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Ben Carson’s defense of Donald Trump must be heard to be believed

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon and conservative folk hero who challenged Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, has found the strangest defense yet for Trump’s now-infamous comments on a leaked Access Hollywood recording: The real problem is that women don’t overhear men when they brag about sexual assault with their bros.

Carson, now a Trump surrogate, offered up this defense on CNN when talking with Brianna Keilar. Early in the exchange, he acknowledged that he found Trump’s comments "abominable." But then Keilar asked why he’d used the words "locker room talk" to refer to Trump describing sexual assault:

"I’ve heard people talking like that, course," Carson said.

"Are you kidding me?" Keilar responded. "Where are you hanging out, with whom are you hanging out, that you hear people talking like that?"

"As I was growing up, people were always trying to talk about their sexual conquests and try[ing] to make themselves appear like Casanova," Carson said. "I’m surprised you haven’t heard that. I really am."

"I haven’t heard it, and I know a lot of people who have not heard it," Keilar answered.

Carson’s response: "Maybe that’s the problem."

Keilar is left speechless.

If you’re keeping score, this is where the defense ended up: If women are upset about Trump’s remarks, it’s because they aren’t allowed in locker rooms in the first place, which is their fault for being women.

This is either a bizarre and elaborate argument in favor of gender-neutral locker rooms or another sign that people defending Trump’s comments are fundamentally unclear on what the initial outrage was about.

The problem with Trump’s comments in 2005 isn’t that he talked at length about his unsuccessful attempt to "fuck" a married woman who then "got the big phony tits and everything," or that he said the word "pussy."

It’s that, far from describing a sexual "conquest," Trump is talking about kissing and grabbing women without their consent, and saying that he gets away with it because he’s a celebrity. As many men who have been in locker rooms have written, that’s not locker room talk. That’s sexual assault.

Watch: Dear GOP, only now you realize Trump is sexist?