After more than 50 interviews with women in Donald Trump's life, the New York Times uncovered how Trump "behaved in private": a story that paints a tricky picture for a candidate trying to convince voters that he is different in his personal life – less abrasive and more politically correct – than he is on the stump.
In the in-depth article, published Saturday, the Times described the presumptive Republican nominee as a man with a nearly compulsive need to be surrounded by beautiful women, one who repeatedly made unwelcome advances, with an almost boyish tendency to brag about his sex life and rank his conquests for their beauty.
Still, he is also a man who promoted women to run his most prized business ventures – placing women atop the real estate industry at a time when such a move was truly unprecedented:
What emerges from the interviews is a complex, at times contradictory portrait of a wealthy, well-known and provocative man and the women around him, one that defies simple categorization. Some women found him gracious and encouraging. He promoted several to the loftiest heights of his company, a daring move for a major real estate developer at the time.
But in many cases there was an unmistakable dynamic at play: Mr. Trump had the power, and the women did not. He had celebrity. He had wealth. He had connections. Even after he had behaved crudely toward them, some of the women sought his assistance with their careers or remained by his side.
Trump's response to the unflattering piece is also a testament to his PR strategy: When he feels attacked he builds himself as the arbiter of truth – discounting the account so vehemently that there is no arguing with him. Trump called the article a "lame hit" from a "dishonest" and "failing" publication on Twitter on Sunday. He called it all a lie.
What is the New York Times saying Trump did?
The New York Times's article served as confirmation to troves of stories that have come before it. For those who have followed Trump's previous blunders with women, the stories in Saturday's New York Times article seem believably Trump-like:
- Having just met Roseanne Brewer Lane, at the time a 26-year-old model whom he later dated, Trump asked her to put on a swimsuit and showed her off at the Mar-a-Lago as one of his "Trump girls". (Brewer Lane said on Fox News on Monday that the Times "spun it," promising her in the interview process the article wouldn't be a hit piece and breaking their word, she said.)
- In boarding school, Trump earned the title "Ladies' Man" in the yearbook for bringing "very pretty, very sophisticated women and very well-dressed women" to the all-boys military school, his classmate told the Times.
- A contestant in the Miss America beauty pageants said he would kiss the young pageant girls on the lips – which Trump disputes.
- Contrary to his father's wishes, Trump hired a woman, Barbara Res, as the head of construction in the 1980s, told her he wanted her to be "Donna Trump," would repeatedly remind her she was overweight, and once said, "I know you’re a woman in a man’s world. And while men tend to be better than women, a good woman is better than ten good men," as a compliment, Res told the Times.
- When the New York Post published the front-page headline "Best Sex I’ve Ever Had," referring to Trump's relationship with Marla Maples, he boasted about it in the office.
In all, the findings aren't particularly flattering.
Trump says it's all lies
But Trump discounts all of the stories – some of his responses are noted in the article – and, in Trump fashion, he attacked the piece from the top down, questioning the media as a whole:
The media is really on a witch-hunt against me. False reporting, and plenty of it - but we will prevail!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 15, 2016
And the Times's credibility:
Why did the failing @nytimes refuse to use any of the names given to them that I was so proud to have helped with their careers. DISHONEST!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 15, 2016
Everyone is laughing at the @nytimes for the lame hit piece they did on me and women.I gave them many names of women I helped-refused to use— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 15, 2016
He also tried to direct the attention to Hillary and Bill Clinton, questioning why the Times didn't write about their relationship with women. (The paper has done so in the past here.)
Why doesn't the failing @nytimes write the real story on the Clintons and women? The media is TOTALLY dishonest!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 15, 2016
And he built himself up as a champion of women:
The failing @nytimes wrote yet another hit piece on me. All are impressed with how nicely I have treated women, they found nothing. A joke!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 15, 2016
Since the story's release, Trump has begun retweeting his female supporters, emphasizing his love of women and how much they love him.
It's a tactic we have seen over and over again – Trump has fended off an unprecedented number of attacks by simply stating, with unabashed confidence, that they hold no water.
The Times targeted his personal life, which Trump protects as a symbol of his "presidential" side
We know Trump's public persona: For months after Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly questioned Trump on his appeal to women, he danced around calling her a bimbo. When Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields said Trump's campaign manager had physically assaulted her, Trump launched a master class in victim blaming. He finds breastfeeding in public "disgusting," told a Celebrity Apprentice contestant, "That must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees," and called Rosie O'Donnell "fat" and "ugly."
But Trump has had a certain hold on his personality in private. Some have alluded to his calmer, more calculated private personality – notably those like Chris Christie and Ben Carson, who have now endorsed his presidential run. For those who find him too abrasive, the mystery of his true self is Trump's strong suit.
And attempts to uncover Trump's personal life – let alone reveal that it is perhaps not dissimilar from his public one – whether an in-depth piece on his wife, Melania or the Times's exposé on his treatment of women, can pose a particular challenge for a candidate trying to pass off as both presidential, and someone who says whatever he wants.
We are far past the days of Mitt Romney's binders full of women.