Donald Trump vowed Saturday that he will “never drop out” of the presidential race.
That means the Republican nominee has very little time to convince the nation that he deserves the honor of leading this great country. He can argue that the vulgar and predatory attitude he displayed toward women on a 2005 TV recording doesn’t reflect the true Trump. And he can claim that such reprehensible behavior shouldn’t matter in this race, as his most fervent supporters have said about his disparaging remarks toward Mexicans here illegally, people with disabilities, and war heroes and their families.
But conduct does matter. The dignity of the presidency matters.
In the 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording, made during a conversation with more than a half-dozen people on a bus, Trump, then 59 and recently wed, talks about trying to get a married woman to have sex with him, and failing. More damning statements follow when Trump brags about the sexual assaults he gets away with because of his power and fame.
“You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” Trump says. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” When TV host Billy Bush replies, “Whatever you want,” Trump says, “Grab ’em by the [genitals]. You can do anything.”
It’s that arrogant display of conquest, of objectifying women, that has former GOP presidential nominee and Arizona Sen. John McCain and other prominent Republicans saying they can no longer support Trump.
Other GOP leaders are saying Trump should leave the ticket in favor of Mike Pence, the vice presidential candidate and Indiana governor. A few say the party should concede the White House and concentrate on retaining majorities in Congress, a tough chore if conservative voters disgusted by Trump stay home on Nov. 8.
Pence, who has been Trump’s most dependable advocate, said of the video, “As a husband and father, I was offended by the words and actions described by Donald Trump in the 11-year-old video released yesterday. I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them.”
That’s right. Trump’s comments cannot be condoned or defended.
His first attempt at amends was worthless. In a statement on Friday in which he showed no remorse, he attacked former President Bill Clinton, the husband of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. “I apologize if anyone was offended,” Trump said of what he called “locker-room banter.”
His second effort wasn’t much better. In a video released late Friday, he talked about how traveling for his campaign has changed him. He apologized, but then called the situation “nothing more than a distraction.” And he made a veiled threat that he would continue to attack the Clintons at Sunday night’s debate.
But that second statement, in which Trump also said, “Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t represent who I am,” was important, because the evidence suggests the opposite, and we’ve all known that for quite some time.
Whether he’s calling women “pigs” or “dogs,” attacking the physical appearance of an opponent’s wife or telling Esquire magazine, “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass,” Trump consistently degrades women.
So why is this different?
Because while Trump’s insults of Rosie O’Donnell or Megyn Kelly were shocking and inappropriate, these powerful women were not assaulted and could respond. When Trump degraded beauty queen Alicia Machado over her weight, some could rationalize that the two were in a business relationship based on her appearance. But here Trump bragged about women who could not or would not stop his advances because of his power in a way that, if it were proved and he were elected, should require him to alert the neighbors about a sexual predator moving in at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
That’s not to say there aren’t many reasons to be critical of Hillary Clinton. Revelations Friday from leaked emails about her paid speeches to bankers showed that. We have parsed her considerable flaws before. We will again. But we will not do so in this editorial in a way that falsely equivocates political missteps and poor decisions with sexual predation or a vile contempt of more than 50 percent of the populace.
Trump has one month to make the argument that he has the character to be president, starting with Sunday night’s debate. GOP leaders and candidates can support him, or not, and pay whatever price the electorate and their consciences levy for either move.
But his abominable behavior toward women cannot be defended, justified or dismissed as irrelevant.