The New York Times reported Tuesday that Roger Ailes — the former CEO of Fox News who resigned this summer following numerous allegations of sexual harassment — will help Donald Trump prepare to debate Hillary Clinton this fall.
The Times report was based on four anonymous sources who were briefed on the move. Sources also confirmed the news to reporters from CNN and ABC. CNN reported that Ailes’s role is informal, and that he and Trump were seen together at Trump’s New Jersey golf club this weekend.
It’s pretty stunning news, given how poorly Trump is doing with women voters and how recent the sexual harassment controversy is around Ailes. It would also seem par for the course for a candidate who has been so willing to violate basic norms of decency.
Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks strongly denied the report, though. "This is not accurate," she said. "[Ailes] is not advising Mr. Trump or helping with debate prep. They are longtime friends, but he has no formal or informal role in the campaign."
Trump senior adviser Jack Kingston denied it less strongly. On the one hand, he said that Trump "would not take advice on employee relations from Roger Ailes." On the other hand, he said the Trump campaign is "under no obligation to say who’s going to be coaching him."
But Trump himself neither confirmed nor denied it when NBC’s Chuck Todd asked him point-blank on July 24 whether Ailes would advise the campaign. "I don’t want to comment," Trump said then. "But he’s been a friend of mine for a long time." Trump also called Ailes a "very, very good person" and said, "A lot of people are thinking he’s going to run my campaign."
At least 20 women have come forward saying Ailes sexually harassed them. Meanwhile, Trump himself is infamous not just for his sexist comments about women in public — from shaming women for breastfeeding and menstruation to saying that "you have to treat [women] like shit" — but also for his alleged lewd and harassing behavior toward women in private.
Like Ailes, Trump has been accused by numerous women of making objectifying remarks or unwanted sexual advances toward them. He has also been formally accused of sexual assault (by Jill Harth, who dropped her 1997 lawsuit but says she still stands by her claims) and rape (by his ex-wife Ivana, who has since walked back her claims but still never disputed the events she described in a deposition during their divorce).
So to help him prepare for a debate against the first woman presidential candidate of a major party, a man with multiple allegations of sexual impropriety against him is reportedly turning to another man with multiple allegations of sexual impropriety against him for help.
It would say a lot about Trump’s attitude toward women, and about how powerful men tend to stick together.
Trump has publicly sided with Ailes, and against victims of sexual misconduct, before
Earlier this month, Trump made the shocking admission that if his own daughter Ivanka were sexually harassed, he’d expect her to change jobs or even careers.
That was connected to earlier comments Trump made last month about Ailes. Trump that he felt "very badly" for Ailes but didn’t mention feeling badly for the women. He said Ailes has "helped" those women in their careers, and suggested that the women are lying because they wrote "wonderful things" about Ailes in books — until now, "all of a sudden," they’re saying "horrible things."
When Kirsten Powers of USA Today asked Donald Trump about those comments, Trump said: "There was quite a bit of fabulous things said [about Ailes by Gretchen Carlson]. It would be easier for me and more politically correct for me to say you are right. But you would think she wouldn’t say those things."
Powers pointed out that other women have come forward besides Carlson. Trump said he didn’t know that — which means he was either lying or has a uniquely terrible memory, since he had been talking about multiple women just over a week previously.
Powers pressed Trump. What if someone had treated Ivanka the way Ailes allegedly treated those women?
"I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case," Trump said.
He didn’t say that the man who harassed Ivanka should be punished. He didn’t say that Ivanka should come forward or that people should listen to her. He said that Ivanka alone should take on the burden of quitting her job and looking for another one — and even looking for another career entirely. Even for someone with Ivanka’s wealth, talent, and privilege, that’s an overwhelmingly difficult, life-altering thing to ask.
Meanwhile, under Trump’s scenario, it seems the man who forced Ivanka out of her job, or her career, would go unpunished and be free to harass other women.
Trump has also made some incredibly creepy comments about Ivanka specifically, including remarking that she has a "very nice figure" and that he’d date her if she weren’t his daughter.
But as Dean Obeidallah pointed out at the Daily Beast, Trump also has a history of making victim-blaming remarks about women who accuse high-profile men of sexual misconduct. He said that Bill Clinton was "really a victim himself," and called Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky "unattractive." He blamed Mike Tyson’s victim Desiree Washington for having been "in [Tyson’s] hotel room late in the evening at her own will."
"Donald Trump is a serial defender of men who have engaged in sexual misconduct and is a serial shamer of the female victims who have come forward," Obeidallah wrote.
Both of these patterns of Trump’s — treating women like sex objects, and then blaming them when they are treated like sex objects against their will — go hand in hand. They are both signs of toxic, abusive misogyny.