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What Donald Trump’s ‘Access Hollywood’ Weekend Says About 2020

  • July 13, 2020

“That’s his strength,” said Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House communications director who has since called for Mr. Trump’s defeat. “When God was handing out shame genes, Trump picked up shameless genes from that countertop.”

Mr. Trump’s capacity for earth-scorching politics, rarely in doubt, has often been most conspicuous in times of campaign distress. When Ben Carson surpassed him in some polls of Republican voters in 2015, Mr. Trump appeared to swipe at his rival’s faith. When Ted Cruz proved a resilient primary foe, Mr. Trump posted an unflattering picture of Mr. Cruz’s wife and threatened to “spill the beans” about her, without elaborating.

This is a man who urged a foreign power to investigate Mr. Biden, more than a year before Election Day 2020, spawning an impeachment inquiry at home.

In none of those episodes was Mr. Trump confronting the headwinds he faces now, compelling veterans of 2016 to predict an ugliness in the coming months that will test the bounds of even the most cynical strategist’s imagination.

They have advised the Biden campaign, sitting comfortably ahead in July, to brace itself.

“It makes sense for the Biden team to understand why they’re winning today,” said Robby Mook, Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager. “It makes even more sense for them to think about how they lose.”

Of course, even set against a trove of October surprises through history, 2016 was something different. In a span of hours on Friday, Oct. 7, intelligence community leaders publicly accused Russia of interfering in the election, The Washington Post published the “Access Hollywood” article and WikiLeaks began disseminating hacked emails from John D. Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman — timing that her team did not find coincidental.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, looked into whether the release of Mr. Podesta’s emails was connected to the “Access Hollywood” tape but did not publicly establish a link to the Trump campaign. In the end, many Clinton aides believe, nothing that day affected the election as much as a letter three weeks later from James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, reviving the topic of Mrs. Clinton’s private email server.

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