Late on Tuesday, casino magnate Steve Wynn stepped down as CEO from Wynn Resorts, citing the distraction caused by a series of allegations of sexual harassment made against him in a recent Wall Street Journal story.
While Wynn continues to deny all of the allegations, the evidence against him is detailed and long-ranging – a series of inappropriate actions, typically directed at younger female employees, that made it untenable for him to remain in his role at the top of his gaming empire.
Wynn had previously resigned as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee in the wake of the allegations and RNC chair Ronna McDaniel has called the allegations “very troubling” in an interview with Fox News.
But McDaniel was also very clear to distinguish between Wynn, a longtime major Republican donor, and Harvey Weinstein, a massive Democratic giver.
“Steve has denied these allegations,” McDaniel said. “Unlike Harvey Weinstein and Al Franken and others, Steve has denied them.”
And that’s it. The RNC – as well as other Republican leaders – has done everything it can to distance itself from Wynn over the two weeks since the Journal story broke.
The Republican Governors Association sent back $100,000 in contributions from Wynn and canceled a planned 2020 gathering at a property owned by Wynn. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, donated his Wynn contribution, as did Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Dean Heller, R-Nevada, and Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, among others.
“If they’ve accepted contributions recently from him that have not been spent, absolutely, I don’t even think it’s a close call to return the money,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said of her Republican colleagues on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Despite those urgings, the RNC, to whom Wynn donated $375,000 at the end of 2017, has remained silent, sticking by McDaniel’s initial statement that Wynn “should be allowed due process, and if he is found of any wrongdoing, we will absolutely return 100% of that money.”
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner of Colorado said late last month that Wynn’s alleged behavior was “disturbing” but added that no decision had been made whether to return the six-figure contribution Wynn had made to the campaign committee. “We’re going to take the appropriate action,” Gardner said on MSNBC. “That’s what we’re talking about.”
What these national Republican groups are hanging their defense on is the fact that Wynn, unlike Weinstein, has denied all of the allegations against him. Innocent until proven guilty – and all that.
But that, of course, is a legal standard, not a political one. Someone doesn’t need to be convicted of a crime for a political party to decide that they want to fully and completely disassociate themselves from that person.
And while Wynn had made considerable financial contributions to the RNC and the NRSC, returning those donations wouldn’t exactly cripple either organization. (Note bene: The Democratic National Committee redirected the $30,000 Weinstein had donated to the organization over the last election to three groups promoting women running for office.)
So why not do it? Simple answer: Donald Trump.
Like Wynn, the President of the United States faced allegations of assault from more than a dozen women in the runup to the 2016 election. Like Wynn, Trump denied each and every one – insisting that the accusers were coming forward because of political motives. (Worth noting: Wynn and Trump are close friends; Wynn, along with McDaniel, was the co-host of Trump’s celebration of his first year as President at Mar-a-Lago last month.)
To return the contributions from Wynn – before he had admitted any wrongdoing or been convicted of it – would force the RNC to answer questions about the President and why the allegations against him didn’t deserve the same seriousness of treatment.
Which is why individual GOP senators are able to return contributions from Wynn while the official party organizations are trying to defend what is increasingly an indefensible position.
This is then, yet again, a way in which the abnormality of Trump’s background and his approach to politics makes what should be a very easy political distancing operation much, much more complicated.