It was something to behold.
The rarely seen spouse of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump sat down for an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper that aired Monday night. Melania Trump remained undeniably poised, expertly coiffed, calm and clear about her own views of the state of the presidential campaign, what precisely her husband has and has not done and the meaning of what Trump was caught saying on tape.
But, much like the bulk of Donald Trump’s general-election efforts thus far, there was little that Melania Trump said that will likely help to broaden Trump’s base and convince groups of sorely needed voters that it makes perfect sense to vote for Trump. The fundamental takeaway from Melania Trump’s big sit-down is where she places the blame for the difficulties swirling around her family and her husband’s campaign. It seems that Donald Trump’s name sits somewhere way, way down Melania Trump’s blame list, if his name is there at all.
Melania Trump’s blameworthy list was long: the mainstream media, former “Access Hollywood” and “Today” show host Billy Bush, the Clinton campaign and its various unnamed conspirators, dirty words, live microphones, and the nature of boys and boyish men nearing their golden years. But perhaps the most notable of Melania Trump’s list — the moment where she managed to highlight another point of cleavage between those who continue to support Trump and those who do not — came when she mentioned apropos of nothing that women frequently throw themselves at her husband. Melania Trump mentioned that she has seen women offer or give her husband their phone numbers although they were well aware that he is a married man.
Ummm. What was Melania saying there?
Women so frequently throw themselves at Donald Trump that he’s lost sight of the fact that their interest does not extend to all of womankind or imply universal consent? Was she saying that the women who have accused her husband of forcibly kissing, touching or grabbing intimate parts of their bodies may have first come on to Donald Trump or simply rank among the spurned women who have tried to steal her man?
It’s hard to say definitively since Cooper did not ask in the footage aired, nor did he inquire about what made the existence of women in the world who hit on Donald Trump germane.
Here is the thing. In denying the allegations made against him by at least 10 women, Trump has, himself, run through a list of problematic counterclaims and accusations that to 67 percent of Americans have not registered as convincing, according to a Washington Post-ABC News October poll. He’s said that the women are not telling the truth. He’s said they are motivated to lie by the pursuit of fortune or fame. He’s implied that his accusers simply are not attractive enough to merit his sexual attention. He’s said that the whole of the media is conspiring against him. And on Monday night, Melania Trump came along and rounded out the set of defenses against allegations of sexual harassment and assault last widely acceptable when women like Betty Draper, of the “Mad Men” early years, roamed the earth en masse.
The Trumps — yes, both Donald and Melania Trump — have now run through many of the reasons that victims of sexual assault, rape and sexual harassment have repeatedly told researchers that they did not report to authorities the things said and done to them. From the National Institute of Justice:
The majority of sexual assaults are not reported to the authorities.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that the majority of rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated against women and girls in the United States between 1992 and 2000 were not reported to the police. Only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assaults were reported. Reasons for not reporting assault vary among individuals, but one study identified the following as common:
Self-blame or guilt.
Shame, embarrassment, or desire to keep the assault a private matter.
Humiliation or fear of the perpetrator or other individual’s perceptions.
Fear of not being believed or of being accused of playing a role in the crime.
Lack of trust in the criminal justice system.
It’s worth noting that some of the things that the Trumps have said in defense of Trump also rank among the things that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said in the 1990s when her husband was the frequent target of allegations of infidelity, sexual assault and rape. But the challenge that the Trump campaign faces now is that this is not the 1990s.
This is a time in American culture when large shares of women of all races, people of color of both genders, non-Christians, immigrants and others whom the Trump campaign has directly attacked and often offended with its vision of how to make America great again, already were not planning to vote for Trump. And these Americans, long more likely to vote for Democrats, make up such a large share of the electorate that it is nearly impossible to win without gaining a larger slice of their support than Trump has ever had. But a series of polls released this weekend indicate that the Trumps’ explanations, which can most politely be described as retro, are no longer the sort of thing that large shares of the Republican Party faithful readily and fully accept either.
It’s just no coincidence that today the Clinton campaign has acknowledged that the campaign will spend precious advertising dollars putting ads on the air in states that have long been red.