GREENSBORO –– Battered by sordid new accusations of sexual misbehaviour, Donald Trump fought back in ever-more-remarkable fashion Friday, acting out one woman’s allegation onstage and suggesting another was not attractive enough to merit his attention. He defiantly denied a week’s worth of accusations that have all but consumed his presidential bid just over three weeks before the election.
“She would not be my first choice, that I can tell you,” Trump said of one woman in a rambling attack on his female accusers as he campaigned in battleground North Carolina.
The New York businessman said his staff wanted him to avoid the topic altogether but that he couldn’t resist defending himself. He blamed the growing story on his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and an international media conspiracy, describing his female accusers as “sick” people seeking fame or money.
“The only thing I can say is hopefully, hopefully, our patriotic movement will overcome this terrible deception,” he declared.
Trump assailed The New York Times in particular, noting its connection to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, who is a major shareholder in the media company.
Spokesman Arturo Elias Ayub later said Slim doesn’t know Trump at all “and is not the least bit interested in his personal life”.
Meanwhile, Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, promised the campaign would soon release evidence against the women that would show Trump’s innocence.
“It’s coming in, frankly, probably in a matter of hours,” Pence said Friday morning on NBC’s Today Show. He added, “It’s astonishing to see the enormous coverage of these, of these really unfounded allegations, unestablished allegations, compared to an avalanche of emails coming out of Hillary Clinton’s years as secretary of state.”
Indeed, Friday marked another day on which WikiLeaks released thousands of emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s personal account. The Clinton campaign, citing information it says is from the FBI, says the hacks are being investigated as part of a broader attack on Democratic Party leaders that may involve Russia.
Explosive claims of sexual impropriety have almost completely overshadowed the extraordinary attempt by a third party, whoever it may be, to influence the US election at a critical moment.
Polls suggest Trump has fallen further behind Clinton nationally and in most battleground states. Early in-person voting is underway in 20 states, including Ohio, where President Barack Obama railed against Trump a day after first lady Michelle Obama declared in a passionate speech, “Enough is enough.”
The Obamas both seized on Trump’s words, captured in a video released last week, bragging about kissing and groping women without their permission. The 70-year-old billionaire has apologized, but also repeatedly dismissed his comments as “locker room talk”.
“You don’t have to be a husband or a father to know that that kind of language, those kinds of thoughts, those kinds of actions are unacceptable. They’re not right. You just have to be a decent human being,” President Obama charged in Columbus, Ohio.
Two more women, meanwhile, come forward Friday with allegations against Trump.
A former contestant from NBC’s The Apprentice, said Friday that the former reality television star became sexually aggressive at a Beverly Hills hotel in 2007. Summer Zervos, appearing at a Friday news conference with attorney Gloria Allred, said Trump kissed her open-mouthed and touched her breasts in a private room.
And in a story published online Friday, Kristin Anderson told The Washington Post that she was sitting on a couch with friends at a New York nightclub in the early 1990s when a hand reached up her skirt and touched her through her underwear.
Anderson, then in her early 20s, said she pushed the hand away, turned around and recognized Trump as the man who had groped her.
Trump mocked Anderson’s claim onstage as he campaigned in North Carolina, pausing to reach out his hand to touch an imaginary woman as his accuser described. “I just heard this one. It’s like, it’s like unbelievable,” he said.
Even before the mounting allegations, there was evidence that Trump’s troubles were hurting the Republican Party’s ability to raise money.
The Republican National Committee has raised about 25 percent less over the past three months than it did over the same period four years ago, when Mitt Romney was atop the ticket.
The RNC said Friday that it raised $39.4 million last month, compared to $48.4 million in September 2012. It says it has raised $262.3 million since January 2015, about $20 million more than it had by this time in 2012.
Friday’s accusations against Trump are in line with similar allegations by women in articles by The New York Times and the Palm Beach Post. Separately, a People magazine reporter offered a first-person account accusing Trump of attacking her in 2005 while she was in Florida to interview him and his pregnant wife.
He specifically rejected the People magazine accuser’s claim at the North Carolina rally. “She is a liar. She is a liar,” Trump said. “These people are sick.”
Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a high-profile speech on Friday criticizing Clinton and promoting Republicans in next month’s elections.
The nation’s top elected Republican did not, however, say the words “Donald Trump”.