If anything can disgrace Donald Trump, the damning recording released last night might just do the trick. The tape — an outtake from a 2005 Access Hollywood segment — finds Trump talking to host Billy Bush (a George W. Bush cousin) about forcing himself on women and trying to “grab them by the pussy.”
“When you’re a star,” he says, “they let you do it. You can do anything.” The comments aren’t just “lewd,” as headlines claim. They’re describing assault, and exhibiting a deep-seated entitlement to women’s bodies. Trump issued a half-hearted apology just after the news broke, calling the exchange “locker room banter,” and then tried to muster up more remorse in a filmed statement later Friday night.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and RNC Chair Reince Preibus have condemned Trump’s conduct, with more GOP heavyweights joining them by the minute. “As the father of three daughters,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere, and take full responsibility for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments on that tape.”
The chorus of Republican denunciations has included calls for Trump to step aside in favor of his running-mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence. “Donald Trump does not represent me or my party,” Carly Fiorina wrote on Facebook , “Today I ask Donald Trump to step aside and for the RNC to replace him with Gov. Mike Pence.”
As still more allegations emerge, Trump’s actions show him to be patently unfit for the role of president (in case that wasn’t already clear).
But Pence is no better when it comes to women — and in some ways, more dangerous. While there’s no evidence Pence harasses women behind closed doors, he has waged a public vendetta against them. In his quest to limit women’s access to healthcare, Pence is the standardbearer for the GOP’s long-running war on women.
As a U.S. congressman, Pence tried repeatedly to limit abortion access. The Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal funding for abortion services, save in cases of rape or incest or life-threatening pregnancy complications, but Pence tried to narrow the rape exemption to so-called “forcible rape” — essentially redefining rape itself. He also cosponsored a bill allowing hospitals to turn away women in need of life-saving abortion, as well as a measure designating fertilized eggs as people with legal rights.
Meanwhile, Pence led six charges to deprive Planned Parenthood of federal funding. Since funding for abortion services is already restricted, Pence’s crusade has been based on a kind of guilt by association, setting out to starve Planned Parenthood of the ability to provide STD testing and cancer screening because abortion is one of the many services it offers. He threatened in 2011 to shut down the United States government over it.
After Pence was elected governor of Indiana in 2012, he signed a law mandating that women seek funerary services for aborted fetuses and that abortion providers foot the bill, driving up the cost of the procedure by about $2000. (A judge eventually struck it down.) Indiana then experienced an explosion in HIV/AIDS cases in 2013 after Pence kneecapped one of the state’s few providers of STD testing: that’s right, Planned Parenthood.
Such measures, of course, particularly hurt poor and working class communities, which rely on Planned Parenthood’s sliding scale services. A recent report out of Texas also suggests that cuts to reproductive health services take a disproportionate toll on communities of color. After the state slashed funding for family planning in 2010, maternal mortality rose sharply — and black women bore the brunt. They accounted for just 11.4 percent of births in the state in 2011 and yet 28.8 percent of pregnancy-related deaths. (Worth noting, too, is that these kinds of cuts hurt people of all genders in need of STD screening and other sexual health services.)
Unsurprisingly, Pence also has some backward ideas about women who do become parents. In 1997, he blamed working mothers for stunting their children’s emotional growth.” Sure, you can have it all, but your day-care kids get the short end of the emotional stick,” Pence wrote in a letter to the Indianapolis Star, echoing an earlier statement from Trump: “”I think that putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing.”
Neither Pence or Trump are outliers in their party, and many of their most radical proposals made their way into the official GOP platform. Republicans in at least 23 states have tried to defund Planned Parenthood.
It’s not just GOP cuts to reproductive services that hurt women. Women make up two-thirds of the country’s 20 million low-wage workers, and are twice as likely as men to rely on food stamps. Where Pence has led a “one-man crusade” against abortion, his party has led a nearly 40-year quest — from union busting to cuts to social services — to make women’s lives harder. Though Gov. Scott Walker also condemned Trump’s words on the Access Hollywood tape, Walker’s austerity measures have had a disastrous toll on women, not least of which has been in gutting the public-sector unions that protect teachers and nurses — professions predominated by women.
Trump is a sexist, racist, violent narcissist. Pence is an ideologue. Both are grave threats to women, and no politician that has supported the GOP’s agenda in the last half-century can claim much distance from either.
Yesterday, the RNC put a halt to all “victory program” work for Trump, instructing a vendor, “If something is in production or print it needs to stop. Will update you when to proceed.” At long last, Trump’s campaign for president might be imploding. But one for Pence shouldn’t take its place. Donald Trump should remain the Republican Party’s nominee for president. With any hope — and to the benefit of millions of women — he’ll lead it into a death spiral.
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Kate Aronoff is a staff writer at The New Republic and author of Overheated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet — And How We Fight Back. She is co-author of A Planet To Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal and co-editor of We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism—American Style. Follow her on Twitter @katearonoff.