House Speaker Paul D. Ryan correctly described Donald Trump’s 2005 taped sexually predatory conversation as “sickening,” but anyone interested in the health of the Republican Party should focus on the next part of Mr. Ryan’s statement. The sentence that counts — the statement that reveals the amoral, abject corruption at the heart of the Republican Party in this sad season — is this: “I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests.”
Thus did the Republican Party once again initiate the same pathetic little dance it has performed with its party’s nominee from the beginning. Claim the moral high ground; insist on improvement, as if improvement were a relevant concept in this situation; and then, when nothing improves, pronounce yourself satisfied nonetheless. It’s true that this time some Republicans are jumping ship, including (finally) former presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Sen. John Thune (S.D.), part of the GOP Senate leadership. But vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Republican Chairman Reince Priebus and most other office-holders continue to join Mr. Ryan in pretending that Mr. Trump is not what we all know him to be. Are they fooling themselves, or just fearful of offending the Trump supporters whose votes they need in other races? Either way, the effect is the same.
Let’s ponder Mr. Ryan’s advice that Mr. Trump demonstrate a “greater respect for women than this clip suggests.” Certainly, that should not be difficult. What the clip shows is disgusting: an insecure braggart who, at the age of nearly 60, needs to boast of how he uses his celebrity to prey on women, and all the better if he can break his vows of marriage or theirs. Mr. Trump could be a caveman in one of those “Mad Men”-era cartoons dragging a woman back to his lair by her hair and still demonstrate a “greater respect for women than this clip suggests.” The idea that some pronouncement, any pronouncement, from Mr. Trump now could or should reassure voters is ludicrous.
But then, Republicans long ago had sufficient data points about this candidate who labels women pigs and slobs and jokes about how he likes to see them on their knees; calls his female opponents ugly and suggests that a female reporter who asks him a tough question must be menstruating. There has been no mystery about a bully who mocks people with disabilities, threatens anyone perceived as an enemy, disparages Mexicans and Mexican Americans, trades in ugly stereotypes about Jews, defames Muslims, insists on the guilt of five young black men proven to be innocent of a rape in Central Park, constantly lies and — oh, by the way — shares none of what Mr. Ryan claims as his core political philosophy.
Mr. Priebus, one of Mr. Trump’s earliest and most abject enablers, explained his rationale frankly in February. “Winning is the antidote to a lot of things,” Mr. Priebus said. At the time, we agreed that winning can quiet many complaints. “But,” we wrote, “it cannot and will not be an antidote to the moral poison of Mr. Trump’s campaign.”
For some Republicans Saturday, the moral poison — or maybe the receding prospect of victory — finally became too hard to ignore. But Mr. Trump answered Mr. Ryan’s plea with a grudging apology that segued, in his usual third-grade playground way, to an accusation that other people are worse than he is.
Will that be good enough for the “sickened” Mr. Ryan and the rest of his morally diminished party? Apparently so.
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