By Lisa Keen
It was a 90-minute debate overshadowed by the urgency of the Republican presidential nominee’s need to triage a political hemorrhage caused by the release on Friday of a videotape showing him bragging about his sexual aggressions towards women. But near the end, one especially important point came through of interest to LGBT viewers.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would, in selecting a U.S. Supreme Court nominee, made it a priority to choose someone who would “stick with marriage equality.” Republican nominee Donald Trump would appoint a nominee “very much in the mode of Justice Scalia,” perhaps the most hostile justice to LGBT equality ever to sit on the nation’s highest bench.
In a CNN instant poll, 57 percent of respondents said Clinton “won” the debate, 37 percent said Trump did. Many political commentators seemed to consider Sunday night’s town hall forum -the second of three debates between the two major party presidential candidates – a draw. Trump reiterated an apology for the sexually aggressive remarks he was videotaped making in 2005, then quickly claimed that Clinton should be ashamed of herself for criticizing him for those remarks. Instead, he said, Clinton should be ashamed that, as an attorney, she defended a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl and that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was accused of forcing himself on several women.
But the forum’s openly gay co-moderator, Anderson Cooper of CNN, asked Trump whether he understood that the things Trump said, on the videotape, that he did to women amounted to “sexual assault.”
“Do you understand that?” asked Cooper.
Trump did not answer the question but reiterated his apology for the remarks.
Cooper pressed him again, asking Trump whether he had ever tried to kiss women without their consent. Trump started to sidestep the question but, when Cooper asked it a third time, Trump finally said, “No, I have not.”
But during the debate, Trump seemed at times to illustrate his aggressiveness. While Clinton was speaking to a member of the audience, Trump positioned himself onstage behind her in ways that made it look like he was deliberately attempting to intimidate Clinton physically. He also turned to Clinton at one point and threatened that, if he becomes president, he would “instruct” his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate her deletion of thousands of emails from her private computer.
When Clinton responded, “It’s awfully good that someone with a temperament like Donald Trump is not president,” Trump interjected, “Because you’d be in jail.”
In a presidential election campaign that has defied all norms, predictions, and even wild expectations, political chaos has its hands firmly on the steering wheel for the next four weeks. But there is a growing consensus that an 11-year-old videotape, first made public by the Washington Post Friday evening, has knocked the proverbial wheels off Trump’s wagon and the candidate intends to hang on until he reaches the bottom.
The videotape was recorded in 2005 as Trump arrived on the set of a Hollywood entertainment news program, Access Hollywood. In that tape, Trump can be heard bragging about his treatment of women, saying he “moved on her like a bitch” in reference to a married woman whom he said he tried to “fuck” but “I couldn’t get there.” He also said he just starts kissing beautiful women – “I don’t even wait and when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Trump’s immediate comment on release of the videotape was: “This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course -not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.”
Many people were offended, including many in the upper echelons of the Republican Party. House Speaker Paul Ryan disinvited Trump to an event in Wisconsin, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said “No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called Trump’s videotaped statements “repugnant.” His vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, said he was “offended” by the remarks and “cannot defend them.” And former GOP presidential candidate Senator John McCain said he would not vote for Trump.
By Saturday, Republican leaders and strategists began calling for Trump to withdraw from the ticket. Some suggested Pence could take over as the party’s nominee. Most political observers described the party in “panic,” “crisis,” and complete disarray over how best to respond to the fallout over the tape.
Trump declared he would “never” withdraw from the campaign. He issued a second apology, via videotape, saying he’s never pretended to be a perfect person and that he regrets the comments he made on the 2005 video.
“I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize,” said Trump. He added that his travels on the campaign trail, meeting “grieving mothers” and workers who have lost their jobs, “changed me.”
“I pledge to be a better man tomorrow and will never, ever let you down.” He also said he planned to speak more in the future about how former President Bill Clinton “has actually abused women” and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has “bullied, attacked, shamed, and intimidated his victims.”
Gay conservative Christopher Barron, who organized LGBT support for Trump during the Republican convention, said “I support Trump 100 percent,” when asked his reaction to the Trump videotape. Log Cabin Republican national President Gregory Angelo said his group posted this statement on Facebook and Twitter: “There is a moral obligation inherent to conservatism, and it demands that ALL women-straight, gay, bisexual, transgender – be treated with respect.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s efforts to mitigate the fallout around the videotape released Friday may now depend on whether any more videotapes, audiotapes, and other evidence emerge with similar or even more unflattering illustrations of his character. CNN posted an audiotape Sunday from an interview of Trump by shock talk radio host Howard Stern. In that tape, Trump acknowledges that, as owner of a Miss Universe beauty pageant, he went backstage when “everyone is getting dressed.”
“I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it….You know, they’re standing there with no clothes…And so I sort of get away with things like that.” He said he lost his virginity at 14 to a “hot little girl in high school or grammar school or whatever.”