Over and over in the last few weeks a cycle has kicked in. Donald Trump will say something, usually about women (a person in particular or more generally) which generates outrage, and comments surface to the effect: Okay, this is it, he's jumped the shark, he's over and done, stick a fork in him. And then polling results comes back showing him either losing no significant amount of support, or maybe even gaining a little.
The latest shot at Fox host Megyn Kelley, for example, on Friday, when - seeking to convey the idea she was being irrational - he referred to "blood coming out of her wherever", evidently a reference to menstruation. (He was a little vague, but if that wasn't the intended reference, I'd like to know what it was.) Lots of response to that, much of it suggesting that no presidential candidate can get away with that. Especially coming on the heels of his regularly recurring comments about women, which are no new thing; those quotes stretch back over years.
How does Trump survive this?
Simple. There's an audience happily glomming on to it. Trump's comments about women specifically are finding an audience for which that's an important statement as a positive qualifier for president. More important, in fact, than whatever he has to say about social policy (which has been, over the years, much more a mixed bag, some of it relatively liberal).
Here's one way we can be sure of this: The reaction to Megyn Kelly in the social media. She has been drawing support, of course, including from many people who have little positive to say ordinarily about Fox News or about her. But there's also a sudden, and large, bump in the social media commentary to and about her which is stunningly pejorative.
An article on the site Vox put some of this together. It presents a chart showing the number of tweets in recent weeks describing Kelly as a "whore" or "bitch" or other perjorative; it took a drastic rise just as the Trump-Kelly battle (which isn't the right word since Kelly, wisely, hasn't much fought back) took off.
Vox writer Max Fisher noted, "Trump, in response to the controversy over his comments, a backlash that has included condemnations from many in the GOP establishment, has not backed down one iota. Rather, he has encouraged the wave of online sexist hatred against Kelly, for example by retweeting this seemingly random twitter user who calls Kelly a "bimbo"."
There's a real streak of hatred against women out there. That much is not especially new. What is, is that it's metastasizing into a political movement, one which is forming a large part of the base for Donald Trump. How large is that movement? Is it now at a floor or a ceiling? Many political stories in the months ahead may turn on that question.