NBC News is reporting that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, in an effort to regain momentum following the candidate’s poor performance in Monday night’s debate, has begun distributing talking points to surrogates encouraging them to talk about ‘90s era sex scandals.
Putting aside Donald Trump’s own philandering history, these new attacks demonstrate the GOP’s inability to pull themselves out of the right-wing echo chamber and have a broader conversation with voters.
In 2012, Mitt Romney fell victim to conservative insistence that the polls were skewed and that he was therefore all but certain to win the presidency. This belief was ultimately contradicted by voters, who it turned out did not need to be unskewed. Now, Trump and his allies in the conservative media are doing something similar, pretending that unscientific online polls are the real authoritative sources on public opinion.
Trump’s campaign was born in the far-right media. His ascent to the top of the Republican Party was driven by birtherism and seeded in the deepest, dankest of fever swamps. Then in 2014, while he was preparing to run for president, it has been widely reported that Trump received daily memos outlining the issues and views raised by callers to conservative radio shows. Thus, harsh and often racist anti-immigrant rhetoric became a central tenet of his campaign.
From Rush Limbaugh to Ann Coulter to Michael Savage, many of the leading conservatives now supporting the Trump campaign built their careers on the impeachment of Bill Clinton and spent years attempting to use sex to toxify the president’s public image.
What seems to be forgotten by many in the media and the conservative movement is what a miserable failure their efforts were. Clinton was reelected in 1996 and Democrats gained seats in Congress that year and again in 1998. Republicans lost two House speakers, Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston, and completely extinguished the flame of their 1994 “revolution” in pursuit of prurient details that would take down the president. And the cumulative effect of this entire period was the elevation of Bill Clinton’s approval ratings.
Despite this failure, two decades later conservatives are once against returning to this same old playbook, but with a new twist. Now they would like to blame Hillary Clinton for the alleged foibles of her husband and use them to convince the American people that she is not suited to hold public office.
Along with the obvious strategic shortcomings of this plan, there is an even more obvious dose of sexism behind these latest attacks—blaming a wife for the actions of her husband. Yet the Trump campaign presses forward, beginning the week with the too-cute-by-half notion that their candidate was courageous for not raising these issues during the debate.
The right-wing echo chamber has been demanding for months that these issues be discussed and Trump is happy to once again oblige, now through his surrogates in the media.
While the symbiotic relationship between Trump and the right-wing media is perhaps greater than with any other Republican candidate in history, it is not wholly unique. That’s why it’s no surprise that in the seven presidential elections since Rush Limbaugh’s radio program was syndicated nationally, the Republican candidate has only been able to win a plurality of the popular vote twice.