On Thursday, Donald Trump responded to numerous new accusations of sexual assault and abuse in a rambling speech in West Palm Beach, Florida. After dismissing a New York Times report about a woman who says that Trump sexually assaulted her on a plane in the early 1980s as a “totally fabricated and false story” written by “two discredited writers,” Trump turned his sights to a first-person essay by People writer Natasha Stoynoff. Stoynoff claims that Trump pushed her against a wall and forcibly kissed her while she was at Mar-a-Lago reporting a story on Trump’s first anniversary with his wife Melania in 2005. “The story was beautiful,” Trump said today. “It was beautiful. It was lovely. But last night we hear that after 12 years—this took place 12 years ago, this story—a new claim that I made inappropriate advances during the interview to this writer. And I ask a very simple question, why wasn’t it part of the story that appeared 20—or 12 years ago?”
As it happens, Stoynoff answers this very question in her essay:
[L]ike many women, I was ashamed and blamed myself for his transgression. I minimized it (“It’s not like he raped me…”); I doubted my recollection and my reaction. I was afraid that a famous, powerful, wealthy man could and would discredit and destroy me, especially if I got his coveted PEOPLE feature killed.
“I just want to forget it ever happened,” I insisted. The happy anniversary story hit newsstands a week later and Donald left me a voicemail at work, thanking me.
After asserting that Stoynoff should have mentioned the assault in her fluff piece on Trump’s marriage in 2005, Trump cast doubt on the plausibility of Stoynoff’s claim. “By the way, the area was a public area. People all over the place,” he said, describing Mar-a-Lago. (Stoynoff says that Trump offered to give her a personal tour of the mansion during a break during the People photo shoot. “There was one ‘tremendous’ room in particular, he said, that I just had to see.”)
Finally, after casting doubt on the timing of Stoynoff’s disclosure and the feasibility of the event as she described it, Trump pulled out his ace: implying that Stoynoff isn’t hot enough for him to have assaulted. “Take a look. You look at her,” said Trump, lowering his voice meaningfully. “Look at her words. You tell me what you think. I don’t think so. I don’t think so.” The crowd cheered at this innuendo, which recalled his comments about Carly Fiorina’s face during the primary race. (“Look at that face!”) Just as Fiorina was too ugly to be president, in Trump’s view, Stoynoff was too ugly to be one of the women that he “just start[s] kissing.”
No one should be surprised that Trump’s attempt to discredit his accuser involved calling her fuckability into question. For Trump, a woman’s fuckability is the be-all and end-all of her value. The question for Trump is whether enough American voters also believe that women are only as worthy as they are “hot,” or whether they’ll take seriously a growing number of very credible assault allegations against the candidate.