Question for Republicans: If you believe the women now, why didn’t you believe the women then?
Specifically, if you believe the women accusing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, why did you ignore the women who accused presidential candidate Donald Trump? If you’re troubled by Moore’s alleged behavior, why were you so nonchalant about Trump’s?
Since the Harvey Weinstein story broke almost six weeks ago, the matter of Trump’s conduct has been festering beneath the surface of most public discussion. Indeed, Trump’s reported behavior is more like that of Weinstein than Moore. Both businessmen were accused of using their power in the marketplace to obtain — or coerce, especially in Weinstein’s case — sexual favors.
By contrast, notwithstanding Trump’s creepy interest in barging into beauty-pageant dressing rooms to ogle young contestants and his even creepier comments about dating his own daughter, Trump, unlike Moore, faces no allegations of improperly pursuing teenagers, including those beneath the age of consent. Trump’s alleged conduct is unacceptable; Moore’s is even more appalling.
But the Trump-Moore comparison is unavoidable, painful as this may be for Republicans and, even more, for the White House. In both cases, Republican candidates stand accused of sexual misconduct. In Moore’s, a growing chorus of Senate Republicans have chosen to believe the women — and with good reason. The similarity of their accounts, the absence of evident partisan or other improper motive, and the existence of contemporaneous corroboration all argue in favor of their credibility.
And in Trump’s case? Much the same. Consider the account of Kristin Anderson, who told the Washington Post that, at a Manhattan nightclub in the early 1990s, Trump reached under her skirt and touched her vagina through her underwear — much as Trump described behaving in the Access Hollywood tape.
Consider the account of former People magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff, who described how, while on a 2005 reporting trip to Mar-a-Lago to interview Trump and his then-pregnant wife, Trump "shut the door behind us … and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat."
Trump’s response, as characteristic as it was unconvincing, was the same as Moore’s: total denial. "Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign," he said in October 2016. "Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over."
Waiting on that one, too.
The Moore situation backs Republicans, and the Trump White House, into an even more uncomfortable corner.
As with the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991, the country is going through another national teach-in on the prevalence of sexual harassment and the systemic pressures on women to remain silent. Our collective understanding of the perniciousness of this behavior is greater than it was six weeks ago; our collective tolerance for it is, I believe, lower.
So what do Senate Republicans do now? Argue that Trump’s accusers are less believable than Moore’s? That doesn’t seem persuasive. Argue that Trump’s behavior wasn’t as bad? Perhaps, but, again, not the strongest argument in the wake of Republicans having condemned Weinstein et al.
Of course the most credible explanation is both obvious and unspeakable in public: Republicans can afford to throw Moore under the bus, as difficult as it would be to narrow their already-thin Senate majority. They could not risk losing the presidency, even if it meant electing Trump.
If Republicans as a whole are in a difficult spot, imagine the White House pickle. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with others in tow, has sided with Moore’s accusers. Having deployed the if-then approach with Moore — if he behaved as alleged, then he should withdraw — what does Trump now say? "I’m unconvinced, even if McConnell & Co. believe them"? Or, "Okay, I’m convinced, too," in which case the question arises: And so what about the women who accused you?
One last point, for the what-about-ists out there. Yes, there are serious questions about Bill Clinton’s behavior with women. I said they were fair game back in the campaign, when he was deployed as a chief surrogate for Hillary Clinton and she was complaining about Trump’s "penchant for sexism."
But now, give it a rest. Bill Clinton is not the president. Hillary Clinton is not the president. Trump is. He’s the one whose conduct, present and past, remains relevant, and for which he and his party should finally be held to account.
© 2017 Washington Post Writers Group