Do Congressional Republicans Know Women Can Vote?

Do Congressional Republicans Know Women Can Vote?
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Do Congressional Republicans Know Women Can Vote?
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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The White House created, then exacerbated, a debacle by retaining staff secretary Rob Porter, protecting him, and lying about him. Save for a few lone voices, Republicans think it's no big deal.

How else to explain that not even a handful of GOP lawmakers have spoken out against the fact that the White House employed an alleged wife beater, hasn’t told the nation the truth about just how and why he stayed on staff so long, and the president himself won’t disavow physical abuse in his own words?

The pictures have been public for a week of Colbie Holderness’ deeply bruised face, and accounts from three women, including two ex-wives, have detailed the same emotional or physical abuse at his hands. Yet leaders in the Republican Party -- including a woman who runs the Republican National Committee -- refuse to speak out. They did after President Trump equated racist demonstrators in Charlottesville with the people they tormented, and when he recently called some nations “s---holes,” but the black eye photographs seem to have gone into the black hole of tribalism, or sexism or something else inexplicable and disgusting.

Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy was the first of the few Republicans to have guts enough to say -- as soon as the story broke -- “If you want to serve the public, particularly as a member of a president's staff, I don't care who you are, even if you're a Rhodes scholar, you can't beat the hell out of your spouse.”

Asked about it on CNN Monday when appearing to discuss immigration, Rep. Carlos Curbelo said that while everyone has the right to defend themselves against accusations, “that doesn’t mean we ignore the pain and the suffering of the victims of domestic abuse, which is very real and very serious.”

On Tuesday, six days in to the story, Sen. Joni Ernst said abuse is never OK, and “we need to send a very clear signal that it will never be tolerated,” adding that “President Trump needs to send a stronger message … come out a little bit stronger on that.”

It’s not like the pictures and accounts were the only problem. Trump has made the story far worse. When reporters were invited in the Oval Office to question the president about this on Friday, he didn’t mention any of the victims, only his hope that Porter would go on to a great career, that it was sad and he wished him well. He made a point of noting Porter “says he’s innocent,” which prompted the former aide’s second wife to write a column in Time the next day describing how her friend, watching it all unfold on live television with her, turned and said, “The president of the United States just called you a liar.”

The next morning, as criticism mounted, Trump dug in, tweeting: “People’s lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused - life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”

Someone in the White House realized just how much more toxic the president was making the situation, and Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, hit the Sunday shows to mitigate the damage by touting positive economic news for women during the Trump presidency and adding that her boss frequently comes to the aid of women “privately.” She did concede she had “no reason not to believe” Porter’s ex-wives.

On Monday Sarah Huckabee Sanders was sent to the podium to robotically repeat that the administration takes domestic violence “seriously” but also to note that everyone is entitled to due process. She stressed that she spoke for the president about how seriously he takes the issue, but when asked why he wouldn’t say so -- or tweet so -- himself, she told reporters he had “dictated” those very words to her. On Tuesday Trump refused to answer shouted questions about whether he believes Porter’s ex-wives.

Republicans shouldn’t wait for the president to speak first. Trump, who was recorded bragging about assaulting women and has faced allegations from more than a dozen women, has had plenty to say in defense of men accused of everything from sexual harassment to sexual assault to child predation to hitting their wife in the face. Most of the time “it’s sad,” or the man (like Bill O’Reilly) is nice or good, or it’s unfair since the accused (like Roger Ailes) had also “helped” his accusers, or (like Roy Moore) “he totally denies it.” 

We are long past the unapologetic misogyny of President Trump or the hypocrisy of his evangelical supporters. But GOP lawmakers will be trying to lose seats if they galvanize women against them with their complicity on this issue. Sure, the tax reform bill seems to have curbed the Democratic wave’s velocity during the last four weeks, but the threat to the GOP majority remains.

Even among the rock-solid base Trump has enjoyed from the start, support has begun to erode among a core constituency: white women without a college degree who helped him win the Rust Belt. His support among this group has dropped dramatically in some places -- by 18 percentage points in Ohio and 19 in Wisconsin and Minnesota -- Ron Brownstein noted in The Atlantic.

Trump’s former chief strategist and now banished adviser, Steve Bannon, is worried Oprah Winfrey could campaign for Democrats in the midterms and become an existential threat to Trump’s presidency. While watching the Golden Globes with “Devil's Bargain” author Joshua Green, Bannon told him that the backlash from women and the #MeToo movement is “more powerful than populism,” and that nothing will ever be the same again. “You watch. The time has come,” he said. “Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch. This is a definitional moment in the culture.”

Republicans under the influence of Trump have been criticized for embracing debt and lying and attacking the free press and failing to insist the president enforce the sanctions against Russia that Congress passed overwhelmingly, and for joining a Trump-allied campaign to impugn the Department of Justice and the FBI. It cannot be too much to ask that they condemn domestic violence.

If Hillary Clinton were president, and were employing a wife beater with an interim security clearance, the GOP would bring the nation’s capital to a standstill. With daughters and wives, mothers and sisters, Republicans who cry foul over the behavior of Harvey Weinstein can’t seem to call out Porter for hitting his wife in the face.

Shame on them all.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. 

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