Why not be­lieve Trump’s ac­cusers?

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - OPINION - Ruth Mar­cus’ email ad­dress is ruth­mar­cus@wash­post.com.

Ques­tion for Repub­li­cans: If you be­lieve the women now, why didn’t you be­lieve the women then?

Specif­i­cally, if you be­lieve the women ac­cus­ing Alabama Se­nate can­di­date Roy Moore, why did you ig­nore the women who ac­cused pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump? If you’re trou­bled by Moore’s al­leged be­hav­ior, why were you so non­cha­lant about Trump’s? I’m wait­ing. Since the Har­vey We­in­stein story broke al­most six weeks ago, the mat­ter of Trump’s con­duct has been fes­ter­ing be­neath the sur­face of most pub­lic dis­cus­sion. In­deed, Trump’s re­ported be­hav­ior is more like that of We­in­stein than Moore. Both busi­ness­men were ac­cused of us­ing their power in the mar­ket­place to ob­tain — or co­erce, es­pe­cially in We­in­stein’s case — sex­ual fa­vors.

By con­trast, not­with­stand­ing Trump’s creepy in­ter­est in barg­ing into beauty-pageant dress­ing rooms to ogle young con­tes­tants and his even creepier com­ments about dat­ing his own daugh­ter, Trump, un­like Moore, faces no al­le­ga­tions of im­prop­erly pur­su­ing teenagers, in­clud­ing those be­neath the age of con­sent. Trump’s al­leged con­duct is un­ac­cept­able; Moore’s is even more ap­palling.

But the Trump-Moore com­par­i­son is un­avoid­able, painful as this may be for Repub­li­cans and, even more, for the White House. In both cases, Repub­li­can can­di­dates stand ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct. In Moore’s, a grow­ing cho­rus of Se­nate Repub­li­cans have cho­sen to be­lieve the women — and with good rea­son. The sim­i­lar­ity of their ac­counts, the ab­sence of ev­i­dent par­ti­san or other im­proper mo­tive, and the ex­is­tence of con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous cor­rob­o­ra­tion all ar­gue in fa­vor of their cred­i­bil­ity.

And in Trump’s case? Much the same. Con­sider the ac­count of Kristin An­der­son, who told The Wash­ing­ton Post that, at a Man­hat­tan night­club in the early 1990s, Trump reached un­der her skirt and touched her vag­ina through her un­der­wear — much as Trump de­scribed be­hav­ing in the “Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood” tape.

Con­sider the ac­count of for­mer Peo­ple mag­a­zine re­porter Natasha Stoynoff, who de­scribed how, while on a 2005 re­port­ing trip to Mar-a-Lago to in­ter­view Trump and his then-preg­nant wife, Trump “shut the door be­hind us ... and within sec­onds he was push­ing me against the wall and forc­ing his tongue down my throat.”

Trump’s re­sponse, as char­ac­ter­is­tic as it was un­con­vinc­ing, was the same as Moore’s: to­tal de­nial. “Ev­ery woman lied when they came for­ward to hurt my cam­paign,” he said in Oc­to­ber 2016. “To­tal fab­ri­ca­tion. The events never hap­pened. Never. All of these liars will be sued af­ter the elec­tion is over.” Wait­ing on that one, too. The Moore sit­u­a­tion backs Repub­li­cans, and the Trump White House, into an even more un­com­fort­able corner.

As with the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hear­ings in 1991, the coun­try is go­ing through an­other na­tional teach-in on the preva­lence of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and the sys­temic pres­sures on women to re­main silent. Our col­lec­tive un­der­stand­ing of the per­ni­cious­ness of this be­hav­ior is greater than it was six weeks ago; our col­lec­tive tol­er­ance for it is, I be­lieve, lower.

So what do Se­nate Repub­li­cans do now? Ar­gue that Trump’s ac­cusers are less be­liev­able than Moore’s? That doesn’t seem per­sua­sive. Ar­gue that Trump’s be­hav­ior wasn’t as bad? Per­haps, but, again, not the strong­est ar­gu­ment in the wake of Repub­li­cans hav­ing con­demned We­in­stein et al.

Of course the most cred­i­ble ex­pla­na­tion is both ob­vi­ous and un­speak­able in pub­lic: Repub­li­cans can af­ford to throw Moore un­der the bus, as dif­fi­cult as it would be to nar­row their al­ready-thin Se­nate ma­jor­ity. They could not risk los­ing the pres­i­dency, even if it meant elect­ing Trump.

If Repub­li­cans as a whole are in a dif­fi­cult spot, imag­ine the White House pickle. Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, with oth­ers in tow, has sided with Moore’s ac­cusers. Hav­ing de­ployed the if-then ap­proach with Moore — if he be­haved as al­leged, then he should with­draw — what does Trump now say? “I’m un­con­vinced, even if McCon­nell & Co be­lieve them”? Or, “OK, I’m con­vinced, too,” in which case the ques­tion arises: And so what about the women who ac­cused you?

One last point, for the whatabout-ists out there. Yes, there are se­ri­ous ques­tions about Bill Clin­ton’s be­hav­ior with women. I said they were fair game back in the cam­paign, when he was de­ployed as a chief sur­ro­gate for Hil­lary Clin­ton and she was com­plain­ing about Trump’s “pen­chant for sex­ism.”

But now, give it a rest. Bill Clin­ton is not the pres­i­dent. Hil­lary Clin­ton is not the pres­i­dent. Trump is. He’s the one whose con­duct, present and past, re­mains rel­e­vant, and for which he and his party should fi­nally be held to ac­count.

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