Donald Trump’s speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Sunday, was billed as a sober, policy-minded look at his first 100 days in office.
But the first thing he promised to do after being elected was to sue the women who have accused him of sexual assault.
“All of these liars will be sued after the election is over,” Trump promised. He continued to attack them: “Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign,” he said. And he implied that Hillary Clinton’s campaign had paid them for their stories.
Trump’s first priority in office, in other words, would be to take revenge against the women who have spoken out against him. It was the only new plan he announced during the speech.
So far, 17 women have accused Trump of assaulting, groping, or harassing them, including trying to see them naked backstage at beauty pageants. The majority have made their claims since a secret recording from 2005 of Trump describing his approach to women — “I don’t even wait … grab ’em by the pussy” — was released 15 days ago.
First Trump called the women who accused him of sexual assault liars. Then he suggested they weren’t attractive enough for him. Now he’s threatening to sue them. He’s providing a vivid demonstration of all the reasons many women are reluctant to report sexual assault in the first place. He’s also demonstrating just how much his presidency could be driven by his lust for vindication.
Trump is extraordinarily litigious
The speech made clear that one of Trump’s priorities in office would be to personally try to harm his enemies. The women who accused him of sexual assault weren’t the only people Trump threatened to sue. He also said he’d break up Comcast and NBC, which would require an antitrust lawsuit, and would force Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post, to pay more taxes.
A President Trump has no intention of letting campaign bygones be bygones. He’d carry his grudges into the courts. And he wants to make sure that anyone thinking of coming out against him during the remaining days of the campaign knows it.
This is how Trump treats anyone who’s displeased him. He’s an incredibly litigious person. He and his companies have been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits, and Trump or his companies were the plaintiff in about 1,700, according to a USA Today investigation. (This doesn’t count lawsuits Trump has only threatened to file, such as his promised suit against the New York Times.)
"When someone intentionally harms you or your reputation, how do you react?” he wrote in Think Big and Kick Ass, his 2007 book. “I strike back, doing the same thing to them only ten times worse."
He has sued over airplane noise. He has sued over the 80-foot flagpole at Mar-a-Lago. He sued restaurants that backed out of his property in Washington, DC. “No detail is too small for a Trump suit,” USA Today noted, pointing out that Trump is unafraid to far outspend his adversaries and unable to let anything go.
Trump wants to threaten women into silence
This was supposed to be a policy speech. The biggest thing it told us about how Trump would govern is that he would be as vindictive and litigious as president as he was in his business career.
As president, Trump would also have bigger resources to command than just the court system. Federal agencies could open investigations or threaten to investigate his enemies in other ways. The biggest defense against this, as Vox’s Dara Lind writes, would be whether career civil servants, rather than politicians, would be willing to go along with it.
Of course, Trump also threatens many lawsuits and doesn’t go through with them. He hasn’t yet sued the New York Times for reporting on women accusing him of sexual assault. Nor has he sued the Associated Press, as he threatened to do earlier this year, or Ted Cruz, as he said he’d do during the primary, or the Jeb Bush donor who bankrolled negative ads against him. (The website Trump-Clock.com is tracking all of the legal threats Trump has made during the campaign.)
But whether Trump follows through on every threat doesn’t make the threats themselves much less threatening. If women are considering accusing Trump of sexual assault, they now have to weigh the possibility of expensive, time-consuming, and public legal action against them alongside the other reasons victims are reluctant to come forward. And they might decide it’s just not worth it — which, presumably, is what Trump is hoping will happen.