Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Did the Access Hollywood Tape Help Trump? A Post-Weinstein Appraisal

by Michael Dorf

Watching the well-deserved fall of Harvey Weinstein, Bill O'Reilly, and other public figures who paid large sums to settle lawsuits for sexual harassment (and possibly worse), one can't help but think about the Groper in Chief: If a pattern of sexual harassment makes a man unfit to run a movie studio or to serve up daily doses of right-wing tripe on FoxNews, why didn't the Access Hollywood tape and the credible accusations of a dozen gropees sink Donald Trump's presidential campaign?

The conventional answer over the last year or so has been a variant on Trump's Fifth Avenue Conjecture. Trump famously said "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters." People who supported Trump, the conjecture goes, knew he wasn't a saint but didn't care. They were in the tank for him, warts and all.

Undoubtedly there's something to that, but I want to propose a more radical--and more disturbing--hypothesis. I want to suggest that the Access Hollywood tape and Trump's general pattern of abusing women actually helped him. He didn't win the presidency despite his misogynistic misbehavior; he won the presidency because of it.

I'll admit at the outset that I have nothing like proof of my hypothesis. Still, the evidence we do have is intriguing.

Let's begin with a historical comparison. Bill Clinton's popularity was apparently unaffected by the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Indeed, he became more popular over the course of the scandal. Why?

One possibility is that the Lewinsky scandal actually did harm Clinton with the public but that this effect was masked by the booming economy of the late 1990s. Maybe in the absence of the Lewinsky scandal, Clinton would have been even more popular?

That's possible. It's also possible that Clinton's case should be treated differently because the Lewinsky affair was consensual. Possible, but that seems to me a stretch. At the very least, Clinton showed incredibly bad judgment in having an affair with an intern, engaging in conduct that would violate the fraternization policies of many private firms and other large organizations. And Clinton's supporters were also willing to overlook the facially credible Paula Jones accusation and the extremely disturbing Juanita Broaddrick allegations.

Thus, we have a working hypothesis: In an age of political polarization, accusations of sexual misconduct--including sexual assault and rape--will be perceived by political supporters of the accused as simply politically motivated and thus dismissed.

That working hypothesis in turn generates a response by politicians: Deny, deny, deny, regardless of how credible the accusations are. People who oppose you politically will not believe your denial, but you don't care what they believe. Meanwhile, people who support you will support you more strongly, because they will see you as unfairly beleaguered. Under the right circumstances, this rally-the-base effect will be large enough to counteract any loss in appeal to independent voters.

In my judgment, that's a pretty good working hypothesis. It also roughly fits the facts of the recent scandals. Once the news actually broke, Harvey Weinstein fell fast because no one could credibly claim that the accusations against him were politically motivated. By contrast, the FoxNews harassers (the late Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, Eric Bolling, and whoever comes next), probably hung on longer using the deny, deny, deny strategy because FoxNews executives and talking heads are practically politicians, i.e., they benefit from polarization.

So far my hypothesis is nonpartisan. It holds that both Democrats and Republicans are unhurt by and maybe even helped by accusations of even very serious sexual misconduct. But I wonder whether there is an added impact in Trump's case.

It has long been known that authoritarian tendencies correlate strongly with support for Trump. Thus, there are probably substantial numbers of Trump supporters who doubt Trump's denials but who nonetheless support Trump more strongly than they otherwise would because they admire how he wields power over others. Some of the authoritarian men who admire Trump because he is a bully admire him all the more because the people he bullies are women. However, my hypothesis--that some people voted for Trump because rather than in spite of his Access Hollywood boasts--would apply to some of the women who support Trump as well.

As noted above, however, I'm just conjecturing here. At the very least, this seems like a fruitful area for research.


Shag from Brookline said...

This post is a reminder that some people are "above the law" - until they're not.

A side note: Bill O'Reilly (really) recently stated his anger at God regarding Bill's situation what with the disclosure of his payment of $32 million to settle a sexual harassment claim: "You know, am I mad at God? Yeah, I'm mad at him," O'Reilly said. "I wish I had more protection. I wish this stuff didn't happen. I can't explain it to you. Yeah, I'm mad at him." Bill remembers the good old Roger Ailes days when men would stick together.

David Ricardo said...

The sad, ugly fact is that in America today a large portion of the population, and probably a majority of the conservatives believe in the second class status of women. They support a belief that women are subservient to men, that women, particularly the role women in marriage is to stay home to do the domestic chores that allow their husbands to pursue their careers and to subjugate their individuality to the decisions and management of their lives by men.

This is something the nation wants to hide, does not want to acknowledge and describes in code words like 'traditional family' or 'family values' or 'social conservatives'. Those who have these beliefs claim to be highly religious and use a literal and questionable interpretation of the Bible for support.

So to the extent that Trump personified these canons in words and actions and in highly visible terms in the Access Hollywood tape, this intensified his support among people, both men and women, who hold those beliefs. To that extent Mr. Dorf is correct, the Hollywood Access tape helped, not hurt his campaign. He did not lose any supporters when it was released, and probably gained enough support from the so-called 'values voters' that when that intensified support combined with James Comey's interference in the election, the apathy of many Obama voters and the selfish attitudes of Sanders supporters (my guy or no one) it was enough to win an electoral vote majority.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

As to Clinton, it was likely a mixture of sexism [e.g., potshots at Monica Lewinsky's appearance, diminishing the pattern that clearly was present] and the fact that the Republicans overdid it, so it was seen (rightly so) as some sort of partisan witch-hunt. On some level, it also hurt him -- he had a certain taint that even his supporters found unpleasant & it likely helped Gore lose (Bush seen as "clean").

Some of this probably was in place with Trump with the added benefit for him that the evidence against him was less out in the open. You had the tape, which was distasteful, but it wasn't a dress or as much as we had with Monica Lewinsky etc. You didn't have you know a dress or an independent counsel or the media having continual coverage for the length of time present for Clinton. So, his supporters see him as something of a victim with the added fact they figure Democrats are hypocrites.

The logic of blaming Bill Clinton's actions on Hillary Clinton in this sense is not logical, but Trump voters are somewhat lax on that. Also, especially given a recent book on fascism noted that hyper-masculinity is part of the equation, so sexism is probably part of the mix. He's a rich guy and got some girls. That's part of the deal, right? His celebrity did overall help him. And, part of that can be some sort of somewhat naughty sex stuff. Yes.

[Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook Book by Mark Bray]

Tod P said...

At my last employer, as a now retired exec, Sexual misconduct was a firing offense and senior execs were led out of the building by security. Trump would have been fired for actual groping but initially warned if just comments. Bill Clinton would have been led out of the building by security and his personal effects shipped home. All companies, teachers at any level, government, clergy and all others should never be allowed to engage in sexual ways with those below their pay grade. Mess with an employee or potential employee below your level and you are terminated. Even if consensual.
And spouses who attack accusers are equally bad, i.e. Hillary.