Warning: This article discusses potentially triggering topics, including sexual assault.
When confronted at the second presidential debate with his recently unearthed “Grab them by the pussy” hot-mic moment, Donald Trump said his comments were “just words.” It seems many women would beg to differ. On Wednesday, Trump was hit was a deluge of accusations. There were, among others, the woman who said she was groped on a plane by his “octopus” hands, the women who dealt with his leering at Mar-a-Lago or at beauty pageants, and the woman who says she batted Trump’s hand away after he reached under her skirt and touched her vagina.
Many of these women have said that they were compelled to speak after his prime-time denial. And after listening to their stories, you can almost picture hearing the “just words” from the tape serving as a voice-over narration for the accusations he has continued to deny ever happened. “You know,” Trump can be heard telling Billy Bush on the tape, “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Though the tape was recorded in 2005 and released in 2016, Trump has been performing variations on this theme all along. He went so far as to tell Chris Matthews in 1999 that he probably shouldn’t run for president: “How about me with the women? Can you imagine?” Stories about his history with women have been a constant presence throughout his career, but somehow weren’t enough to derail his electoral chances until he found the crassest and most succinct way possible to sum up his views toward women.
Back in the summer of 2015, for example, when everyone still thought the idea of Trump winning a presidential nomination was a joke, The Daily Beast reported that Ivana Trump had accused her then-husband of rape in a deposition during their divorce. In response, Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, told The Daily Beast, “you cannot rape your spouse,” before going on tell the reporter, he would “mess your life up … for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet” if the story ended up on the internet. Ivana subsequently released a statement that she didn’t mean rape in the “criminal sense,” several reporters asked why a story about allegations from the early ’90s was relevant, and the issue mostly vanished from the election.
This sequence of events — accuse, deny or say “it was a joke,” repeat — would repeat itself over and over again with Trump until it became normal. Nothing ever seemed to stick.
In April 2016, the Boston Globe published an article about Jill Harth, who sued Trump for sexual assault back in the ’90s. Harth and her partner ran the American Dream Calendar Girls competition, and were excited about the chance to work with Trump. During a dinner at Mar-a-Lago, Harth had said in her deposition that “Donald started right in on the groping under the table, to tell you the truth.” On a different occasion, he allegedly pushed Harth against a wall in his daughter’s bedroom. In May, Temple Taggart, a former Miss Utah, told the New York Times that Trump gave her an unwelcome kiss in 1997. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, gross,’” she said. In June, a former Miss Washington wrote on Facebook, “He probably doesn’t want me telling the story about that time he continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room.”
Then there’s the paper trail of things Trump has said himself. He once argued you have to treat women “like shit,” and then called the woman who reported on this comment “a liar, extremely unattractive, lots of problems because of her looks.” He graded and demeaned countless women on Howard Stern’s radio show. When a lawyer had to take a break to go pump breast milk during a deposition for a real-estate lawsuit in 2011, Trump allegedly screamed, “You’re disgusting.”
Trump once printed out a New York Times column he didn’t like, circled the columnist’s picture, wrote, “The Face of a Dog!” and then sent it to her in the mail. He said he’d date his daughter, Ivanka, if they weren’t related, and speculated about the future breasts of his other daughter, Tiffany, when she was an infant. In 2015, Rolling Stone reported him saying of Carly Fiorina, “Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on.” In March, Trump tweeted an unflattering picture of his opponent Ted Cruz’s wife, threatening to “spill the beans” on her, or rather, her résumé. Footage exists of Rudy Giuliani, dressed in drag, getting groped by Trump in a skit that was apparently supposed to be close enough to reality for people to find it funny.
These stories all went public before “Grab Them by the Pussy” became the “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” of 2016. As Jennifer Senior wrote in the Times this week, “With Mr. Trump, there are no hidden depths: Dig a little deeper, and you just get more Mr. Trump.” And if the accusations this week felt familiar, so did Trump’s reaction: He told a crowd in Florida and North Carolina this week that a People magazine reporter who accused him of kissing her without consent wasn’t pretty enough to bother harassing.
The responses of Trump devotees have been nothing new either. Eighty-six percent of them said the tape would not affect their support for the candidate. Months before this week of revelations, backers were shouting “Trump that bitch” at rallies. Shirts can be found for sale outside these rallies that read, “Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica,” and buttons that say, “Life’s a Bitch. Don’t Vote for One.” After the hot-mic tape came out, most of the self-selected crew at the rallies felt the same. One woman told BuzzFeed, “That’s just the way [men] are." The Atlantic talked to a supporter in Florida who said, “Somebody with that much money can grab your butt, big whoop.”
Back in the primaries, Trump could float his way to the top of the GOP with the support of these devoted few alone. Those accusing him of assault could be ignored, apparently, because no one had heard him bragging about those same actions himself, and then denying them on the biggest stage possible. Back then, the overflowing rallies matched his poll numbers, and his bad behavior apparently couldn’t topple vacuous promises to fix every problem in America somehow. There are many more voters in play now, however, who are far more fickle when it comes to keeping their reserved seats on the Trump train. Many of them are women.
Still, all Trump sees is that everything at his rallies remains the same. The forces that won him the nomination are still there, which is why he seems intent on spending the rest of the election receding further from reality, cuddling with his crowds until the timer runs out, prepping his voters to believe he could only lose if this election is “stolen” from him. He will continue to blame the press, and his supporters will continue to scream at them. Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign keeps saying that it is about to release evidence disproving his accusers, who keep multiplying, no doubt spurred by Trump’s most resounding denials of their existence yet.
And, of course, there is also his decision to constantly bring up the accusations against Bill Clinton, as if that negates the allegations facing Trump. Three of Clinton’s accusers — who Trump once called “a terrible group of people” — plus a woman who was raped by a man whom Hillary was appointed to represent during her time as a law instructor — appeared on Sean Hannity’s show Thursday night. The entire program passed without the accusations against Trump coming up once.
Anyone expecting a dramatic denouement to this nauseating election has been punked, as the Trump train seems to have reversed its engines back to the primary, back to the one place where the alleged billionaire could feel invincible. Everyone else seems to have moved on, though, if belatedly. As Michelle Obama said on Thursday, “This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. And it doesn't matter what party you belong to — Democrat, Republican, Independent — no woman deserves to be treated this way.
“None of us deserves this kind of abuse.”