GOP must speak out over Trump's sexism

Story highlights

  • Tara Setmayer: Fallout from Donald Trump's candidacy has implications far greater than just losing elections
  • There's still an opportunity for my fellow Republican brethren to stand up and reject Trump's ilk, she says

Tara Setmayer, a CNN political commentator, is former communications director for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California. Follow her on Twitter @tarasetmayer. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)What happens when "it's just talk" becomes actions? That's the question now facing the campaign of Donald Trump, his supporters and the Republican Party as a growing number of women have come forward with accusations of sexual misconduct by Mr. Trump.

Emboldened by Trump's denial during the second presidential debate of ever engaging in the behavior he bragged about in the now infamous "Access Hollywood" hot mic video, numerous women have gone public with their allegations of how Trump did in fact do more than just "talk" about groping women against their will.
    Trump's litany of offenses against women isn't new -- it has dogged his campaign since his spat with Fox News' Megyn Kelly after she had the audacity to ask him to explain his own disparaging words toward women during the first primary debate last year.
    Tara Setmayer
    For over a year, Trump's most loyal apologists have been out in full force, rationalizing his past comments as just "entertainment" or more recently as simple "locker room banter," as if those are somehow acceptable excuses for blatant misogyny or perhaps outright sexual assault. They aren't.
    Unsurprisingly, Trump is not contrite. Instead he's on a tear, threatening his accusers, the media and anyone else who would dare challenge his treatment of women over the years, despite the growing chorus of claims that Trump has a predilection for sexually predatory and demeaning behavior toward women. Trump's pathetic attempt at playing the victim strains credulity.
    Besides the groping, newly uncovered videos show Trump bragging about waltzing in on half-naked contestants to "inspect" the beauty pageant, which included some contestants allegedly as young as 15, because, as the owner, he just could. Some former contestants have confirmed Trump did do this, and have expressed how uncomfortable it made them.
    That's not to mention the various interviews where he disturbingly objectifies his own daughter. (Apparently he doesn't have a problem doing the same to a young girl in a newly released video from CBS or a 12-year-old Paris Hilton) I don't know too many fathers who joke about dating their daughters, or rave about how voluptuous their breasts are or allow another man to call their daughter some "piece of ass."
    When the "Access Hollywood" tape went public, you could hear the collective gasps across the country, especially from GOP elected officials who rightfully feared they would be saddled with Trump's latest transgressions as they face re-election. Many said they've had it and withdrew their support for the Republican nominee. Alarmingly for the GOP, not nearly enough of them did.
    House Speaker Paul Ryan faced a backlash when he told members this week that he would no longer defend Trump and gave them a free pass to distance themselves from the nominee if need be to protect their seats. But Trump's antics have now put the GOP House majority in jeopardy. Recent polling shows Democrats up from 3 points to 10 points over Republicans on generic congressional ballots.
    Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, on the other hand, reiterated the party's full backing of Trump's candidacy despite his indefensible treatment of women (among other GOP policy apostasies). Principles and morality be damned.
    This is a huge mistake for the GOP and here's why:
    Even though Mitt Romney won college-educated white women by 6% in 2012, the GOP has had its challenges appealing to women overall. The impact of the women's vote is significant. Women make up 51% of the population and consistently vote at higher rates than men. Despite efforts to reach out to women on policy issues that appeal to them, like the economy, health care and national security, the GOP still nominated a sexist who threatens to irreparably harm the GOP brand with women voters. Trump's unfavorability among women is at historic levels and continues to crater. He's even losing college-educated women by significant margins to Hillary Clinton.
    The fallout from Trump's candidacy has implications far greater than just losing elections -- it challenges the moral fiber of the party. It challenges the GOP's identity moving forward. Our children are watching. How do we explain to little girls the support for a presidential candidate who disparages women without remorse? Words matter.
    Vice presidential candidate Mike Pence was recently asked a similar question during a local news interview in Ohio. The reporter explained how a group of Girl Scouts recently visited the TV station and an 11-year-girl said Trump's comments about women made her feel bad about herself when she looked in the mirror.
    Pence's response was astonishing. Instead of showing empathy and encouragement for that little girl, he pivoted to a canned rant about Hillary Clinton's "feckless foreign policy." Wrong answer.
    This is why Republicans will continue to lose national elections. Anything short of an unqualified rebuke of Trump's sexism is a tacit acceptance that abhorrent, victim shaming and potentially criminal behavior toward women is no longer disqualifying.
    During an impassioned campaign stop this week, first lady Michelle Obama said, "the belief you can do anything you want to a woman is cruel, it's frightening and it's hurts.
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    "This is not normal or politics as usual. It doesn't matter what party you belong to, Democrat or Republican. No woman deserves to be treated that way."
    She is 100% correct. Common decency knows no partisanship.
    The GOP's embrace of Trump is normalizing behavior we once rightfully condemned. The result could be as devastating for the GOP with women as the Southern Strategy was with African-Africans.
    There's still an opportunity for my fellow Republican brethren to stand up, reject Trump's ilk and live to fight another day. But those who chose to remain loyal to Trump do so at their own peril.