When White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter’s ex-wife, Jennie Willoughby, accused him of domestic violence in a Daily Mail article earlier this week, the Trump administration mounted a vigorous defense, offering no fewer than three glowing statements vouching for his character.
“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him,” said Chief of Staff John Kelly. “He is a friend, a confidante, and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”
Then on Wednesday, Porter’s other ex-wife, Colbie Holderness, came forward with her own allegations of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse — and she provided photos of herself with a black eye, which she said was the result of Porter punching her.
Presented with photographic evidence, Porter resigned, though he still denies his ex-wives’ claims. Amid reports that top White House officials knew for months that Porter was unable to obtain security clearance due to abuse allegations, the Trump administration scrambled to change course on Wednesday evening. Kelly released a second statement after hours, saying, “There is no place for domestic violence in our society” — but he also stands by his previous comments praising Porter.
Several outlets reported that Trump administration aides were appalled by the actions of top officials. The New York Times reported that “several aides said they were confused as to why Mr. Kelly and others so forcefully defended Mr. Porter initially.” CNN said, “Some expressed dismay that the allegations against Porter weren’t acted upon when senior members of Trump’s team became aware of them.” One former West Wing official told Vanity Fair, “It’s beyond disbelief. Everyone is trying to figure out why Kelly is leading the charge to save him.”
Any White House staffer shocked by the response to the claims against Porter hasn’t been paying attention to the administration they’re working for.
From the very start of Trump campaign, his team’s initial instinct has been to deny and downplay women’s allegations of misconduct against themselves and their allies. Even when confronted with evidence to back up women’s claims, they tend to offer unsatisfying non-apologies, suggesting they’re waiting for the results of some legal proceeding that will likely never occur. These are just a few examples:
• In March 2016, then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was charged with assaulting Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields during a campaign rally. He denied ever touching her, and the campaign said the incident wasn’t witnessed by “a single camera or reporter.” When reporters defended Fields and a video emerged, Trump claimed, falsely, that she’d changed her story. The charges were eventually dropped.
• In August 2016, it was reported that new Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon had been charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery, and dissuading a witness following an incident with his ex-wife in 1996. Those charged were dropped as well. The campaign declined to comment.
• In February 2017, Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination to be secretary of Labor after it emerged that his first wife accused him of physically abusing her in the ‘80s. Though it was Senate Republicans who said they would not confirm him, then–White House press secretary Sean Spicer focused his ire on Democrats: “There is no focus on these guys having a double standard for which they had with Obama nominees. It’s just ridiculous … He was not given a hearing.” Last month Politico reported that the White House is still trying to find him a role in the administration.
• Though the White House dithered for some time on how to handle the allegations that Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted several teenage girls, eventually Trump settled on pointing out that Moore “totally denies it,” and declaring “we don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat.” He offered Moore a full-throated endorsement, campaigned for him (or near him in Florida), and recorded robocalls on his behalf.
• The White House has said nothing about allegations that casino mogul Steve Wynn routinely sexually harassed female employees. Wynn served as the Trump campaign’s finance vice-chair and the president handpicked him to be finance chair of the Republican National Committee. Though he was forced to resign as CEO of Wynn resorts and from his political position, the RNC said it won’t return his donations unless a board investigation finds him guilty of wrongdoing.
• Of course, there are also the 19-plus women who have accused the president himself of all forms of sexual misconduct, from groping to rape. Sanders recently confirmed that the official White House position is that every one of them is lying.
Compare that to Trump eagerly trying to use the Bill Clinton sexual-misconduct allegations against Hillary Clinton, inviting his accusers to a presidential debate and then bragging, “I was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself: I can’t do it. I just can’t do it.”
Or Donald Trump Jr. attacking Clinton for being too slow to release a statement on top Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein’s alleged abuse.
And making similar comments about Meryl Streep:
Or President Trump’s tweet calling out former senator Al Franken over sexual-misconduct allegations, and his aide Kellyanne Conway accusing Democrats of “hypocrisy” for allowing him to keep his job.
A day later Franken actually did resign. As Benjamin Hart noted, “Because the Democratic Party positions itself as an entity trying, however haltingly, to do the right thing, it is held to reasonably high standards by both its voters and society at large.” Republicans seem to have no such compunction — and that’s particularly true of the Trump administration. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus noted that the only real sin in Trumpland is disloyalty to the president:
The Trump administration suffers from a singularly morally bankrupt strain of this tribalism, in which loyalty to President Trump is prized above all else and failings are ignored, especially failings that echo those of the president himself.
The recent reckoning on sexual misconduct has certainly yielded examples of hypocrisy from Democrats. But Trump and his associates are especially shameless in their use of the #MeToo movement (which was partly spurred by Trump’s election). Their default position has been to ignore or undermine people who come forward with abuse allegations, unless they see some way to use the claims to their political advantage.