After the Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” and getting away with it broke earlier this month, a question arose. Well, many questions, like: How the hell did Trump’s campaign get this far? How could this tape, and Trump’s repulsive comments, not have been made public before 2016? Did none of the 16 other GOP candidates for president do any opposition research on Trump?
Of course other candidates — and the media — looked for dirt on Trump. The problem was none of it mattered.
Opposition research has been standard practice for presidential candidates since the election of 1824 (when opponents of Andrew Jackson discovered that Jackson’s wife hadn’t actually divorced her first husband before marrying him). The details uncovered can be tiny — Barack Obama’s campaign found in 2007 that then-Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards had paid $400 for a haircut — but it can be very, very effective. Those outside the Trump machine did try to look into his past. Both the Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio campaigns did considerable research on Trump, and used it throughout the primaries. For example, at the primary debate on February 25, Cruz brought up Trump’s past donations to Democrats: “It’s interesting,” Cruz said, “now Donald promises he will appoint justices who will defend religious liberty, but this is a man who for 40 years has given money to Jimmy Carter, to Joe Biden, to Hillary Clinton, to Chuck Schumer, to Harry Reid.” Rubio referenced Trump’s history of hiring undocumented Polish workers for construction projects: “You’re the only person on this stage that’s ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally.” Of course, Trump still won the nomination.
And the Trump campaign didn’t help itself. Despite it being standard practice for any candidate running for office, Trump refused to submit to a “forensic audit” — a process that would have carefully examined his past for anything controversial that could be used against him — before launching his campaign. This could have uncovered any other unnerving behind-the-scenes tapes from Trump’s more than 30 years of television appearances. But Trump wouldn’t even let his own campaign vet him. Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, told Fox News on October 12, “I don’t know what’s out there. There’s no way for me to know what is and isn’t out there. I only know what I read. And so we’ll deal with [more tapes] as they come.”
Tim Miller, Jeb Bush’s former communications director, told MTV News that it’s not as if Trump’s views or behavior, particularly toward women, were a secret before he became the Republican nominee for president. “During the primary, Trump attacked Megyn Kelly, accusing her of being on her period; said Carly Fiorina shouldn’t be president because of her face; [and] made a tweet saying Ted Cruz’s wife was uglier than his,” Miller said. “Researchers and reporters also resurfaced Trump's use of a fake name — John Barron — to tell the New York tabloids about his sexual conquests while cheating on the mother of his children. There was plenty of evidence he demeaned women. The first question of the first debate was about this.”
Indeed it was. On August 6, 2015, the first question posed to Trump at the first GOP primary debate by Fox News’s Megyn Kelly was, “Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women. You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.’” To which Trump responded, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” We should have guessed that this would just be the beginning.
Research isn’t everything, of course, and opposition research couldn’t have uncovered all of the strikes against Trump before he became the nominee. Miller said that the concerning accusations of sexual assault against Trump probably wouldn’t have been revealed anyway. “The women who came forward did so for their own personal reasons, not because oppo researchers found them,” he said. “It is hard to volunteer to be a political football after you’ve been a victim of sexual assault. I have great sympathy for them and I think it’s extremely brave they chose to do so.”
None of this should have been surprising. In 2015, we already knew about Trump’s connections to white nationalist groups, we knew about his racist comments, and we knew about his failed businesses. We had more than enough evidence to prove that Donald Trump should be nowhere near the presidency, years before he announced his run for office.
But no matter how much Trump’s surrogates desperately attempt to spin his comments, the people supporting Trump didn’t — and don’t — care. Trump supporters like his racism, and his misogyny, and his horrifying statements on immigrants, and say that they’d “never change their minds, ever.” To them, that proves that Trump is willing to “tell it like it is.” Maybe it’s because they think it’s entertaining. As Trump said in the first GOP primary debate, “Frankly, what I say, and oftentimes it’s fun, it’s kidding. We have a good time.”
Trump supporters want the wall with Mexico (even if America gets “reimbursed” for it). Trump supporters hate Hillary. And they want to save America from what they see as a multicultural, left-wing future they don’t understand and don’t want — even if they have to trust a liar to do it.