ST. LOUIS – Anyone waiting to hear contrition from Donald Trump about recently leaked audio of him bragging that his celebrity allowed him to grab women by their genitals will just have to keep waiting.
When the question inevitably came up at the second presidential debate Sunday night, Trump tried to minimize its significance, repeating the phrase that he put out shortly after the audio was released on Friday ― “locker room talk” – while appearing to dispute that those actions constitute sexual assault.
“No, I didn’t say that at all,” Trump said about the sexual assault description by moderator Anderson Cooper. “I don’t think you understand what was said.”
Trump then spent the next 70 seconds responding. Seventeen of those seconds dealt with Cooper’s question, while the remainder focused on the horrors inflicted by the Islamic State and Trump’s vow to “knock the hell” out of them.
After Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said that Trump’s words on that tape were yet more proof that he is unfit for the presidency, Trump lashed out at her, using four women he brought to the debate – three of whom have accused Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, of unwanted sexual advances against them. The fourth was raped as a child, and Hillary Clinton won the accused attacker’s release as his court-appointed lawyer.
Many Republicans had warned Trump not to bring up Bill Clinton’s women problems, while others had said that unless Trump offered a sincere and heartfelt apology for his remarks, his problems with women voters would continue to worsen.
Trump’s staff and supporters nevertheless lauded the nominee for confronting the issue head-on and apologizing for his words. “Mr. Trump owned his mistake, he apologized,” said Trump spokesman Jason Miller.
Sean Spicer, a strategist and spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said Trump had apologized not once, but twice. “He didn’t think it was appropriate,” Spicer said.
But Trump’s response to those questions was more defiant than contrite. While he pointed out three times that he already apologized to his family and the country, he used the phrase “locker room talk” as a rationale four times.
“But it’s locker room talk and it’s one of those things,” he said in the middle of a long digression about ISIS. “That was locker room talk,” he said a few minutes later. “And certainly I’m not proud of it, but that was something that happened.”
“I said things that, frankly, you hear these things,” Trump said. “And I was embarrassed by it. But I have tremendous respect for women. And women have respect for me.”
It took Cooper several follow-ups before Trump finally answered whether he actually had grabbed women by the genitals, as he had boasted on the audio tape. “No, I haven’t,” Trump said.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton said on Saturday that Trump needed to “beg” for forgiveness and promise to change his ways. “If he doesn’t do those things, if he won’t do those things, then he should step aside and allow the Republican Party to replace him with an elder statesman who will,” Cotton said.
Trump did not ask for forgiveness, and spent far more time lashing out at the Clintons than he did dealing with the contents of the leaked audiotape. The coming days could start revealing whether that decision will cost him even further.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.