When you wish upon a star, you get Trump

Colum­nist Jonah Gold­berg isn't sur­prised by the lat­est rev­e­la­tions about the GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date.

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Jonah Gold­berg The Na­tional Re­view

“You can do any­thing. Grab them by the p---y. You can do any­thing.”

That was Don­ald Trump ex­plain­ing to Billy Bush of “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” what it’s like “when you’re a star” in the now-in­fa­mous hot-mic in­ci­dent 11 years ago. The re­marks have been some­what mis­un­der­stood by Trump crit­ics and de­fend­ers alike.

The de­fend­ers want to claim this was mere “locker room talk,” as Trump in­sisted on the de­bate stage Sunday night. Well, I can report with con­fi­dence that men in locker rooms typ­i­cally don’t con­fess to sex­u­ally as­sault­ing mar­ried women — and strik­ing out!

Mean­while, crit­ics want to fo­cus, un­der­stand­ably, on the as­sault part. But what I think is more re­veal­ing is what Trump needs to brag about. Again, he’s not boast­ing about a suc­cess­ful con­quest; he’s preen­ing about what a star he is — be­cause that’s what mat­ters most to Trump: be­ing a star.

And con­sid­er­ing how he’s treated the GOP, he just might be right about what a star can get away with.

Trump en­tered Repub­li­can pol­i­tics the way a celebrity en­ters a night­club: He skipped the line. He never put in the time, ef­fort or thought re­quired to be a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. And rather than tell him to hit the bricks, the bounc­ers lifted the red rope and said, “Have a good time, Mr. Trump,” be­cause he was a star.

More than that, he was a star of what some call the “en­ter­tain­ment wing” of the con­ser­va­tive move­ment, a wing that has grown so steroidal in re­cent years that it’s be­come an over­sized de­for­mity, forc­ing the move­ment to fly in cir­cles.

In­deed, de­spite his nearcon­stant (oc­ca­sion­ally ac­cu­rate) whin­ing about how he’s been treated un­fairly, Trump has mostly ben­e­fited from a slew of dou­ble stan­dards. His thum­b­less grasp of pub­lic pol­icy, con­ser­va­tive phi­los­o­phy, re­li­gious teach­ings, English and ba­sic man­ners would have pre­vented a nor­mal per­son from con­sid­er­ing a run. Even his big­gest fans con­cede that he says things that would dis­qual­ify a typ­i­cal can­di­date. As the cliché goes, he de­fies the laws of po­lit­i­cal grav­ity. Well, that’s be­cause stars don’t bend to our grav­ity, we bend to theirs.

All of this was ob­vi­ous over a year ago. But few in the GOP were will­ing to take on Trump, the en­ter­tain­ers and their com­bined au­di­ences, un­til it was too late. Trump’s pop­u­lar­ity on the right in­creased and with it the need to ac­com­mo­date the star’s de­mands. The process be­came cat­alytic. With ev­ery fresh out­rage, the need to make al­lowances be­came more acute.

“A man may take to drink be­cause he feels him­self a fail­ure,” George Or­well noted, “but then fail all the more com­pletely be­cause he drinks.”

So, too, with po­lit­i­cal par­ties. The GOP took to Trump be­cause of its fail­ures and failed all the more be­cause it took to Trump. In Au­gust, I wrote: “Repub­li­can can­di­dates at this stage have no ex­cuses to of­fer if they de­cide to re­pu­di­ate Trump other than naked self-in­ter­est.” It turns out I was wrong. The “grab them” tape was shock­ing enough that many dis­cov­ered their in­tegrity, in­sist­ing that this trans­gres­sion was so much worse than all the oth­ers.

But oth­ers waited. Gov. Mike Pence went into hid­ing, search­ing for bits of his soul like lost change in the couch cush­ions. If Trump im­ploded on the de­bate stage or Hil­lary Clin­ton de­liv­ered the fa­tal blow, the de­ci­sion would have been made for them. Nei­ther hap­pened. He gave a strong per­for­mance (al­beit while ly­ing re­lent­lessly and vow­ing that un­der a Pres­i­dent Trump, Clin­ton would be in jail).

Trump’s base loved it, obliv­i­ous to the fact that he needs more than his base to win. And once again, con­ser­va­tives who’ve made a ca­reer thumping their chests or their Bi­bles about the im­por­tance of char­ac­ter and moral­ity found them­selves mak­ing ex­cuses for a man who per­son­i­fies ev­ery­thing they claimed to op­pose. It seems the moral arc of many Repub­li­cans is short and bends to­ward celebrity. Such is the grav­i­ta­tional pull of a star.

“If you’ve got ‘em by the balls, their heart and mind will fol­low,” LBJ fa­mously ob­served. It turns out he was right, even if in this case the anatom­i­cal anal­ogy is slightly off.

Jonah Gold­berg is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Me­dia Ser­vices.

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