Donald Trump has faced a deficit among female voters throughout the campaign, and with just over a month left, Hillary Clinton’s campaign is seeking to throw gasoline on the fire.
In that effort, Clinton has a willing partner in arson: The ghost of Trump past.
On Wednesday, Pema Levy of Mother Jones dug up a video that will fuel the flames. It shows Trump at a 2007 appearance in San Francisco. A young woman steps to a microphone and asks how many jets he has and whether she can work on one. “Come on up here,” Trump says. “I think she’s hired.”
As the woman walks to the lectern, the crowd hoots. As she gets near, Trump takes a good long look at her décolletage, then says, “You’re hired.” What happens next is even stranger. He tells a story:
You know, I had a case that was very interesting. A beautiful girl who was 17 or 18 and applied to be a waitress. So beautiful. She's like a world-class beauty—like the young lady who just asked a question about the actress. She's so beautiful. And my people came and she said, "Mr. Trump, she has no experience." So I interviewed her anyway because she was so pretty. And I said, "Let me ask you, do you have any experience?" She goes, "No, sir." I say, "When can you start?"
As the young woman walks off the stage, Trump goes on:
See now, if she worked on my plane, that's like a death wish for me, right? That's like an alcoholic—I have a few friends, they’re wonderful people, they’re alcoholics. You put Scotch in front of them, it's like—this would be my form of alcoholism.
The exchange is striking for several reasons. Here is Trump, by now two years into his third marriage, delighting in publicly ogling a woman, and calling her a “death wish” for him. Then there’s the story of how he flirtatiously hired a woman he thought might be underage simply because she was attractive.
Trump was at the time more or less a full-time entertainer, and it’s clear that many of the people in the audience were entertained. The women certainly seems unbothered by the whole thing. To some viewers, and some voters, this will no doubt come across as winning or at least charmingly laddish. Look, he digs a hot chick, just like any red-blooded American male!
But it also fits all too well with the Clinton attack that Trump objectifies women. And it reinforces a key storyline coming out of Monday’s debate, where Clinton confronted Trump with the tale of Alicia Machado. Clinton said that Trump had insulted the Miss Universe and demanded that she lose weight (when she remained quite svelte by any standard). Instead of rebutting the charge, Trump was eager to confirm that Clinton’s retelling was accurate: He did say she gained weight.
In an NBC/SurveyMonkey poll released Wednesday, 30 percent of women said their opinion of Clinton had changed for the better following the debate, versus 11 percent who said that of Trump. The numbers were mirrored: 13 percent said their view of Clinton had gotten worse, versus 27 for Trump.
Elsewhere in the poll, a predictably lopsided portion of Democratic women (97-2) said Trump did not have the temperament to be president. But just three in four Republican woman said he has the right temperament, and more importantly, independent women said by a 4-1 margin that he has the wrong personality.
These aren’t the things that are likely to produce vast swings in the electorate. Most voters have already made up their minds. Some of them have not, and Trump’s long record of public statements mean there’s plenty of ammunition to back up the Clinton charge that Trump views women primarily as objects. On the other hand, the lengthy record also shows that for many voters, that’s no dealbreaker—and might even be an asset.