On Monday morning, a trio of women – Rachel Crooks, Samantha Holvey and Jessica Leeds – went on Megyn Kelly’s NBC show to reiterate allegations of sexual misconduct against President Donald Trump that they first aired during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“We’re private citizens and for us to put ourselves out there to try to show America who this man is and especially how he views women and for them to say, we don’t care … it hurt,” Holvey told Kelly about how the allegations against Trump were handled during the 2016 campaign. “It’s just like, all right, let’s try round two. The environment’s different. Let’s try again.”
Kelly read a statement from the White House responding to the allegations.
“These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year’s campaign, and the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory,” according to the White House. The statement dismissed the allegations as part of a “publicity tour” and said they were driven by “political motives.”
The environment today is very different from even a year ago. Beginning with movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and continuing all the way through this morning’s revelations regarding celebrity chef Mario Batali, the culture has been rocked by a seemingly unending series of allegations – and, in many cases, admissions – of boorish and potentially criminal behavior by men toward women.
The #metoo movement forced the resignations of three members of Congress – Reps. Trent Franks, the Arizona Republican and John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat; as well as Sen. Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat – in the last week alone. And on Tuesday, Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican Senate nominee, will face voters after more than a month of coverage of allegations regarding his pursuit of teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Moore has denied all of the allegations.
Into this maelstrom comes this re-examination of the allegations against Trump – and the President’s response to them.
Remember that in the wake of the “Access Hollywood” tape – in which Trump tells host Billy Bush that when you are rich, you can do whatever you want to women – more than a dozen women came forward alleging that Trump had sexually harassed them or behaved inappropriately toward them. (At least 13 women have come forward with accusations about Trump; The Washington Post details who they are, and what they are alleging, here.)
During the campaign, Trump was broadly dismissive of all the allegations – and the women making them.
“As you have seen, I am a victim of one of the great political smear campaigns in the history of our country,” Trump said at a North Carolina rally in mid-October 2016. “They are coming after me to try and destroy what is considered by even them the greatest movement in the history of our country.”
Since winning the White House, Trump has largely avoided the topic. But, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has, on several occasions, made clear that the official administration position is that all of the women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment are lying.
Just last month, Sanders said this under questioning about the allegations: “Look, I think that this was covered pretty extensively during the campaign. We addressed that then. The American people, I think, spoke very loud and clear when they elected this President.” (Sidebar: The election was not and is not an affirmation of Trump’s innocence.)
That rhetoric may not suffice in the current political and cultural environment.
Not only have several of Trump’ s accusers re-emerged to make the same claims they did before the election, but there are increasing signs that the President won’t be able to simply dismiss the claims this time around.
“Women who accuse anyone should be heard,” said US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “They should be heard and they should be dealt with. And I think we heard from them prior to the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.”
Those comments by Haley represent a major chink in the Trump defense on these allegations. If one of the most prominent women in Trump’s orbit thinks these allegations should be given a hearing, it makes it very difficult for Trump (or Sanders) to cast this all as a some sort of partisan witch hunt by Democrats bitter about having lost the election.
Then there are the calls by Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Jeff Merkley of Oregon for Trump to resign from office due to these accusations. My guess is more Democratic senators sign onto that movement in the coming days – seeing no downside to being identified as vehemently anti-Trump by the party base.
Here’s the thing: Trump isn’t going to resign. And the idea he is on the verge of impeachment is also far-fetched.
But what the reemergence of Trump’s accusers, the Haley comments and the overall culture at the moment seem likely to do is force Trump’s hand to go beyond his original statements on his accusers.