Trump Time Capsule #141: 'Selling Their Souls'

These women, at a rally in Charlotte this evening, are for Donald Trump. Most female American voters are not. (Mike Segar / Reuters)
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Seven days ago, back in the innocent times of early October, I began installment #132 with this paragraph, in its entirety: “Good God.”

That was a few hours after the release (by the Washington Post) of Donald Trump’s now-historic “You can do anything you want” tape. It was one day before some of his GOP supporters began peeling off. It was two days before Trump flatly denied, at the town hall-style second presidential debate, that he had ever “kissed women without consent or groped women without consent.” And it was before the stream of subsequent-day events in which more and more women have come forward to say that in fact he had kissed or groped them; before Trump essentially declared war on the GOP establishment (along with the press and most other institutions); before members of that same GOP establishment retracted their criticism of Trump and crawled back to support him; and before Trump responded to sexual-assault allegations by saying, in effect, that these losers (including Hillary Clinton) aren’t hot enough for him to have bothered with.

I have been offline for three days, for work and family events in in Erie, Pennsylvania, and San Francisco, and now I see that several dozen items’ worth of Time Capsule material has piled up! So I’ve already used the “Good God” chit and am left just to say: only 24 days to go.

And to mention these reactions or analyses that deserve notice:

1. “Why we shouldn’t forgive the Republicans who sold their souls.” That’s the title of a WaPo essay this week by Robert Kagan. He’s someone I’ve disagreed with for years, mainly on foreign policy, and expect to disagree with again. But I have to respect his courage and clarity in laying out the case that Donald Trump’s defects transcend any routine disagreement over policy or values. (Similarly I’ve come to respect the principle-above-party anti-Trump stands of others with whom I’ve differed on nearly everything else, including Max Boot, Bret Stephens, Jennifer Rubin,  and Michael Gerson.)

Everyone knows that the Republican party is having operational problems. But the real problem, Kagan says, is not that the party is not falling apart. Rather it’s that the party is holding together, in support for a candidate its leaders know beyond doubt would be a grave danger in office.

Robert Kagan begins his case about failure of responsibility this way:

Of the remarkable things we have learned this election year, the most significant is that the current Republican Party is unfit to lead the country. It has failed the greatest test a political leader or party can face, and failed spectacularly. It has abandoned its principles out of a combination of cowardice and opportunism. It has worked to place in the White House the most dangerous threat to U.S. democracy since the Civil War. ...

These are the people we’re supposed to put in charge of the House and Senate for another two years? Whom we’re then supposed to rally behind in the battle for the White House in 2020? No. Not this group. We know too much. We know all we need to know.

The whole thing is worth reading. Paul Ryan and others in the GOP establishment will try to forget all this starting on November 9. The rest of us should remember.


2. Can’t tell your Trump lineup without a scorecard. As noted back in installment #134, Daniel Nichanian of the University of Chicago has been keeping a running update of the elected GOP officials in several groups: those who “criticize” Trump but still endorse him (the “full Ryan”), those who actually have un-endorsed him, and those who withdrew support after last week’s tape but, incredibly, have crawled back. This last inglorious group includes two plains-state senators—Deb Fischer of Nebraska and John Thune of South Dakota—and two representatives, Bradley Byrne of Alabama and Scott Garrett of New Jersey. The NYT had a story on the crawlback phenomenon, here. And a reader wrote about the illogic of their stance:

Of the many contradictions Republicans are caught in, one less obvious one is the claim that they can manage Trump once he is in office, so vote Trump because Supreme Court or taxes or something. And yet these are the same people cowering in fear of his base. I am sure their spines will regenerate in the warm light of a presidential victory, making them adequate to the task of containing Trump.


3. Michelle Obama speaks. You have probably heard about the power of the first lady’s speech, in New Hampshire, on the implications of Donald Trump’s sexual-assault rhetoric and behavior.

I just saw a clip of the speech now. It truly is remarkable and deserves notice. You can read about it in the WaPo here and NY Mag here. An online video is here. “This isn’t about politics. It’s about basic human decency.”  When people talk about the bully pulpit, this is the kind of thing they have in mind.


4. See you in court. After the NYT ran a story quoting two women who said that Donald Trump had groped, ogled, or kissed them, Trump’s lawyers issued an immediate demand for retraction.

The response from David McCraw, the lawyer speaking for the NYT, is a thing of beauty. You can read it here. It ends this way:

We did what the law allows: We published newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern. If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what those women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.


5. The intel community despairs, again. I’ve mentioned in previous installments that a long line of former CIA directors and other intel veterans have warned against Donald Trump in office, and that Trump has already abused the confidence of briefers who have updated him on world trouble spots.

Now the WaPo carries a story on intel-veterans’ concern that Trump is dismissing out of hand all evidence that Russian officialdom is trying to meddle directly in the 2016 U.S. election:

The former officials, who have served presidents in both parties, say they were bewildered when Trump cast doubt on Russia’s role after receiving a classified briefing on the subject and again after an unusually blunt statement from U.S. agencies saying they were “confident” that Moscow had orchestrated the attacks.

“It defies logic,” retired Gen. Michael V. Hayden, former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, said of Trump’s pronouncements. ...

“He seems to ignore their advice,” Hayden said. “Why would you assume this would change when he is in office?”

To say it again: Nothing remotely like any of this has happened before. And still Paul Ryan and the GOP establishment say, Let’s make this man president! Remember that on November 8, and long afterward.