Trump’s locker-room talk hits support; Republicans stand back from candidate; Russian hacks not helping; South Australian citizens contributing to nuclear debate. By Hamish McDonald.

Rude awakening for Trump’s supporters

Teenage girls listen to Donald Trump speak at a rally at a Pennsylvania high school this week.
Teenage girls listen to Donald Trump speak at a rally at a Pennsylvania high school this week.
It was “every man for himself” in the Republican Party this week after the explosive stray-mic tape surfaced of Donald Trump boasting of forcing himself on women in terms that were variously described as “lewd” and “vulgar”: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything ... Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Trump returned fire just ahead of the second presidential campaign debate on Sunday night, lining up three women who’d taken legal action against Bill Clinton for sexual abuse, plus a woman whose rapist Hillary Clinton had defended as a young legal aid lawyer and got off with a light sentence. This stunt was broadcast on Facebook Live. Then Trump had the women sit in the front row of the audience for the debate. When questions quickly got onto the taped remarks, he said it was just “locker-room talk”, Bill Clinton’s actions were much worse.

“People have said before that this election has hit rock bottom,” commented James Poniewozik in The New York Times. “This weekend, it climbed inside a steam drill, bored through the rock and headed straight for the centre of the Earth.”

Trump’s modus operandi of piling on the threats and outrage continued. He loomed behind Clinton as she approached the audience while speaking. He promised if elected to sic a special prosecutor on her to put her in jail for her use of a private email server while secretary of state. He suggested he’d join Russia, Syria and Iran in fighting Daesh, and put down his running mate, Mike Pence, for suggesting intervention to stop the hammering of Aleppo.

Many analysts said it was a formidable recovery, and it was Clinton on the defensive as the debate wore on. Yet opinion polls taken after the debate show Trump slipping further behind, with Clinton opening up a lead of 8 or 9 percentage points. Not surprisingly, Trump seems to have lost support among middle-class white women, who traditionally lean towards the Republicans. The more tech-savvy of American women from all backgrounds unleashed a social media storm of outrage at Trump’s taped remarks.

1 . Backwards steps

Hence the panic stations among the Republicans. By midweek a Reuters tally had nearly half the party’s 331 senators, house members and state governors making public statements condemning Trump’s remarks, and about one in 10 calling on him to stand down from the race. Pence is still hanging in.

House speaker Paul Ryan announced he would no longer “defend Trump”, though he did not actually withdraw his endorsement of Trump’s candidacy. He’s been reported telling other congress members this meant he would not be campaigning alongside Trump and would concentrate on preserving the Republican majorities in congress. He urged his colleagues to “do what’s best for you in your district”. The Republican senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has been less vocal but, according to Capitol Hill watchers, has been telling colleagues up for re-election to “run your own race”.

But it’s a dilemma, as standing back from Trump invites a backlash from his diehard supporters, who declared they would “stand by their man” and vote against Republicans who didn’t. Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson tweeted: “I can’t keep my phone charged due to the mass volume of texts from people all over the country who will #VoteTrump, but [down] ballot, not so much.”

Trump unleashed a Twitter attack on Ryan, calling him “very weak and ineffective” and declaring: “It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and
I can now fight for America the way I want to.” Another tweet said: “Disloyal R’s are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary. They come at you from all sides. They don’t know how to win – I will teach them!”

It’s like Hitler railing at the Germans who let him down in Der Untergang.

2 . Russian roulette

What could now go wrong for Clinton? More tapes and videos are likely to surface showing Trump’s sleaze on the sets of The Apprentice and Miss Universe competitions, and more women have been coming forward with allegations of his unwanted sexual molestation.

The best efforts of Vladimir Putin’s cyberwarfare teams have not turned up very damaging material so far. Most probably with their help, WikiLeaks finally got into what Clinton had been saying to Wall Street investment banks in her highly paid private speeches ahead of the campaign, through references in hacked emails attributed to her campaign chairman, John Podesta.

The worst Trump could pull out was a reference by Clinton to needing “public” and “private” positions on political issues: to him, more evidence of “lying Hillary”. Yet this was in the context of a reference to Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to get the anti-slavery amendment put into the United States Constitution. No matter, Trump said. “Honest Abe never lied. That’s the difference between him and you.”

Increasingly, the assistance from Putin is rebounding. On October 7, US intelligence chiefs issued a formal statement blaming Russian hackers for interference in the election campaign. “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorised these activities.”

Trump has not said a word against Putin, and claims not to have any dealings with Russia or even Russians, even though his son has said they are among Trump’s real estate clients. “Maybe there is no hacking,” he said at the debate. “They’re trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know nothing about Russia.” Actually both Clinton and Trump have had detailed briefings on the Russian hacking from intelligence officials.

3 . SA citizens speak

While the wrangling goes on about South Australia’s recent power blackout, the state has pursued its curious exercise in popular participation in decision-making known as the citizens’ jury, helping Premier Jay Weatherill tiptoe towards a nuclear industry.

The first citizens’ jury of 50 randomly selected citizens met in June to chew over the recent recommendation by royal commissioner Kevin Scarce that the state get into storage of nuclear waste, which could be quite a lucrative addition to the existing business of shipping uranium out. Another 300 citizens joined them for a second jury exercise last weekend, and there’s to be a wrap-up session next month before Weatherill takes the decision.

Scarce actually made 12 recommendations, including a relaxation of federal government controls on nuclear power generation. Could this just be the start? It chimes with suspicions in defence circles about the choice of the French submarine for the Royal Australian Navy’s new fleet. Why did the RAN go for the biggest (at 5000 tonnes, way over the 4000-tonne size specified in the limited tender), most expensive and most experimental (putting conventional power into the French navy’s Barracuda-class nuclear submarine)?

Defence Minister Marise Payne has just announced a contract for the French submarine builder DCNS to actually design the vessel it has proposed. As Jon Stanford, a former industries expert in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, notes, nobody has ever converted a nuclear submarine to a conventional one before.

“Many submarine experts doubt that it can be done,” Stanford writes in John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations blog. “One popular theory suggests that the choice of the Shortfin Barracuda is merely an artifice to allow the nuclear version of the platform to be acquired down the track.”

Peter Jennings, the hawkish chief of the Defence Department-funded Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has been arguing that it’s an excellent idea. “It’s probably a good bet to say that the reason we’ve gone with the Barracuda is that some of the 12 builds can be nuclear,” he said recently in The Australian Financial Review.

A local nuclear industry would be a vital support for such a fleet.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 15, 2016 as "Rude awakening for Trump’s supporters".

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