The funniest thing about the lewd Donald Trump tape is how unshocking it is. It’s less of an ‘October surprise’ more of an ‘October of course’. Everybody who knows anything about Trump knows that he is, to use a Donald favoured word, braggadocious about his sexual exploits. The newly unearthed video of him boasting of his sexual misadventures is embarrassing for him, of course, but it’s not much worse than what he said in his interviews with Howard Stern, which has been extensively reported. It will hurt his chances with women voters, and of course grumpy Republicans are using the story as an excuse to try another coup against him, but I can’t really imagine many American voters will be sitting at home today thinking: ‘What? Donald Trump is vulgar and sexist? I’m appalled!’ (Indeed, for some of Trump’s anti-PC fans, his crudeness is his appeal: he’s a badass, and that’s what they like.)
Nevertheless, we live in strangely licentious yet puritanical times, and so everybody is pretending that they are horrified by the video while taking an almost pornographic delight in it. But before Hillary Clinton’s supporters become too gleeful, they should consider how the tape might, in fact, play into the Donald’s hands. Trump has already done something he hasn’t done before, and apologised. It is possible that — just as they did with Bill Clinton after he grovelled for his (far worse) sins — Americans will accept his apology as heartfelt and learn to love him for his contrition. This Trump Tape reduces the election to the level of reality TV, and that’s the level Trump is most comfortable on. If he handles the revelations skilfully in the debate tomorrow night, he might actually turn the story to his advantage. Hillary Clinton will want to savage him for his sexism — she did in the first debate — but she is, of course, on delicate ground, given the fact her husband is a notorious adulterer. She might try and lure him into saying something horrendous about Bill’s history with women, which would then elicit sympathy for her. But Trump is a fast learner, and has an instinct for the crowd that Clinton doesn’t possess — although it must be said that instinct was absent in the first debate in New York. If Clinton keeps attacking him for his misogyny, and the Donald exhibits a hitherto unseen humility while refusing to take the bait, he could end up, er, on top.