Our question for today is: How does Donald Trump compare to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, the now-famous “Love Gov”?
Bentley resigned this week after a long-running sex scandal. Trump, who used to be a king of sex scandals, doesn’t have any presidential ones. When the day is done and the moon is high, our chief executive now appears to be moved mainly by the siren song of Fox and Twitter.
But nobody’s forgotten those girl-grabbing tapes from the campaign. There’s also currently a grope-related lawsuit. And recently, his sympathetic take on Bill O’Reilly’s multiple sexual harassment problems. Plus, face it: These days we cannot possibly talk about anything without bringing up Donald Trump: chocolate cake, funny dog videos, Easter, professional wrestling, Millard Fillmore …
But first, Gov. Bentley. Our story begins in 2014, when he was re-elected by a whopping margin, wearing the image of a kindly family man. However, during the march to victory, his wife recorded her husband having a conversation with campaign aide Rebekah Mason that centered heavily around feeling up Mason’s breasts. And his staff couldn’t help noticing that the governor started calling Mason “baby” during staff meetings.
Lots and lots of incidents later, Mrs. Bentley filed for divorce after 50 years of marriage. She also gave investigators a ton of love texts — thanks to what appeared to be a certain technological ineptitude on the part of her husband. (They included the immortal “Bless our hearts. And other parts.”)
The state Legislature began to investigate. After the release of a 131-page report, 3,000 pages of documents, threats of felony charges and a thumbs down from the State Ethics Commission, Bentley finally agreed to quit, plead guilty to two misdemeanors and promise never to run for office again — the last not appearing to be a likely problem.
Now Bentley is obviously a very, very different guy from Donald Trump, who is never going to be married to anybody for 50 years. Trump’s children are in his employ, while Bentley’s show up in the report trying to get their father checked for dementia. However, there are some commonalities: Both men are in their 70s and have a thing for messaging via cellphone.
One of the most useful lessons of the Bentley scandal, in fact, was that when your wife’s name is Dianne, it’s a very bad idea to send her a text saying “I love you, Rebekah.”
Both guys have a history of bragging about their special privileges. In Trump’s case there was all that talk about his right to go into the Miss Universe dressing room and stare at naked ladies, and, of course, the famous recorded boast about how “when you’re a star” you get to grab women by their private parts, whether they like it or not. Bentley told an unhappy staffer that as governor, people had to “bow to his throne.”
Differences: Mason, a former TV anchor, first entered Bentley’s employ as his press secretary. Trump’s press secretary is Sean Spicer, and that is never, ever going to be a compromising relationship. On the other hand, Rebekah Mason never claimed that Hitler didn’t use poison gas on any Germans.
Bentley went crazy trying to shut down gossip that he was committing adultery, and it’s hard to imagine Trump reacting the same way. Back in the day, when New York papers were full of stories about him cheating on his wife, Ivana, with an aspiring actress named Marla Maples, he had a squad of publicists on the case. But none of them seemed to be trying to discourage the coverage. “We got absolutely no pushback,” agreed Matt Storin, who was then an editor at The Daily News.
In the end, Bentley may have been undone less by his affair than by the financial flimflammery on the side. (His lover’s husband, a former weatherman, got a $91,000-a-year job as director of the state’s Office of Faith-Based and Volunteer Service.)
So far, we haven’t heard reports about Trump spending public money to please a former mistress. As opposed to spending public money taking heads of state to his resort or providing security for the kids when they go abroad to make business deals.
On occasion, we are reminded that the worst things that happen in this world are generally not about consensual sex.
Morning Consult, a nonpartisan polling company, recently queried registered voters across America on their attitudes toward their governors, and Alabama’s got a 44 percent job approval rating, with 48 percent disapproving. That’s bad, but there were nine other governors who ranked lower.
Pop Quiz: Guess who ranked on the very bottom of the chart?
(A) Chris Christie
(B) Chris Christie
(C) Chris Christie
On the list of things the voters dislike, it appears, sex takes a back seat to running around the country behaving like Donald Trump’s spaniel. And now we’ll wait to see how long it is before people start shaking their heads and saying President Trump is acting crazier than that governor in Alabama.
Gail Collins writes for The New York Times.