During NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump defended comments he made in 2013 suggesting that the incorporation of women into the military was to blame for sexual assault in the military. Trump’s remarks highlighted the misogyny that is a feature, not a bug, of his campaign, which is being run and advised by conservative media figures who have been accused of sexual harassment and assaulting women.
During the September 7 forum, moderator Matt Lauer confronted Trump with a tweet he wrote in 2013 suggesting that “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military” were the result of “put[ting] men & women together.” When Lauer offered Trump the chance to address the comment, Trump responded that it was “a correct tweet. There are many people that think that that’s absolutely correct.”
Trump’s defense of his tone-deaf comments on sexual assault is emblematic of his tendency to default to victim-blaming in cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The candidate’s remarks on sexual assault are also unsurprising given the advisers he turns to and campaign staff he’s hired. Roger Ailes, Stephen Bannon, and Corey Lewandowski all currently work for or with Trump’s campaign and are all right-wing media figures who have been accused of sexual harassment or assaulting women.
Roger Ailes, the former Fox News CEO recently ousted following a sexual harassment lawsuit, laid the groundwork for Trump’s campaign and put Fox “squarely behind the candidacy of Donald Trump.” Since leaving Fox, Ailes has reportedly stepped in to help Trump with debate prep. Despite the campaign’s efforts to deny Ailes’ official involvement, multiple reports point out that “Ailes has become one of the most influential voices in the room” advising the Republican candidate as he prepares for debates. During his tenure as Fox chairman, Ailes allegedly perpetuated an environment of rampant misogyny at Fox News by promising women promotions in exchange for sex, asking about the sex lives of employees, and making wildly inappropriate sexual comments to female employees.
Steve Bannon, the Breitbart News executive chairman whom Trump brought in as campaign CEO, once referred to a woman who worked with him as a “bimbo,” and like Ailes, like Ailes, has been accused of sexual harassment. Additionally, in 1996 he was “charged with domestic violence and battery” against his ex-wife, and while the charges were eventually dropped, Vox notes that “police reports from the time detail a story of repeated mental and physical abuse by Bannon.”
Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager and a current CNN commentator, reportedly still advises the candidate, is helping prep Trump for the debates, travels with Trump to campaign stops, and continues to receive payments from Trump, all while receiving a salary from CNN. Lewandowski allegedly assaulted reporter Michelle Fields in March, and when Fields filed charges against Lewandowski, he verbally attacked her, calling her “totally delusional.”
As Vanity Fair’s Emily Jane Fox pointed out in her August 26 article, one of the most concerning aspects of Trump’s association with Ailes, Bannon, and Lewandowski is that he “chooses not only to associate” with them, but that they “influence his campaign at the highest levels:”
But Trump’s “woman problem” goes far deeper than his electoral appeal. The real problem is that Bannon, Ailes, and Lewandowski are the kinds of individuals Trump chooses not only to associate with, but to influence his campaign at the highest levels. It’s a troubling judgment call—one he’s made over and over again. People show you who they are the first time. The third and fourth and fifth time? That’s just showing off.