A weekend poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC news shows that Hillary Clinton took an 11-point lead over Donald Trump in the wake of the release of a recording of vulgar remarks Trump made in 2005.
Trump’s remarks were so juvenile and lewd that dozens of GOP candidates — including Minnesota House speaker Kurt Daudt, Congressman Eric Paulsen, and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty — jumped the Trump ship, and media outlets proclaimed a party in free fall.
But that may not tell the whole story. That same WSJ poll showed that 67 percent of Republicans believe the party should continue to support Trump as the nominee. In that group, at least philosophically, is Minnesota Republican Party national committeewoman Janet Beihoffer and fourth district Trump chairman Brian LeClair.
I asked them to explain their continued support.
MinnPost: What was your reaction to the recording’s obscene language and intimations of physical assault that Donald Trump described as “locker room talk?”
Janet Beihoffer: My reaction is, it’s despicable. It’s disgusting. But it’s locker room talk. People say it’s not presidential but I keeping getting down to this. These were words. Bill Clinton actually did stuff and the women whom he touched inappropriately or whatever actually said you can’t do that and they went after him. Look at what Hillary said against the women who made accusations against her husband. Her words were just as degrading to some women as Trump’s words.
Brian LeClair: I’m uncomfortable talking about that video. I don’t want to defend it. It’s right that Donald Trump apologized. I thought he was very sincere.
MP: But the recording isn’t enough for you to renounce your support or call for Trump to step down?
JB: He’s flawed, flawed, flawed. But, I know some of the people advising him, from the National Review and the Heritage Foundation. He’s trying to listen. I look at Hillary and I see Supreme Court nominees and appellate court nominees and trade association [favors] and U.S. relations worldwide. So much of politics is the lesser of two evils. None of us is going to get exactly what we want.
BL: It’s more than just the alternative. There are also those of us who think Mr. Trump can be an incredible force of change. It’s not just the lesser of two evils.
MP: Some Minnesota Republican leaders — Daudt, Pawlenty, Paulsen — don’t agree with your assessment. Were they wrong to renounce their support?
JB: I wouldn’t say it’s wrong. I think they spoke too quickly because there is so much more at stake and we can’t afford Hillary. If I were in that position I would have given a political answer like in Iowa. [At a Sunday event, Republican Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and GOP Gov. Terry Branstad condemned Trump’s remarks but remained supportive of his candidacy.] They didn’t condone it. They condemned it, but. Our guys didn’t do the “Yeah, but … ” which is four more years of Obama policies.
BL: I don’t want to pick a fight with them. I disagree with the speaker’s leadership on that campaign tactic, but I still believe in Reagan’s 11th commandment — that we should not speak ill of one another. I guess my reaction is this: Donald Trump never had a lot of party leadership support in the primaries. He spoke to the issues on the minds of rank and file voters. If that cycle is going to repeat itself in the general election, I’m very comfortable.
MP: What are you hearing from other grass roots Republicans?
JB: I’m not hearing a lot of about anti-Trump. I’m not hearing that from the party or state executive committee people. They may just sit back and not vote for him.
BL: The emails are flying fast and furious this morning – a lot of relief about how [Trump performed in the debate Sunday night] and how the next four weeks can play out. The energy is back in the Trump campaign.