The Slatest

Congresswoman Defends Trump’s 5 a.m. Sex Tweet: “That’s the Kind of President We Need”

“The kind of president we need.”

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Rep. Renee Ellmers was the first woman in Congress to endorse Donald Trump. She was also the first member of Congress to be endorsed by Trump. She also lost her Republican primary in June by 30 points.

On Friday, the North Carolina congresswoman took her Trump support to a new level, attempting to defend his bizarre, unhinged, and despicable early morning rant about former Miss Universe contestant Alicia Machado’s purported sex tape.

The interview with Ellmers, which took place on MSNBC, is a fantastic demonstration of how indefensible Trump’s behavior has been in this instance and how impossible it is for surrogates to even attempt to mount such a defense. Still, Ellmers tried her best and completely embarrassed herself in doing so. She basically blamed Clinton for Trump’s response and then said this: “Donald Trump is setting the record straight and he’s using social media. That’s the kind of president we need.”

There’s more, but first a quick recap of how this episode has played out: On Monday at the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton brought up that Trump had insulted Machado for her weight and allegedly mocked her Hispanic heritage. On Tuesday, Trump stood by his criticisms of Machado’s weight and reiterated them. After a week of the media talking about this, Trump then started tweeting at 3 a.m. ET before going on a rant at 5 a.m. ET calling Machado “disgusting,” “a con,” and someone with a “terrible past” because she once had sex on reality TV.

On Friday morning, MSNBC anchor Peter Alexander tried to get Ellmers to concede that maybe this wasn’t the best strategy. “Why does Donald Trump keep this issue alive? What do you think he thinks he has to gain by revisiting a topic that a lot of people have obviously been turned off by?” Ellmers’ response was astonishing:

Obviously, Hillary Clinton brought this up in the debate and she did it clearly to try to paint Donald Trump in a negative light, so now Donald Trump is addressing the issue, as he did in the debate. He’s using social media because he knows it’s the most effective manner to get his message out. He knows that, unfortunately, he cannot depend upon you, the media, to tell his story, and really what is happening. You know, you heard a lot about fact checking during the debate. Donald Trump is setting the record straight and he’s using social media. That’s the kind of president we need. Someone who goes right to the root of the problem.

So, Clinton brought up something that Trump said in order to paint Trump in a negative light, which is the real bad thing. Also, he’s addressing the issue by going on social media and shaming a private citizen for having sex on reality TV and alleging that Clinton illegally got citizenship for that citizen because social media is “the most effective manner to get his message out.” Finally, he’s sharing the real story that the media refuses to tell. (That Machado once had sex on TV?) Also, this would make him a good president, and he’s getting to the root of the problem. (Again, that Machado once had sex on TV?)

Maybe not? When asked again if this feud with Machado was “good strategy,” Ellmers responded:

This isn’t about the Miss Universe. This is about Hillary Clinton using this former Miss Universe pageant winner as a pawn in her bid for this White House presidential race.

OK, so Trump was getting to the root of the problem when he brought up Machado having sex on TV. But Machado is not the issue. Also, the real issue is Clinton using Machado as a pawn by … getting Trump to tweet about Machado having sex on TV, which was actually addressing the root of the problem.

When asked again why Trump was talking about Machado rather than the issues, Ellmers responded:

He is absolutely talking about these issues. But here, again, this is part of the Hillary Clinton strategy. This is part of her playbook—corruption and making things appear something that are not there. And this is how she’s trying to attack him. Her main issue is to say that he doesn’t have the temperament to be president of the United States. I completely disagree.

So Clinton’s strategy is to make it look like Trump is easily goaded into attacking a private citizen for no good reason in a grotesque manner and thus demonstrate that he doesn’t have the temperament to be president, which—when said strategy works—actually demonstrates that he does have the temperament to be president. Also, the strategy is “corruption” and “making things appear something that are not there.”

And why, again, isn’t Trump attacking Clinton on more substantive topics instead of continuing this feud?

I mean, literally, this is exactly what Donald Trump is doing. He’s setting the record straight. I mean unfortunately in Washington, when you’re accused of something or painted in a certain light, typically, the reaction is not to fight back. If you do, then you’re playing into it. He is setting the record straight.

Unlike Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump understands that it’s important to get the facts out. That’s why he’s doing that.

So by not addressing more substantive topics and choosing to focus on Machado, Trump is focusing on more substantive topics. Also, he is setting the record straight by bringing up that Machado, who is not the issue, once had sex on reality TV. Also, he’s doing a service that Clinton would never do by getting “the facts out there.” He’s doing all this because he’s being painted in a certain, presumably inaccurate, light and responding in this manner will correct that false image. Got it.

When asked why a Trump campaign talking points memo had suggested surrogates focus on Bill Clinton’s sex scandals when discussing this topic instead of shifting to more substantive issues, Ellmers responded:

Well, you pointed out yourself, he sent out tweets this morning at 3:00 a.m. That’s his way of addressing the issue and then moving on to talk to the American people about the issues they really care about. The issues that women in this country care about.

So his way of addressing issues women care about is by tweeting in the middle of the night to insult and shame a private citizen for once having had sex on reality TV and then moving on to talk about those issues after having his campaign instruct surrogates to talk about Monica Lewinsky.

Should Trump stay in the “gutter” and keep this story going, Alexander finally asks at the end of the interview. Ellmers response?

I think that Donald Trump needs to move on and, again, the American people want to hear about the future. He is the future of this country. He is going to turn this country around and make America great again. Unlike Hillary Clinton that remains in the gutter.


Read more of Slate’s coverage of the 2016 campaign.