Donald Trump’s supporters have a right to be offended. They have no right to be surprised.
The newly published recordings of Trump bragging in 2005 about groping women are awful, and the actions they describe could conceivably even cross the line to criminal. “Grab them by the p***y,” Trump says, describing how his celebrity and power allowed him to treat women. “You can do anything.”
“When you’re a star,” Trump explains, “they let you do it.”
In yet another excerpt, Trump talks about a married woman he found attractive: “I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there,” Trump says. “And she was married.”
Since the quotes first appeared in The Washington Post on Friday afternoon, they have provoked a series of strong condemnations ― not just from Trump’s critics, but even many of his most important allies.
Notable among them is a terse statement that the Republican Party released on behalf of chairman Reince Priebus, who has arguably been Trump’s staunchest defender within the GOP establishment: “No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this matter. Ever.”
Trump, for his part, issued what was supposed to be an apology ― although, conspicuously, he didn’t say he had been wrong to make the comments. Instead, Trump described the quotes as “locker room banter,” said he’d heard worse from former President Bill Clinton, and then said, “I apologize if anyone was offended.”
It’s almost as if Trump feels like he can get away with talking and acting like this. Based on recent history, he may be right.
After all, it’s not like reports of Trump misogyny are new. He has a long, very public history of objectifying and denigrating women ― whether it’s saying that actress-comedian Rosie O’Donnell has a “fat, ugly face,” calling former Miss Universe Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy” because of her weight gain, or arguing that Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy America because she “can’t satisfy her husband.”
Nor is this the first time tales of Trump’s lecherery have surfaced. Just a week ago, The Associated Press had a story on his history of making crude comments about cast and crew on NBC’s “The Apprentice” ― whether it was repeatedly saying a camerawoman had a “nice rear,” as the article described it, or quizzing fellow crew on which cast members they’d like to have sex with.
That story followed a report in The New York Times documenting more lewd comments ― and also some unwanted advances ― while he was running the Miss Universe pageant. In one instance, a former Miss Utah recalled the way Trump introduced himself to her:
He kissed me directly on the lips. I thought, “Oh my God, gross.” He was married to Marla Maples at the time. I think there were a few other girls that he kissed on the mouth. I was like “Wow, that’s inappropriate.”
The Times story included the allegation, by Trump’s ex-wife Ivana, that he once raped her in a fit of rage ― and the accusation, by a makeup artist, that Trump had cornered and groped her during a meeting in her home, with her husband right in the next room.
Some of these stories were murkier than others. Ivana Trump later said she was wrong to describe that episode as “rape” and subsequently released a statement saying the story was “totally without merit” ― which is what Trump said. He challenged the other allegations, denying outright that he had kissed Miss Utah and saying the makeup artist had pursued him.
“A lot of things get made up over the years,” he told the Times. “I have always treated women with great respect. And women will tell you that.” As for the allegations in the AP story, Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks called them ‘outlandish, unsubstantiated, and totally false.”
But the reporters who put together both articles relied on multiple sources, many of them on the record ― that is, willing to put their names behind the allegations. Their stories are remarkably consistent with one another. Give Trump the benefit of the doubt, if you want, and allow for the fact that human recollection is imperfect. The evidence of Trump’s misogynist behavior was overwhelming before. And now Trump’s own rhetoric backs it up.
Which raises the question of what Republican leaders will do now. Among those condemning Trump were Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), chair of the House Republican Conference. “It is never appropriate to condone unwanted sexual advances or violence against women,” McMorris Rodgers said. “Mr. Trump must realize that it has no place in public or private conversations today or in the past.”
But McMorris Rodgers has endorsed Trump, despite his long history of not just misogyny, but also xenophobia and racism. As of this writing, at least, she isn’t taking it back.
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday called Trump’s comments “sickening” and disinvited the nominee from a weekend event in Wisconsin the two were supposed to attend together. But Ryan gave no hint of withdrawing his endorsement.
That makes their condemnations more than a little hollow ― and their outrage a little hard to take seriously.