... it is not at all clear that we should expect Mr. Trump to suffer discernible losses in the near future. Take Herman Cain, who faced reports that he was accused of sexual harassment in late October 2011. These reports were surely more problematic for his candidacy than Mr. Trump’s comments about Mr. McCain, and yet the early polls conducted after the allegations did not show much evidence that they had any effect on his standing. One month later, Mr. Cain was out of the race.But here's the difference.
If sexual harassment allegations didn’t immediately bring Mr. Cain down, there’s not much reason to think Mr. Trump’s ratings should crash either. It will take time for the effects of the scrutiny brought by Mr. Trump’s comments to take their toll. Maybe even a long time. What’s important is that the process of scrutiny, from party leaders and journalists, is now underway.
The initial big Cain scandal story, "Herman Cain Accused by Two Women of Inappropriate Behavior," appeared at Politico on October 31, 2011. Immediately, Cain went into a damage-control mode, claiming on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News program that he just made an innocent gesture in one accuser's presence, but conceding that the woman was paid a dollar amount "in the five-figure range." By November 2, we had a Rick Perry pollster claiming he'd personally seen Cain sexually harass a woman. We had a third woman claiming harassment. We had Cain calling the story a Perry hit job and then, a day latter, walking back that accusation. By November 7, USA Today was reporting on yet another woman's claim of harassment, under the headline "Woman Says Cain Put Hand Up Her Skirt." This accuser was represented by publicity-magnet attorney Gloria Allred. And then one of the original accusers went public with her account of harassment the next day. And on and on.
Does this remind you in any way of the Trump/McCain story? Let's compare: Trump said a controversial thing. Horrified political observers and fellow Republicans told us that what Trump said was awful. Trump walked it back slightly -- then moved on as if nothing terrible had happened. There have been no new Trump/McCain revelations, no secrets, no real or alleged skeletons in closets -- yeah, we were told that Trump had a cushy life as a draft-avoider while McCain was being tortured in a POW camp, but Trump didn't care. He has no sense of guilt about any of this. He's continued to be his usual cocky self. He hasn't been scrambling to do damage control. His wife hasn't been promising to go on Fox to defend him, then backing off. He's clearly never believed he needed to go into a defensive crouch -- and, because he acts as he's above it all, his fans agree. Dave Weigel saw this over the weekend when he hung out with some Iowa Trumpites:
Trump survived his McCain spat. Lots of people gasped at Trump’s “war hero” snark against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Not many of them will participate in the Iowa caucuses. According to CNN’s polling, Trump actually ticked up marginally in the Hawkeye state after the McCain joke. That may not last -- indeed, other polls in other states suggested that the joke backfired. But the sort of voter inclined to back Trump is not a fan of McCain.Trump might fall -- but not because of the McCain incident. He's just acted as if he's above it all since he criticized McCain. He obviously doesn't feel he's guilty of anything, or even that anyone who matters might think he's guilty of anything and need to be persuaded otherwise. So he's just moving on.
“He had the nerve to put McCain in his place,” said Angie Binns, 59.
“I’ve been thinking that for years myself,” said Don James, a 62-year old immigration control activist who brought a “Deport Illegals” banner to the rally. ”No more walking on eggshells, no more political correctness.”
Another voter, who declined to state his name, reacted to the mention of McCain’s name by referring to (false) rumors that he had collaborated with Communists. Yes, McCain’s heroism powered him to many primary victories with Republican voters. But it’s 2015, and to many conservatives, McCain’s claim that Trump would “rile up the crazies” on immigration reform was more offensive than what Trump said.