On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump was asked his thoughts on the departure of White House staff secretary Rob Porter amid a series of allegations of domestic abuse from his ex-wives.
“He says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that,” Trump replied. “He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent but you’ll have to talk to him about that.”
Remember that both of Porter’s ex-wives have come forward to insist he subjected them to physical and mental abuse in their relationships. A third woman, who said she dated Porter in 2016, reached out to Porter’s exes to confirm that she, too, had been abused by him. There is a picture of Porter’s first wife with a black eye; he has offered no alternative explanation for how that happened. Porter reached out to his second wife trying to moderate the language she used in a blog post describing Porter’s abuse (although not naming him).
This is not a he-said, she-said situation. It’s a he-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, the-picture-said situation. Along with Porter’s attempts to make the blog post less damaging to his career.
This is a familiar pattern for Trump. When a series of women came out during the 2016 campaign alleging that he has sexually abused them, he flatly denied it – insisting that all of the women were conspiring to hurt him for political reasons. When a series of women came forward and said that Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore had pursued physical relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was in his mid 30s, Trump defended his endorsement of Moore, saying: “He totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen.”
Of course, Trump’s view on the power of denials does not extend to his political opponents. Trump regularly insisted that Hillary Clinton should be jailed for her use of a private email server. Fired FBI Director James Comey is a liar and a criminal. Former FBI Director Andrew McCabe is corrupt. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner is in cahoots with the Russians. On and on and on.
The broader point here is that Trump simply does not believe in the idea that the President has to be a moral leader first and a political leader second.
From his comments about violence on “both sides” in the white supremacist riots in Charlottesville to his feud with the widow of a military veteran – and a dozen other examples over Trump’s first year in office – it’s clear that his first calculation, always, is “How does this affect me?”
While all presidents – and people – have self-interest somewhere in their mind when making decisions, the men who have held the job before Trump generally speaking sought to put the good of the country over what was good for them personally.
Trump does not do that. Never has. Never will.
In his mind, the Porter situation then isn’t a chance to seize the moral high ground and speak to the country about the issue of domestic abuse. It’s an opportunity to defend someone who is loyal to him and who – maybe just maybe despite all the facts to the contrary – is being skewered unfairly by a biased media jumping to conclusions. It’s also a necessity – because acknowledging that these allegations against Porter seem quite credible would be to re-open the legitimacy of all of the accusations made by women against Trump.
And so, Trump makes zero mention of the three women at the center of this whole thing – two of whom have come forward publicly to speak about the alleged abuse. His focus is entirely on Porter and the possibility that he just might not have dome these things.
“We certainly wish him well,” Trump said of Porter. “It’s obviously a very tough time for him. He did a very good job while he was in the White House. We hope that he will have a wonderful career.”
So. Tone. Deaf.
Why is the President of the United States wishing a man – who faces very credible accusations of beating at least three women – well? Why is the focus on Porter and not on the women? Who cares whether Porter will have a “wonderful career” at this point?
The answer to all of those questions is that to acknowledge any of this is bad for Donald Trump. And he simply does not do things that are bad for him. Whether or not they are the right thing to do.