HILLSBORO, Ohio - A year removed from our newspaper’s endorsement of Donald Trump for president, the most frequent question I get in emails and letters are from Trump critics asking whether I regret the endorsement.
I find it an odd question. It’s reflective of a similar theme often directed at Trump supporters in columns from many of our nation’s leading op-ed writers, especially after a presidential tweet-storm or inflammatory comment or action. “Will President Trump’s supporters finally desert him?” they ask.
Through the years, it became an accepted tenant of American politics that promises made and personas adopted by presidential candidates to win votes would be abandoned or ignored in the Oval Office. By contrast, the argument could easily be made that few presidential-level politicians have been as indistinguishable as Trump, the candidate, from Trump, the president.
Trump has remained as constant as the northern star. Has Trump really behaved in some new manner that wasn’t on full display during the campaign? The outrageous tweets, the bluster, the self-aggrandizement, the insults - Trump the commander in chief is virtually identical to Trump the neophyte candidate.
But in addition to consistently exhibiting what many see as negative attributes, Trump has also tried to keep his biggest campaign promises on repealing Obamacare, securing the border and cutting taxes, and he stayed true to his word with his pick of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Now, his declaration of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital fulfills another pledge. No one who backed Trump as a candidate, with all his flaws, has been given much reason to abandon him.
Liberals seem to think the tax bill and other administration priorities will wake Trump country to the phony populism of its champion, but Trump’s voters always understood that business was going to benefit from having such an avowedly pro-business president. Really, the only supporters who might have cause for disillusionment are those who argued, or hoped, that once he assumed the presidency Trump would “pivot,” becoming “more presidential.” But that would probably be the one act that would cost Trump his base.
Among all of candidate Trump’s missteps and outrages, the one that was thought to most assuredly guarantee his demise was the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape and the ensuing allegations of numerous women claiming Trump sexually assaulted them. Those instances are the most frequently enumerated in the correspondence I receive suggesting the need for endorsement regret.
But apparently lost on many is that, in the 1990s, the left won the argument that these stories don’t matter, and that people’s private lives and attitudes, as sordid and problematic as they may be, do not determine their effectiveness as a public servant. So convincingly did President Bill Clinton’s defenders win that debate that even many on the right came to accept it, which is in part why Trump is immune on the topic and Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy remains viable in Alabama.
During the campaign, Trump famously boasted that he could shoot someone and not lose support. That is not literally true, although one could be forgiven for wondering about it. But the point he was making to the media was to quit wasting their time trying to discredit him with lurid details of his private life and times.
Even now, though, the left, along with “Never Trumpers” on the middle and right, keep waiting for Trump supporters to “wake up,” to realize their horrendous mistake, perhaps even rending their garments in an act of self-flagellation.
But the voters who coalesced around Trump understood that everyone’s closet has skeletons, a belief proved truer with each passing day. Through a lifetime of celebrity, laid bare in the media, Trump’s closet door has long stood wide open. No new revelations about his personal life were going to shock or shake his supporters.
The left’s sudden post-Clinton awakening on issues of boorish behavior and sexual harassment has been fascinating to watch. The recent claims against Democratic Party stalwarts such as Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers Jr. have had Democrats pushing for political death sentences in hopes of maintaining the moral high ground. There apparently is no need for courts, judges or juries, and evidence is optional, as long as a claim is determined to be credible by a panel of hastily assembled media pundits.
But in light of the recently exposed feet of clay of so many of Trump’s fiercest critics in Hollywood, Washington and the media, making examples of Franken and Conyers is a case of too little, too late. The hypocrisy has been exposed, the high ground surrendered. It turns out that the calls for Trump’s supporters to wake up were coming from a lot of people who were blissfully snoozing away.
Abernathy is publisher and editor of the Times-Gazette in Hillsboro, Ohio.