Today, the Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna (nee Romney) McDaniel announced on Fox News that the party will not give up money donated by the party’s former finance chair Steve Wynn; not yet, anyway.
It’s hard to be a moral authority on sexual misconduct when President Donald Trump, the de facto party leader, stands accused of sexual misconduct by 19 women. It’s even harder when the party keeps making excuses for men credibly accused of sexual misconduct.
Wynn stands accused of sexually predatory behavior by dozens of low-level hotel and spa workers, in an investigation published last week by The Wall Street Journal. The RNC isn’t returning the money because Wynn has denied the allegations. They’re going to wait for “due process.”
Even for the party of the rich, this is rich. Recall just months ago when the Republican Party demanded Democrats immediately return Harvey Weinstein’s “dirty money.” Weinstein, like Wynn, denied many of the allegations against him. Weinstein, like Wynn, was eventually accused of sexual harassment and assault by dozens of women, disempowered women over whom the man exerted godlike professional control. There was no similar appeal to “due process” for Weinstein (nor should there have been).
Does sexual harassment only count if a Democrat does it? Do victims only matter if they were assaulted by a liberal? That certainly seems to be the message McDaniel’s sending, regardless of the legalese used to gloss up her points.
“Due process” shouldn’t be such a slippery term, but the months since sexual harassment silence-breaking has driven the news, it’s meant different things to different people. It’s a legal term when used as defined. Some use it as an appeal for some kind of undefined extrajudicial moral authority. It’s sometimes a cop-out for people who want to support the victims without condemning the perpetrators.
In the months since the Weinstein story broke, however, “due process” has also come to mean something more insidious. It means “lie low and just hope people forget about it and move on.”
It seems that’s what the RNC is hoping for in Wynn’s case, although Steve Wynn’s alleged crimes aren’t easily forgettable. The WSJ investigation found “a decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct,” up to and including sexual assault. Employees in the spa and salons in his hotels lived in fear of their boss, in fear of his German Shepherds, trained to respond to commands in German.
Wynn would force one employee to give him post-massage “happy endings”—sexual favors that the employee felt too intimidated to deny. Other employees told the Journal that they were similarly pressured. The Journal story recounts spa employees hiding when they knew Wynn was arriving, faking appointments so they’d be unavailable to be terrorized by Wynn. A trail of lawsuits and publicly available documents backs up claims made by employees; a lawsuit in the 1990s claimed that Wynn was then what employees are claiming he is now—a “chronic” sexual harasser of female employees.
It’s unclear whether an investigation (which the RNC isn’t conducting; Wynn Resorts board is) could come to another conclusion than the one the WSJ arrived at by interviewing 150 current and former employees about Wynn. It’s also not clear why the RNC is choosing to, in this case, be morally beholden to the board of a publicly held company that has a financial interest in exonerating Wynn.
It’s also unclear why the RNC accepted Wynn’s resignation as finance chair if they truly believed that they needed to await the results of an investigation to determine whether or not he was guilty.
Wynn has denied the allegations by saying they’re the work of a vengeful ex-wife, and today’s statement from the RNC chairwoman echoes that denial. If that were true, Elaine Wynn would have to be able to somehow travel back in time to the 1990s and engineer a lawsuit that resulted in a paid settlement, and then travel forward in time to the year 2018 and convince dozens of women to lie in similar ways about Steve Wynn’s predatory behavior as spelled out in the decades-old lawsuit. She’d have to coach them to lie in a way that fooled seasoned Wall Street Journal investigators. If Elaine Wynn were able to do what Steve Wynn is saying she did, then Elaine Wynn is better at messaging than political parties at their best. Perhaps Elaine Wynn should have been finance chair of the RNC.
Many Republicans are doing the right thing and unloading their Wynn donations. Sen. Ron Johnson gave $5,400 that Wynn gave him to a battered women’s shelter in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Sens. Heller and Portman also announced plans to donate Wynn funds. Paul Ryan is donating money that originated to a Wynn-associated business. The Republican Governors Association is returning $100,000 in donations from Wynn and has canceled plans to hold their 2020 convention in one of the billionaire’s resorts. But the total amount donated pales in comparison to the $2 million Wynn has given to Republican politicians since 2001.
There’s something particularly grotesque about the RNC’s response to the Wynn allegations. The strength of the #MeToo movement has been its pursuit of objective righteousness over political ideology. There are some things more important than party; rooting out and eradicating the systemic harassment of women is bigger than a single office, than a single donor. The only way progress can be made is if people across the political spectrum are able to approach the problem in good faith. There’s a reason that people in non-coastal America hate politicians. This is it.
The RNC’s response in this particular case is the opposite of good faith. It exposes the party’s past statements against sexual harassment as little more than political gamesmanship. The women who men like Wynn and Weinstein allegedly targeted had real lives that were disrupted by the predatory actions of powerful men.
But even from a purely strategic angle, the RNC’s decision to side with Wynn is a gamble. Less than two months ago, the RNC reinstated support for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who a Washington Post investigation revealed had a past of romantically pursuing and molesting teenage girls. Moore lost. The egg on the party’s face from that defeat has barely dried.
Every time the Republican Party sides with a man credibly accused of sexual misconduct over the word of women and the work of journalists, it further establishes itself as the party of morally empty opportunism—which is a feat in D.C., where many people exhibit shades of moral emptiness and opportunism. And all of the spin in the world can’t undo the fact that the RNC has backed Trump, Moore, and now, tepidly, Wynn.
It’s hard not to spot the pattern.