Donald Trump stood there Sunday night and essentially shrugged off his abhorrent comments about sexually assaulting women.
Instead of anything like true remorse, Trump offered what amounts to a “boys will be boys” defense.
He also tried to wave a shiny distraction before voters in the form of Bill Clinton, as though someone else’s track record on women was relevant to his own.
This strategy should not be taken seriously. It’s the adult equivalent of a teenager staring at the wreckage of his car and telling his parents that everyone else was drinking and driving ― so it’s OK for him, too.
“It’s locker room talk and it’s one of those things,” Trump told debate moderator Anderson Cooper on Sunday, echoing a tepid non-apology he’d released late on Friday as horrified reaction to his 2005 comments spread across the web.
“You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women — do you understand that?” Cooper asked.
No, Trump said. After Cooper pressed him, Trump said he never engaged in the behavior he boasted about. In fact, growing numbers of women have accused him of exactly that ― kissing and groping them without their consent.
Before the debate began, Trump even convened a press conference featuring women who have accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual assault. But Bill Clinton is not running for president this year.
More importantly, another man’s alleged wrongdoing does not excuse Trump’s. And it’s a shamefully low standard for a potential president to set: He’s supposed to get a pass on harming women because other men have harmed women?
Still, Trump’s surrogates are doing their best to push that weak defense.
Earlier on Sunday, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s most loyal supporters, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that of course Trump’s comments were wrong but “at times men talk like that.”
Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, echoed the “locker room” banter argument after the debate, claiming that her candidate’s behavior was no worse than that of a lot of other politicians whom she’s known when she was younger.
“I would talk to some of the members of Congress there when I was younger and prettier, them rubbing against girls, sticking their tongues down women’s throats who were uninvited, didn’t like it,” Conway told Chris Mathews on MSNBC.
Just no. Even if “grab them by the pussy” were standard locker room or frat bro or Capitol Hill boasting ― and plenty of men have already insisted that it’s not ― this would not make Trump’s behavior acceptable.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Most Americans seemed to grasp this. As the recording spread across the internet this past weekend, even members of Trump’s own party quickly denounced him.
The real estate mogul, as we all now know, was caught on a hot mic telling then-”Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush how he forces himself on women. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]. I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Trump says in the recording, made in 2005 and obtained by The Washington Post. He also talks about grabbing women in the crotch. As Trump brags, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Trump could have stepped onto the stage Sunday night and spoken frankly of how he’s evolved since then (if he has). He could have spoken about his years working with women and how he’d come to understand that they are not objects one grabs for one’s own amusement. He could have been contrite.
Instead, the Trump campaign is trying to normalize detestable behavior that is far beyond the bounds of acceptability for any person, much less someone seeking to lead the United States.