Last night, Donald Trump resorted to the shock tactic of bringing up the marital infidelities and alleged sexual assaults of his opponent's husband. He also threatened her with jail. After the debate, his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, suggested/threatened that Republican candidates and officials who defect from supporting Trump may have their personal lives brought into the public eye.
The effect of these shock tactics on voters is likely to be minor in the short run between today and the election. Most people have decided who they are for and whether they are going to vote. Hillary Clinton lost no support last night and in that sense won the debate, even though she missed opportunities which in normal debate contexts might have cost her. She responded and did not react, and that is sufficient to hold or perhaps expand her lead.
However, as strange as it may seem, the impact of the debate on the presidential election is not the big story. The big story is the effect of Trump's behavior on the immediate and longterm future of the Republican party, which appears to be of cataclysmic proportions. In the wake of the tape (the Sextober Surprise) and the shock tactics, the divide exposed earlier this year between Republicans loyal to Trump and those who are not can no longer be finessed or evaded. For years to come, every candidate on the Republican ticket will be judged on which side of the divide they are seen as being on during the next four weeks. They must choose and live with the consequences, political and perhaps personal. With Trump? Or not with Trump?
That is the question of moment in politics. Meanwhile, a tectonic shift in societal tolerance of sexual assault is part of what is making the ground shift beneath the Republican politicians' feet. This shift encompasses Trump, Ailes, Cosby, and more, and it rumbled again over the weekend, as manifest in the explosive posts to #notokay . More on this later: it will affect every speech in every venue to be delivered from this year onward.