Kirsten Gillibrand, dubbed the #MeToo senator by “60 Minutes,” wants President Donald Trump’s scalp.
“I think he should resign,” she told the TV program, “and if he’s unwilling to do that, which is what I assume, then Congress should hold him accountable. We’re obligated to have hearings.”
Gillibrand has been clearing the decks for this moment over the past year. First, she dumped her patrons the Clintons and said, 20 years too late, that Bill should have left office during the Lewinsky scandal. Then she contributed to the defenestration of Al Franken by calling for his resignation after multiple allegations of groping.
The Franken resignation usefully established a standard that could be readily turned against Trump. Franken quit despite being duly elected, despite almost all of his alleged offenses taking place before his time in office, and despite being accused of nothing nearly as monstrous as Harvey Weinstein or the other most notorious abusers.
Trump isn’t going anywhere. Unlike Franken, he has the support of his own party. And there isn’t a production company that can dump him, or a corporate board that can pressure him to leave.
Al Franken could slip away into political obscurity while a new cookie-cutter progressive was appointed in his place as Minnesota senator, without most of the country noticing. If a president of the United States resigns — it’s happened once in our history — it is a major trauma to our political order.
The accusations against Trump were spectacularly aired prior to the election. They got extensive press coverage. They were a topic in the debates. Paired with the “Access Hollywood” tape, they were thought certain to doom his campaign. No one could claim to be unaware of them prior to November 2016.
None of the allegations were of particularly recent vintage. Most date back 10 years or more, and some all the way to the 1990s.
They involve three kinds of behavior: aggressive advances and inappropriate kisses; groping; and ogling beauty-pageant contestants and walking into their dressing rooms. Since Trump has talked himself of doing exactly these kinds of things, either in the “Access Hollywood” tape or on “The Howard Stern Show,” it’s impossible to credit his categorical denials.
On the scale of sexual misconduct by recent presidents, Trump certainly falls short of Bill Clinton, who carried on with an intern and probably groped another woman in the Oval Office, and John F. Kennedy, who used the White House secretarial pool as his sexual playthings. But Trump’s past conduct, based on his own boastful accounts alone, was gross and unworthy.
Trump is almost certainly operating on a version of the same implicit bargain from voters as Bill Clinton got in 1992: We know what kind of guy you are, but we are electing you anyway, assuming that you won’t be stupid enough to continue to behave this way in the White House. Clinton exploded this arrangement by having a dalliance with Monica Lewinsky and lying about it under oath.
Absent a similar scandal, Trump’s conduct with women won’t truly become a live issue again. Although he clearly knows his own vulnerabilities, which is why he is so vested in the denials of other men accused of misconduct.
Last week, the White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned amid allegations that he’d abused his two ex-wives. The website Axios reports that Trump privately believed the allegations against Porter (which are highly credible — one ex-wife would have had to lie to the police in real time and both lie to the FBI). But Trump couldn’t bring himself to credit the accusers publicly, even though this would have served his own political interest.
The firestorm over Porter quickly became a firestorm over Trump’s remarks, which represents the real threat to the president. His toxic image among women could contribute to a GOP midterm drubbing, in which case congressional hearings for his accusers might be the least of it.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.