Crilly: Trump's tax returns or his taped vulgar comments about women are not changing many voters' opinions
Voter in Pennsylvania: "I had already made up my mind ... the video just reinforced everything"
Editor’s Note: Rob Crilly is a British journalist living in New York. He was the Telegraph’s Afghanistan and Pakistan correspondent and was previously the East Africa correspondent for the Times. The opinions in this article are those of the author.
Have we been looking for the wrong moment in this presidential election campaign? Are we so busy looking for the sensational gotcha trap of Donald Trump’s taxes or his vulgar comments about women that we have missed the real story unfolding in front of us?
That is the lesson I bring from the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, the swing state that has slipped from Trump’s grasp.
After a tumultuous weekend of leaked videos and fiery debates, you might have expected to find shock and outrage among women here. Instead, I found exasperation and weary resignation.
Take Kelly Camillo, a businesswoman who runs Poke-a-Nose Pottery along Route 611 in Bartonsville. She wasn’t shocked by the leaked recording of Trump, posted Friday, which revealed him bragging in 2005 about being able to grope women because of his celebrity status.
“I had already made up my mind,” Camillo said as families painted unglazed white pottery in her store. “The video just reinforced everything.”
Camillo, who has a 6-year-old son, had been an undecided voter at the start of the election campaign. Trump’s words about rebuilding the economy and America’s place in the world had resonated with her and many others in a state that, despite having voted Democrat in every election since 1992, was until recently considered a key battleground.
But Camillo said she was won over by Hillary Clinton because she appeared more presidential throughout the campaign and managed to show her personable side, as she did during Sunday’s debate when she listened to voters as they asked questions.
This was a common refrain heard along the road through the Poconos. There was no one moment, no single revelation or scandal that changed voters’ minds. Just a growing sense that one candidate, rather than the other, was most fit for the office of president.
At the end of last month, Trump was running almost even with Clinton in the state. But a disastrous couple of weeks for the reality TV star – a bad first debate, a 3 a.m. tweetstorm, then that video – have seen his rival open up a double-digit lead.
Trump was campaigning Monday night in Wilkes-Barre, a solidly blue-collar city in a state that sprawls from the Midwestern Rust Belt to the more affluent Atlantic coast.
It is prime territory for a radical message of economic renewal, and more than 9,000 supporters – many of them women – crammed into a sports arena to hear it.
Among them was Andrea Bell, a chemical engineer. She said she couldn’t understand how anyone offended by Trump’s words could hold down a job – such was the everyday sexism that women experience in the workplace.
“I wouldn’t condone it (his comments),” Bell said as she queued in the autumn cool. “But it doesn’t change my mind about anyone’s capabilities.”
None of this is scientific. But the two women and others like them, backing different candidates, agreed on one thing: They weren’t shocked.
And if we’re honest, were we really shocked by the revelation that in 1995 Mr Trump apparently declared a $916 million loss to legally avoid paying federal income tax for 18 years?
Or had we already made up our minds that he was 1) a shady mogul who knew every trick in the book to avoid his responsibilities, or 2) a financial genius sticking it to the federal man?
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In the same way, “sexist caught in sexism scandal” is a headline that excites little more than yawns from those with long memories.
Trump’s downfall will not be a new scandal that trips him up. After all, he has traded in shock and awe for years.
No, his problem is that each new detail, every new leak, is reinforcing our long-held existing view of the man. He becomes more Trumpian by the day.
That might satisfy his base, but it is no way to win over the undecideds. Trump may be about to discover you cannot win an election when your ceiling is at 30-something percent.