The second presidential debate opened with the bang the American public had been waiting all weekend for: a reckoning over what Donald Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” tape meant.
Not much, according to Trump. “This was locker room talk,” he said.
Hillary Clinton disagreed. Noting that the tape was of a piece with dozens of other sexist remarks Trump has made throughout the campaign, she questioned his fitness to be president—and pointed out that “many Republicans and independents have said the same thing.”
But there’s a gaping hole in what those Republicans haven’t said—and Clinton nailed it.
“But it’s not only women and it’s not only this video that raises questions about his fitness to be our president. Because he has also targeted immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities, Muslims, and others, so, this is who Donald Trump is and the question for us, the question our country must answer is that this is not who we are.”
The question dogging millions in America this weekend was “why this?”—why did it take an 11-year-old hot-mic’ed confab about Tic-Tacs and manhandling to send the Republican elite on this weekend’s epic stampede? As opposed to, say, Trump’s declaring a judge incompetent because his parents are from Mexico. Or saying African-Americans live in hell, or that Mexican immigrants are mainly rapists and criminals. Or smearing the parents of a dead soldier for their religion.
The cynical answer is that Republicans rely far more on the votes of white women than on non-whites—who happen to have been the target of Trump’s previous breaches of decency.
Clinton refused to let the tape define “the real Trump,” instead broadening the aperture of Trump’s bigotry to capture his far more comprehensive disdain for human difference than sexism alone. It wasn’t rhetorical fireworks. But her handling of the question was a simple, clear description of a man who has no interest in representing—let alone respecting—all Americans. It’s something the Republican leaders who purport to do so might want to consider.