I’m sure by now that everyone has heard about the leaked Access Hollywood video in which a hot mic caught Donald Trump discussing attempting to have an extramarital affair and being able to grope women because of his fame. Trump has expressed regret for his comments, passing them off as “locker room talk,” and has been vilified by figures from both parties. For some prominent Republicans, including Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte, Trump’s comments crossed a line, prompting them to rescind their endorsements.
The exodus of Republicans from the Trump Train got me thinking about what a presidential candidate must do to lose the support of his/her party. Obviously, making broad and sweeping claims about Mexicans being rapists and drug dealers wasn’t enough to force Republicans to pull their support. Neither was making fun of a disabled reporter. Neither was claiming that a Mexican-American judge presiding over his case couldn’t be impartial because of his heritage. Neither was insulting a Gold Star family whose son was slain in service of the United States. For some, not even a video in which Trump glorifies sexual harassment was enough to warrant rescinding their endorsements.
Over the weekend, I had a conversation about this issue with a couple of relatives that either plan to vote or have already voted for Trump. Neither of them like Trump by any stretch of the imagination, but they dislike Clinton so much that they view voting for Trump as the only option. They asked what I thought about the leaked video, and I mentioned that at a certain point, regardless of policy preferences or partisan affiliation, if a candidate transgresses a moral red line, you should reject that candidate on principle. If people support Trump despite his comments in that video, they implicitly endorse that behavior and signal to young Americans that nonconsensual groping of women (read: sexual assault) is permissible. They responded by saying that Trump was never charged with sexual assault (though numerous women have come forward accusing him of it), that Clinton is a criminal (she might be shady but hasn’t technically broken laws), and that other issues, like the Supreme Court, matter more.
Look, regardless of my personal feelings on Donald Trump, I understand that some people genuinely support him and his platform. I understand that, though some people may not like him as a person or agree with him on every issue, they disagree with him less than they do with Clinton. I even understand the rationale some Republicans have used to justify supporting someone who eschews major portions of the mainstream party platform. This isn’t a post that argues which candidate is better from a substantive point of view.
But where does one draw the moral red line? If Trump’s comments aren’t enough to force voters to withdraw their support, then what is? What if Donald Trump actually raped a woman? Would that not be enough for a Trump voter to withdraw their support? What if he murdered someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight? Would that not be enough? I’m starting to be convinced even in spite of those actions, his supporters would stick with him. But for those that see past the demagoguery and hate for Clinton, when a candidate utilizes increasingly inflammatory rhetoric that not only demeans large swaths of the American public, but also glorifies violence, that candidate should be morally disqualified from the presidency.
I can hear Sean Hannity screaming “but Clinton is a criminal! You can’t vote for her! If any ordinary person did what she did, they’d be in jail! She’s mishandled classified emails, is responsible for the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, and has lied to the American public!” First of all, most of the allegations against Clinton are either false or exaggerated and, even if properly substantiated, aren’t in the same ballpark as the allegations against or rhetoric from Trump. A bipartisan committee absolved Clinton of any responsibility for the deaths in Benghazi, the FBI did not indict Clinton for mishandling classified info because of a lack of precedent, and every politician has told lies along the way. Secondly, if you refuse to vote for Clinton because of some moral objection, yet will gladly vote for Trump in spite of his morally repugnant rhetoric and behavior, that is the definition of hypocrisy. You can certainly vote for Trump over Clinton, but don’t parade along on your high horse like some paragon of morality for doing so.
At the end of the day, I think Lindsey Graham said it best: “There’ll come a time when the love of the country will trump hatred of Hillary.” Clinton obviously has her flaws along with ethical concerns of her own, but the things that Trump has said are morally reprehensible and should not be condoned with a vote. Let’s hope this is that time.