The White House’s stance is that all 16 women who have accused Trump of sexual improprieties, harassment, or assault are lying. Trump’s old position on the Access Hollywood tape was that he was lying. The view he now apparently holds privately is that the tape itself is lying.
But the tape is authentic. Trump acknowledged as much when it was revealed, and apologized for his words (though not to the women upon whom he boasted about preying) while claiming that he had not actually done the things he bragged about having done. Billy Bush, the television host with whom he was speaking on the tape (and who, unlike Trump, lost his job simply for not reacting with disgust to the comments) also acknowledged it was real.
In short, the suggestion that it was not Trump on the tape is either deeply dishonest or unhinged from reality, or both. While Trump lies with abandon, and has done so throughout his career, this is a particularly curious case, one where not only is there no real dispute about reality, but in fact documentary evidence in the form of a recording of Trump discussing the acts himself.
In the early days of the Moore allegations—before Beverly Young Nelson, before the stories about how Moore’s preference for young girls was well-known, before stories about how he’d been banned from the Gadsden Mall, before the story of him calling one object of his affection at her high school—many Republicans took a cautious track, refusing to pass judgment on the claims. After the deluge, most of them quickly announced they believed the women.
The president remains an outlier. What evidence of sexual assault or harassment would Trump accept? In the Moore case, the White House’s initial move was to say that if the accusations against Moore were true, he should step aside. Then came a string of additional accusations, independently lodged but similar enough in contour to suggest a consistent approach by Moore. They were backed by various forms of circumstantial evidence. Many Republicans, from Mitch McConnell to Ivanka Trump, deemed the allegations credible. But Trump himself both reversed the White House’s previous stand, saying he backed Moore regardless of the claims, and also endorsed Moore’s denials.
This is, in a way, consistent with Trump’s approach to the allegations against him, which he has made great jumps of logic to dismiss. First there were a few stories about unwanted attention to women, ranging in degree of seriousness. Then came more, including serious allegations from Jill Harth, who said Trump repeatedly groped her and tried to force her into a bedroom at Mar-a-Lago. Finally came the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump openly boasted about improperly touching women. One didn’t even need to take the women’s allegations as truth to believe that the president’s behavior was unacceptable. Trump claimed at the time that he hadn’t really done what he said he had.