Friday afternoon the news hit like a blind-side collision: The Washington Post published a now-infamous 2005 tape of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaking about women in a lewd and unseemly way.
The tape was the latest reminder to GOP voters of the downside of running a political newcomer with some unknowns, and a relatively loose cannon at that.
By Saturday, some panicked members of Congress rushed to have their press secretaries send out statements calling on Trump to drop out of the race. Two of those were Alabama congressional representatives Martha Roby and Bradley Byrne.
Yes, Trump’s remarks are not presidential. They are very offensive. No one would want their daughter, wife or mother talked about in such a vulgar fashion.
However, if you did ultimately endorse Trump, this is what you signed up for. Did you not think when you gave your official endorsement of Trump there wasn’t at least the risk of this and other similar incidents coming to light?
This is the candidate Republicans overwhelmingly voted for in the state’s primary. And assuming he remains at the top of the ticket, he will likely overwhelmingly win the state of Alabama come Election Day.
One has to wonder — what inspired this urgency to abandon the GOP presidential nominee? Were Byrne’s and Roby’s Capitol Hill phone lines melting down at 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon with demands they do something about the horrors of Trump’s dirty talk?
Or was this just a convenient opportunity to part ways with the party’s nominee, who they didn’t really care for in the first place?
Perhaps the most laughable public admonishment of Trump came from Gov. Robert Bentley. As someone who has been surreptitiously taped himself, he came out saying he “certainly” can’t vote for Trump. (Given his approval ratings statewide, he probably did Trump a favor.)
Just to recap, the news of Trump’s inappropriate remarks broke Friday afternoon. And in less than 24 hours, Roby, Byrne and Bentley had already abandoned ship.
Would it have hurt to wait a little longer — just to make sure such judgment wasn’t clouded by emotion and media hype?
Rep. Gary Palmer, the rookie of Alabama’s congressional delegation, gave the best response. He stopped just shy of calling on Trump to step down and put out a strongly worded statement that left no doubt how he felt about the situation.
“As a husband and father of two daughters, I was dismayed and angered by the comments made by Mr. Trump in 2005,” Palmer said in a statement sent out by his press aide late Saturday afternoon. “Even though he made those statements over a decade ago, they are extremely offensive and not representative of my values or the values of the American people. He was right to apologize, but without showing true contrition and asking for forgiveness the apology is not sufficient. Mr. Trump should seek forgiveness and give deep and serious consideration to what he should do in regard to what is best for our country.”
Alabama’s arguably favorite Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions, did not abandon Trump and urged his fellow Republicans not to be so quick with their reactions.
“It’s a pile-on, full-fledged attack on him,” Sessions said on Fox News on Sunday. “I think our Republican colleagues need to take a deep breath here and slow down.”
Here is where this can backfire on Republicans.
For starters, although the odds are longer now, what if Trump does become president? Given Trump’s debate performance and the unknowns surrounding Hillary Clinton, what if he pulls off the upset?
Did Roby and Byrne not consider that possibility?
It’s going to get a little difficult to keep those military bases open in Roby’s second congressional district.
And what about all these priorities Byrne has set out to accomplish for Alabama’s first congressional district — snapper regulations, a new Interstate 10 bridge, and so on and so forth?
Did they really have the best interests of their constituents in mind when they decided to call for Trump to step aside? Why the rush to say anything at all?
Were they worried that if they didn’t come out calling for Trump to step down, they would only win against their general election opponents by 35 points instead of 40 points? Did they not examine the difficulty of replacing the nominee of a major party less than a month before a general election and what kind turmoil that would create?
Furthermore, one also needs to consider the question of loyalty and commitment.
This will not cost either of these members of Congress their seats. They won fairly easily over their primary opponents Dean Young and Becky Gerritson, both of whom could be described as Tea Party grassroots activists.
But character is a big deal.
Just as there are questions about Trump’s character, there are going to be questions about the characters of these politicians who seemed eager to quit the Republican Party’s bid for the White House.
Is this the kind of person you want in the figurative foxhole fighting to keep Hillary Clinton from expanding the role of government in their lives? They may not lose their seats, but it will certainly create a target if either of these individuals decides to seek the governorship.
This gesture of deserting creates an image that the GOP is divided, a phenomenon that Democrats are already using as an effective talking point. Further, the optics continue to exacerbate Republican woes.
For the most part, Byrne has done a decent job serving the people of southwest Alabama. He clearly has the region’s best interests at heart. Arguably, most of the people in AL 01 are scared to death of President-Elect Hillary Clinton being a thing a month from now, and calling on Trump to quit the race at this point in the game doesn’t help.
Ironically, one of the knocks against Byrne during his 2010 gubernatorial bid was that he was a Democrat up until the late 1990s, meaning that as a good solider coming up in the Democratic Party ranks, you supported Bill Clinton for president — as Byrne did at the time.
Walking away from the Republican nominee’s candidacy — although not an explicit endorsement of Hillary Clinton — offers the Democratic nominee de facto support.
In the span of a little less than two decades, Byrne has seemingly come full circle.