On Friday, President Trump spoke to the press about ousted aide Rob Porter, who left the White House after two ex-wives accused him of spousal abuse and one provided a photo of herself with a black eye. Trump defended Porter, stating, “It was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly, he’s very sad now. As you probably know, he says he’s innocent. And I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, so you’ll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. Did a very good job while he was at the White House.”
For Trump, Porter’s denial is enough to allow him to wish Porter well. The same does not hold true for Omarosa, who isn’t accused of punching a woman in the eye, but who did say she wouldn’t vote for Trump in 2020. She got shellacked from the White House podium yesterday.
So, it seems that Trump’s standard of belief relies on the denial of the accused. But not always, obviously. Trump spent most of the 2016 election cycle chanting “Lock her up!” regarding Hillary Clinton, who was never charged with or convicted of a crime. He wasn’t wrong to believe that Hillary had committed criminal acts. But her denial wasn’t enough for him.
And, of course, Trump was in fine fettle with regard to the Central Park Five:
Denials are only enough in the realm of sexual abuse and assault, apparently. Back in 1992, Trump defended convicted rapist Mike Tyson, stating, “You have a young woman that was in his room, his hotel room late in the evening at her own will. You have a young woman who was seen dancing for the beauty contest, dancing with a big smile on her face, looked happy as could be.” He proposed no jail time for Tyson.
Trump used the Rob Porter excuse with Roy Moore as well, stating, “You have to listen to him also. … He totally denies it.” And way back when, Trump even defended Bill Clinton, calling his accusers “terrible” and “unattractive.”
But Trump’s rule regarding denials regarding sexual abuse cease to apply if he can attack his political opponents. So during the campaign, Trump held a campaign press conference with four accusers against Clinton; in open debate, he stated, “There’s never been anybody in the history of politics that has been so abusive to women.” Clinton, of course, denied such abuse.
Trump’s rule makes a good deal of practical sense: he’s been accused by a bevy of women of both sexual harassment and assault. He denies it. Therefore, he has to take everyone else’s denials at face value.
But suffice it to say that Trump’s standard puts decent conservatives at severe moral risk. The question here isn’t whether Trump stands for “innocent until proven guilty.” He doesn’t. The question is whether Republicans are willing to stand by while other Republicans are credibly accused of awful offenses, tut-tutting about “denials,” all in order to mirror Trump’s self-serving standard.