that seemingly would have driven the final nail into any other candidate’s campaign was Trump’s call for a “Muslim ban,” which would have prohibited Muslim people from entering the United States. Though there was a momentary ripple of discontent from the GOP, they seemed to largely move on in little time. Even Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, who once called the ban “offensive and unconstitutional,” came around. In August, Pence completely flipped, describing the ban as “altogether fitting and appropriate.”

Trump even bypassed similar widespread criticism when he said that Gonzalo Curiel, the Indiana-born federal judge tasked with presiding over the Trump University lawsuit, was incapable of doing his job because of his family’s Mexican heritage. While many GOP officials disavowed his comments, they clung to their nominee, hoping that Trump’s inner circle would begin to steer him in a less overtly racist direction. Even Senator Marco Rubio, who had been critical of Trump throughout his own failed primary campaign, by and large dismissed the comments by saying, “This is the voice the voters have given us for this primary and we’ll see what happens.”

Amid the Democratic National Convention, Trump also attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of an American soldier killed in Iraq, who spoke in support of Hillary Clinton. Trump went on to suggest that Ghazala “wasn’t allowed to have anything to say,” playing into racist stereotypes of Muslim people. While the GOP’s reaction to the days-long feud was primarily negative, there was no overwhelming call for Trump to drop out, as has been the case with his latest comments. Multiple members of the conservative media defended Trump’s remarks against the Khan family, as well.

These examples, truly, are just the tip of the iceberg for a campaign that has included near daily attacks on just about anyone and everyone. Insults and feuds seems to roll into one another, giving little time to react to each one properly. Has it just been too much for the GOP to handle? Is this latest remark just too terrible, or too damaging to the party’s image?

Perhaps, but as we’ve seen from much of the GOP’s narrative, they’re taking this one personally. Again, it seems to be about reflection: they see Trump’s attack on a white woman directly correlate to women in their own families. It’s why so much of their reaction has centered around the idea that Trump’s attack is against “our mothers, wives, and daughters.” When they can see themselves and people like them in Trump’s constant, vile attacks, they suddenly care. They care so much, in fact, that they hope to remove Trump from the race entirely — a desire that they now share with the majority of people who have been on the receiving end of “Trump being Trump” for far too long.

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