When Harvey Weinstein was accused of decades of sexual misconduct in October, Republicans gleefully went on the attack. Weinstein was a prominent Democratic donor. How, they wondered, in high moral dudgeon, could liberal lawmakers live with themselves knowing that they’d profited from such ill-gotten gains?
Considering Weinstein’s limited role in Democratic politics — plus the inconvenient fact that a confessed sexual harasser of the Republican persuasion currently sits in the Oval Office — this was a transparently bad-faith argument from the beginning. But the GOP, as is its wont, pushed it vigorously enough to entice the usual doltish members of the mainstream media to take notice. And Democrats eventually did, too; many returned their donations from Weinstein.
Flash forward to Friday. In a long and thorough investigative piece, The Wall Street Journal reported that Las Vegas casino magnate and finance chair of the Republican National Committee, Steve Wynn, has been accused of sexual misconduct by many employees over the course of decades. The allegations are Weinstein-esque: They include Wynn forcing a manicurist to have sex with him, requesting sexual contact during massage sessions, and more.
The Republican response so far: almost total radio silence. Wynn did step down from his finance-chair position on Saturday afternoon, but under unclear circumstances.
Wynn, unlike Weinstein, is a serious power player on the political stage. A Democrat for many years — as Fox News gallingly pointed out on Sunday — he switched party allegiance during the Obama administration, partly in response to the passage of the stimulus package and Affordable Care Act. Since then, he has exerted considerable influence over Republican state-level races and national politics alike. When Nevada senator Dean Heller initially opposed GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare last summer, Wynn and fellow mogul and Republican Sheldon Adelson gave him an earful, and Heller eventually got onboard with a later version of the bill. He has donated more than $2.5 million to the Republican Governors Association since 2012 and more than $200,000 to Republicans in 2017 alone. Just last week, as Democrats are happy to point out, Wynn and RNC chair Ronna Romney McDaniel hosted a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago to celebrate the one-year anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration.
Will Republicans who demanded Democrats give back all of Harvey Weinstein’s money follow their own advice when it comes to actual insider Steve Wynn? The party’s silence on the story a full day after it broke is an indication that nobody should be holding their breath. (Presumably one reason for the muted response is a hesitance to cross their leader. President Trump considers Wynn a friend and may plausibly leap to his defense — or, just as conceivably, stab him in the back.)
The entire story illustrates, once again, that warfare between the parties is asymmetric. Because the Democratic Party positions itself as an entity trying, however haltingly, to do the right thing, it is held to reasonably high standards by both its voters and society at large. Republicans, meanwhile, have waltzed so far down the path of moral degradation in recent years that they are no longer expected to maintain the appearance of propriety. Democrats (rightly) feel pressure to clean their house of sullied lawmakers from John Conyers to Al Franken; Republicans can grudgingly come to terms with the idea of an accused child molester in the Senate.
Because the GOP has adopted a mantra of shamelessness, it can continue to claim the virtuous high ground while simultaneously contradicting its own words at every turn. Yet much of the political class and media has internalized this strange dichotomy as a fact of life, to the point that it is hardly questioned anymore.
This is why a public shoving match about, say, returning money from disgraced donors is a lose-lose proposition for Democrats. If trying to cut a deal with President Trump is like negotiating with Jello, arguing ethics with Republicans is like debating a feces-throwing monkey.
As the reckoning of sexual harassment sweeps across the broader culture, it’s inevitable that more Democrats, and more associates of Democrats, will be proven to have acted badly. On Friday, the New York Times reported that Hillary Clinton shielded Burns Strider, a “faith adviser” who had been accused of sexual harassment, from being fired from her campaign in 2008. Her explanation was not exactly convincing. (And this is to say nothing of her husband’s past.) Democrats, like the broader culture, have a lot of soul-searching to do.
But, as Steve Wynn and his millions of dollars show, the party should reform itself on its own terms, not because Republicans pressure them to. The GOP forfeited that privilege a long time ago.