Mike Pence has denounced his running mate. Kellyanne Conway is literally running away from the press. Dozens of prominent Republicans have either withdrawn their support or called for their candidate to drop out of the race. But there are still a few brave souls willing to defend Donald Trump in public.
You can find them on cable news, especially on CNN, which has made the audio of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting random women its latest wall-to-wall story since it was leaked to the Washington Post on Friday afternoon. The channel that Trump has taken to calling the “Clinton News Network” has made an effort to represent his side throughout its ongoing coverage of the story, and somehow has not had much trouble finding surrogates, including several women, eager to defend their man.
It started early in the evening on Friday when Trump’s former campaign manager-turned-paid media booster Corey Lewandowski tried to explain away the comments as just more speaking “from the heart,” claiming that “fucking” women and grabbing “pussy” is how “people talk around their dining room table.”
But while there was nothing particularly surprising about an accused abuser of women like Lewandowski—or Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who called Trump’s words “crude guy talk”—dismissing the candidate’s behavior, there was something more unnerving about watching Trump’s army of female surrogates rushing to rationalize his most disgusting display of misogyny yet.
In primetime, CNN welcomed both Kayleigh McEnany and Scottie Nell Hughes, who have spent the last year and a half taking Trump’s side in countless cable news showdowns, and asked them, ‘how do you defend this?’ While both women called Trump’s comments “inexcusable” they stressed that the words were not unforgivable. Instead of holding Trump accountable, Hughes laid equal blame on pop culture and rap music and tried to pivot the conversation to the Wikileaks release of excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street speeches.
More than four hours later, Trump had finally released his 90 second taped video “apology” during which he again claimed that the Clintons have done far worse to women that he has. When the video ended, Hughes was still on CNN and still excusing her candidate’s behavior. As longtime #NeverTrump-er Ana Navarro once again denounced Trump’s “disgusting” behavior, Hughes looked like she might be about to break down.
“Every single Republican is going to have to answer the question, ‘what did you do the day you saw the tape of this man boasting about grabbing a woman’s pussy?’” Navarro asked. That last word went un-bleeped, as it had throughout the night, during the live broadcast.
At that moment, even though it was nearly 1 a.m. on the East Coast, Hughes asked Navarro to stop saying that word because her daughter was watching. “Don’t tell me you’re offended when I say ‘pussy’ but you’re not offended when Donald Trump says it!” Navarro shot back.
On Saturday, as more and more Republicans continued to run away from Trump, more of his defenders came out of the woodwork for damage control. Former GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has been out the spotlight since she quit Congress two years ago, emerged to accuse the Clinton campaign of orchestrating the tape’s release in an attempt to “manipulate the media” despite all evidence to the contrary.
Later, conservative radio host Stacy Washington laid blame on a culture, from hip hop to Hollywood, that has “allowed women to be degraded on a daily basis.” But instead of that being an argument against Trump, she was using it as an excuse for his admittedly “disgusting” behavior.
Shouldn’t there be a “different standard” for someone who wants to be president of the United States, host Fredricka Whitfield wanted to know? “Since Bill Clinton, we’ve seen a steady degradation of what we expect from our public officials,” Washington replied. Like Trump, she seemed be saying, Hillary Clinton’s husband did some unsavory things too, so we should give the Republican a pass.
By Saturday evening, McEnany was laughing off the idea that Trump could ever do something bad enough to lose her support alongside perennial Trump boosters Jeffrey Lord and Andy Dean. She even applauded Trump’s response, saying he “rose to the occasion” with his perfunctory video apology. She was looking forward to a “heartfelt” moment during Sunday’s debate in which she predicted he will “connect” with the American people in a meaningful way. She may have to keep waiting.
These are people who were virtually unknown before Trump launched his bid for the presidency and have now achieved some modicum of fame, at least in the incestuous world of political news. They aren’t about to give that up just because the man they’ve pledged their lives to once said some things are currently giving America collective nausea. Like Trump, they are in too deep. Quitting now would go against their politically-incorrect-at-all-costs brand. Common decency be damned!
But one woman who at least thinks she may still have time to save herself is Trump’s current defender-in-chief Kellyanne Conway. The prolific tweeter has been silent on Twitter for more than 24 hours. And while she was scheduled to appear on the relatively-friendly Fox News Sunday this weekend, the campaign has just announced that she will be replaced by Rudy Giuliani.
And as we learned last week, Giuliani will defend Trump for literally anything. If losing a billion dollars in the casino business is “genius,” one can only imagine how he will describe boasts of sexual assault.