When President Donald Trump shelved his deference to Christine Blasey Ford and went on offense against her Tuesday night at a campaign rally in Mississippi, it sounded new and jarring.
Trump had clearly been working on the material for days, including on at least two occasions with reporters.
The version that emerged Tuesday night was primed for re-election rallies, and was the clearest indication that Trump will take his disdain for #MeToo onto the campaign trail.
The fine-tuned attack on Ford and warning that emerged for supporters in Mississippi allowed Trump to attack her credibility and criticize her spotty memory on some specifics from the night of her attack compared with her conviction about details of others. That may be a common thread among assault victims, but in Trump’s hands she was made to sound untrustworthy.
His comments were direct and harsh pushback against the #MeToo movement, of which Ford has become emblematic and for which Trump, who was accused of assault by more than a dozen women not long before his election, is surely a villain. Trump has denied the allegations.
This latest anti-#MeToo talking point of Trump’s arguably started last week with a question from Steven Portnoy of CBS News at a news conference in New York the day before Ford’s public testimony.
Trump had already bemoaned what he said was a partisan attack on Kavanaugh and the effect the charges were surely having on the judge and his family.
But Portnoy wanted to know if Trump had a message for young men as the country enters a period where women feel more comfortable coming forward with allegations.
Trump did not say men should respect women, but rather suggested his message to young men was: Be afraid. He said the issue was bigger than the current debate over Kavanaugh.
“This is beyond Supreme Court,” Trump said. “This is everything to do with our country. When you are guilty until proven innocent, it’s just not supposed to be that way. Always, I heard you’re innocent until proven guilty. I’ve heard this for so long and it’s such a beautiful phrase. In this case, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I think that is a very, very dangerous standard for our country.”
Clearly Trump felt he was on to something with the “dangerous standard” idea, because he riffed on it a few days later, on Tuesday, when he was talking to reporters before getting onto Marine One.
“It is a very scary time for young men in America, where you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of,” Trump said. “This is a very, very — this is a very difficult time. What’s happening here has much more to do than even the appointment of a Supreme Court justice.”
He added: “It’s a very scary situation where you’re guilty until proven innocent. My whole life I’ve heard you’re innocent until proven guilty, but now you’re guilty until proven innocent. That is a very, very difficult standard. You could be somebody that was perfect your entire life and somebody could accuse you of something.”
The message in what he’s saying is the same, but he’s refined it, economized the words and subbed in “scary time” for “dangerous standard.” He’s refined the idea to make clearer he thinks men should be afraid of the accusations of women. In both appearances he mentioned the many allegations against him in 2016.
Those two comments teed up the full-force treatment of the new material in Mississippi on Tuesday night, before a roaring crowd of supporters.
“Guilty until proven innocent,” Trump lamented, to booing from the crowd. “That’s very dangerous for our country. That’s very dangerous for our country. And I have it myself all the time. But for me, it’s like a part of the job description.”
Trump brushed off the accusations by more than a dozen women against himself, ranging from sexual harassment and sexual assault to lewd behavior, as something that should be expected.
“Let it happen to me. Shouldn’t happen to him. Shouldn’t happen to him,” he said, before launching into his attack directly on Ford’s memory, after which he added: “And a man’s life is in tatters. A man’s life is shattered. His wife is shattered. His daughters, who are beautiful, incredible young kids — they destroy people. They want to destroy people. These are really evil people,” he said, although it wasn’t exactly clear who he was referring to.
Trump came back to the idea again, driving the point home further and speaking to women who might worry about the men in their lives being accused.
“This is a time when your father, when your husband, when your brother, when your son could do great. ‘Mom, I did great in school. I’ve worked so hard. Mom, I’m so pleased to tell you, I just got a fantastic job with IBM. I just got a fantastic job with General Motors. I just got — I’m so proud.’
” ‘Mom, a terrible thing just happened. A person who I’ve never met said that I did things that were horrible and they’re firing me from my job, Mom. I don’t know what to do. Mom, what do I do? What do I do, Mom? What do I do, Mom?’ It’s a damn sad situation, OK?” Trump said.
Trump again mentioned his own accusations. At this point in the story, the Trump accusations are apiece with the Kavanaugh accusations, in Trump’s telling. And they’re apiece with the accusations that any man might face.
It’s clear, now, by using the material at such length in his Mississippi rally, that Trump is stirring backlash to the national reckoning with sexual harassment, and using that to drive his supporters to the polls. Which means this line isn’t going anywhere.