Sexual harassment is not the sin of one party. We’ve seen liberals and conservatives alike caught up in the maelstrom of sexual assault and predation complaints. However, Democrats have an easier time dealing with revelations and an opportunity to seize the high ground in a time when voters are furious at politicians who wield power for their own interests.
Let’s begin with the proposition that not all allegations are equal. As David Frum put it, “[Sen. Al] Franken’s prank was cruel and humiliating. [Roy] Moore’s acts ‘if true’ rank among the worst crimes in the statute book. And the president is a confessed serial sexual assaulter, on the record.” That does not excuse Franken nor give him a pass to remain in the Senate (more about that in a moment), but support for Moore and/or President Trump necessitates either 1) willingness to disbelieve multiple women with detailed and similar accounts or 2) toleration of a pattern of sexual assault against multiple women over years. That is the position all Republicans who continue to support Trump are in, and, candidly, I’m surprised Democrats have not made a much bigger deal of this. (Perhaps they will after handling the Franken matter.)
If Democrats are smart, they will differentiate themselves not simply by the degree of misconduct. (It’s not a good political argument to say “Our harassers aren’t as bad as their harassers.”) Rather, Democrats can demand a higher degree of ethical conduct, even a zero-tolerance standard, when nonconsensual sexual conduct is involved. There are many ways to approach this, but the following seems appropriate for candidates and members of Congress:
- An alleged sexual predator/abuser (whose actions are confirmed by reliable accusations and surrounding facts) should not be eligible for the party’s nomination in a House or Senate race. If elected, the person should be expelled from office by the Ethics Committee.
- The party should do everything in its power, including support for a third candidate or a write-in, to prevent the alleged predator/abuser from winning.
- If the conduct occurs in office, expulsion is the only appropriate remedy.
- If the conduct predated the accused lawmaker’s time in office but is discovered once he is in office (as in the Franken situation), the Ethics Committee should consider a full range of options, including expulsion. At the very least, the accused should not be supported for reelection. Parties can and should expel individuals from the party, which is a voluntary association. They can deny anyone the privilege of caucusing with their party or getting assigned to committees.
Now, if that seems reasonable, why should the same standard not apply to the president? In the case of Trump, consider what the appropriate course of action should have been:
Once the mound of allegations came out (from nearly 20 women), the party should have declared him ineligible for nomination. Again, given the voluntary association, it could have excluded him from debates, denied him the ballot line and at the convention taken appropriate measures to release delegates and select an alternative candidate if he had still managed to get a majority of delegates.
If Trump managed to get on the ballot in the general election, the party should have done everything humanly possible, including support a third-party or independent conservative candidate, to ensure he was not elected.
Those steps would have prevented Trump — unfit on these and other grounds — from reaching office. (We understand that is unimaginable with the current GOP, which is a good deal of the problem, but we will come back to that.)
What about now that Trump is in office? Impeachment does not seem to be applicable to conduct before election that was known to voters (although more compelling evidence that comes to light in office might be considered). However, other actions, such as censure, are possible. And certainly Trump is unfit on multiple grounds and has committed conduct that should properly be considered in good faith as impeachable conduct. But at the very least, the GOP going forward cannot support for reelection a candidate against whom so many credible complaints of sexual predation have been launched. There is no moral justification for doing so. There is no political barrier to declaring that henceforth, people of Trump’s ilk cannot run under the GOP’s banner.
And that, you see, is the real difference between the parties. Republicans almost certainly won’t do any of that. Democrats can and should. One party can tolerate an alleged sexual predator, and the other can decide never to do so.