Despite polls from CNN and You.gov that show Donald Trump losing Sunday’s debate, the conventional wisdom holds that he did well enough to stop Republican defections from his campaign and to save his place at the top of the ticket. Look closer, however, and a different reality emerges: The reality TV star isn’t holding on because of his debate performance so much as his campaign’s willingness to openly threaten those who dare to cross him with mutually assured destruction.
These people are willing to destroy the GOP.
Before joining the Trump campaign, one campaign official, Stephen Bannon, openly described his project as follows: “What we need to do is bitch-slap the Republican Party.”
Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has apparently reached the conclusion that the best course is threatening down-ballot Republicans if they are not sufficiently loyal—according to The New York Times, she ominously warned on television that “she knew of Republican lawmakers who had behaved inappropriately toward young women, and whose criticism of Mr. Trump was therefore hypocritical.” Says Rod Dreher, “Trump is going to drop those names. You watch.”
Who would be surprised if he did?
She actually went even farther in an interview with Chris Matthews, declaring, “I would talk to some of the members of Congress out there, when I was younger and prettier, them rubbing up against girls, sticking their tongues down women’s throats who—uninvited—who didn’t like it … some of them, by the way, are on the list of people who won’t support Donald Trump because they all ride around on a high horse.”
To sum up, the GOP nominee’s campaign manager declared on national television that multiple prominent Republicans––some who oppose Trump, and others, apparently, who support him––perpetrated sexual assaults, and she knows their names.
That is without precedent.
On Twitter, the candidate himself gave the impression that Republican politicians distancing themselves from his “grab them by the pussy” comments had comparable skeletons in their closets, and seemed gleeful that they would lose support:
So many self-righteous hypocrites. Watch their poll numbers - and elections - go down!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2016
Jonathan Martin of the New York Times saw these talking points dispersed to Trump surrogates:
Trump talking pts urge total war on Rs: "They are more concerned with their political future than they are about the future of the country"— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) October 9, 2016
WE DON'T NEED EM.— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) October 9, 2016
Trump talkers > "Trump won the Primary without the help of the insiders and he’ll win the General without them, too"
And this came from the Trump campaign’s national spokesperson:
I can't keep my phone charged due to the mass volume of texts from people all over the country who will #VoteTrump but⬇️ballot not so much.— Katrina Pierson (@KatrinaPierson) October 10, 2016
Already, Jim Geraghty of National Review observes, “Trump has managed to sabotage every argument and fail every justification offered for him: He’ll win New York and California, he’ll self-fund, he’ll hire the best people, he’ll run the best campaign, he’ll demolish Hillary in the debates.” And now, if he spends the last month of the election lashing out at all who seek distance from him in hopes of winning swing seats? “Stand with him, he’s a winner becomes nonsensical, because he’s not winning and shows no sign of being able to,” he writes. “And there’s no point in standing by the guy because he’ll allegedly appoint better judges if he’s attacking the Republican senators he needs to confirm those better judges.”
What’s more, discerning voters should hardly take any support he retains seriously when at least some of it is driven by open coercion, if not blackmail or extortion.
“Donald Trump stepped up and won the debate last night that seemed to be against all odds,” Mike Pence said on Fox. “He stepped up. He showed humility, he showed strength, he expressed genuine contrition for the words that he had used on the video, and then he moved directly into the choice the American people are facing.” Was he speaking freely or as hostage to something he revealed when vetted?
Over the years, Ivana Trump, Marla Maples, various creditors, numerous subcontractors, patrons of Trump University, the people of Atlantic City, the state of New Jersey, and many others besides have learned the perils of entering into a relationship with this man, who many loyal partisan Republicans willingly chose to empower.
Being famous, he didn’t even wait—he just grabbed them by the balls. There’s not a damned thing they can do to get away from him without risking serious injury.