WASHINGTON — It could have been another #MeToo moment, but this time the powerful man accused of unwanted and sexually aggressive behavior fired back, and got away with it.
“Another False Accusation,” President Trump tweeted Tuesday about a woman who said he forcibly kissed her at Trump Tower in 2006. “Why doesn’t [the media] report the story of the women taking money to make up stories about me?”
Perhaps alone among the dozens of men in the worlds of entertainment, media, and politics who have been accused of sexual assault and harassment, America’s president is getting away with being unapologetic and defiant about the raft of allegations against him.
In the era of #MeToo, the social movement that has brought the treatment of women in the workplace to the forefront of the country’s consciousness, Trump’s behavior would be fireable and career-ruining for most CEOs or celebrities, according to experts. But as Trump paints his accusers as liars conspiring with the media, his behavior goes unchecked by virtue of his Oval Office power and a Republican Party that increasingly has invested in his success. If there is a moment of accountability, it may not come until November’s midterm congressional elections, said GOP consultants.
Nineteen women have accused Trump of unwanted physical contact stretching back decades, and the president has responded by not only denying the allegations but attacking some of the women in vicious terms — suggesting that they were paid or that they’re seeking fame.
Among the 19 are Trump’s first wife, Ivana, who accused him in 1993 of rape and domestic assault during a court deposition in a divorce proceeding. Trump has repeatedly denied the allegation.
Another woman, Summer Zervos, said Trump groped and thrust his genitals against her during a meeting in 2007. Zervos has now sued Trump for defamation after he said she lied about the allegations.
White House officials have repeatedly said Trump’s electoral victory in November 2016 is proof that voters did not believe the slew of sexual misconduct allegations made against the now-president. During the days of the presidential campaign when several women went public with their stories of assaultive behavior by Trump, the real estate mogul suggested to audiences that his accusers were too ugly to be believed.
“Yeah, I’m gonna go after her,” Trump said sarcastically at a rally in Greensboro, N.C., in October 2016, responding to an allegation of assault made by a former magazine writer named Natasha Stoynoff. “Believe me, she would not be my first choice. That I can tell you. You don’t know. That would not be my first choice.”
For this story, nearly every Republican lawmaker contacted did not respond, including several Republican women who have voiced support for the #MeToo movement.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington representative, sent a statement through a spokeswoman but did not speak about Trump or the White House by name.
“No one should be afraid to speak up and share their story,” said spokeswoman Olivia Hnat, Rodgers “believes every accusation of harassment deserves its due attention and should be taken seriously, whether it is in Hollywood, in the media, in government, or in the congressional workplace.”
Senator Susan Collins of Maine expressed “concerns’’ about the allegations but stopped well short of a condemnation.
“Senator Collins shares the concerns raised by many about President Trump’s treatment of women and expressed these concerns before and after the election,” her office said in a statement.
‘We’re going to pay the price for this on Election Day. We’re losing independent women, professional women, young millennial women.’Jennifer Horn, former chair of N.H. Republican Party
Unlike other prominent men accused of sexual misconduct, Trump is the standard bearer for a political party and the conservative ideology more broadly, said Jerri Ann Henry, a Republican strategist and director at APCO Worldwide, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.
Attacks on the president feel personal for many GOP voters because they have a vested interested in his success.
“If he were anybody else, it would be different,” Henry said. “The American public is already so jaded when it comes to elected officials, that telling them that an elected official did something bad isn’t a surprise anymore.”
Jennifer Horn, the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party, said she thinks the backlash is merely being delayed. While Trump may seem as if he’s not experiencing any consequences from his divisive comments disparaging the women who accused him of sexual assault, Horn said, the response will come at the ballot box.
“We’re going to pay the price for this on Election Day,” Horn said. “We’re losing independent women, professional women, young millennial women — just go through the demographics.”
She pointed to several warning signs. Gallup poll numbers at the end of 2017 showed fewer people were identifying as Republicans in the Trump era, an exodus that’s largely being driven by women. Women approve of Trump at a rate 12 points less than men, which is the largest gap in Gallup’s recorded history of tracking presidential candidates. A February Gallup survey showed the president with cratering numbers among women in the Rust Belt states.
“I’m not sure the president understands the damage that he’s doing,” Horn said.
Some pointed out how the accusations against Trump were distinct from those levied against other prominent men. Unlike other disgraced lawmakers, Trump has not had several settlements in cases alleging sexual assault, though there is the ongoing defamation case. Trump has been caught on tape verbally describing how he touched women’s genitals without their consent, but he has not been photographed or videotaped touching a women inappropriately, which led to the downfall of former Minnesota senator Al Franken.
Nita Chaudhary, the cofounder of UltraViolet, a grass-roots organization that fights sexism in government, suggests Trump’s brand is so connected to the idea that he is infallible, he has conditioned people to not even expect him to admit fault.
“There’s been a sense of accountability to some of the men accused; their movies got pulled or their companies dissolved, but Trump is sitting in the Oval Office,” Chaudhary said.
But Chaudhary also isolated another important factor in Trump’s response to sexual assault allegations: the relative silence of his fellow lawmakers. Congress was aghast when the photo of Franken was released or when women brought sexual misconduct allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, but few have brought up Trump’s alleged misconduct since his inauguration. In Capitol Hill hallways, Republican lawmakers avoid reporters’ questions about the allegations against Trump and feign ignorance regarding the president’s tweets on the matter.
For Congress, this is an almost unprecedented abdication of members’ responsibility to hold the president accountable, said Nancy Koehn, the Harvard historian who focuses on business and political leadership. She called the current political climate a “lose-lose-lose” for Trump, the Republican Party, and the country at large.
“It’s a dark day when you can’t look to the president of the United States for standards of conduct, not only around sexual behavior for sexual assault, but behavior in general,” Koehn said.
However, ever so quietly, some Republican women are beginning to voice their displeasure with their party’s silence on Trump’s alleged actions. When Trump tweeted a defense of men accused of domestic violence in February, Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa called the tweet “disappointing” and Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said it was a “difficult” time to be a Republican woman.
But Henry, the GOP strategist, wonders whether it is too late.
“People mention Republican women, but to be frank, there’s not many of those left,” Henry said. “If you look at the numbers, the Republican Party is shrinking, not growing. It was already a trend but Trump has put some nails in the coffins.”Astead W. Herndon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWesley.