Our Degrading Election Gets the Catchphrase It Deserves

“Grab them by the pussy” is Trump’s “47 percent” moment, only so much worse.

Donald Trump makes a face during the presidential debate on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Earlier this week, Donald Trump tried to explain away his long history of outrageously misogynist comments by saying, “A lot of that was done for the purpose of entertainment.” It was obvious at the time that this was not true, and now we have conclusive proof. The Washington Post’s indefatigable David Fahrenthold has obtained a 2005 recording of Trump talking about women with Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush on a hot mic. In it, he boasts of how, when he sees a beautiful woman, he likes to start kissing her without preliminaries. “I don’t even wait,” Trump, said, as Bush eggs him on. “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy.” This is how Trump talks privately, which is at once shocking and entirely unsurprising.

In an election in which no individual outrage seems to matter, it’s possible that this one might. It’s not just that we have further evidence of what sort of person Trump is. Trump’s words sounded an awful lot like cavalier boasts about sexual assault. They’re particularly disturbing when you consider that Jill Harth, the makeup artist who accused Trump of attempted rape in a 1997 lawsuit, said that Trump grabbed her sexually. Ivanka Trump defended her father by insisting that the man she knows is “not a groper.” Now we know that Trump himself says otherwise. It is thus not just legitimate but imperative that journalists ask Trump what he meant by “Grab them by the pussy.” Luckily, there is a debate on Sunday.

The exchange is relevant to the debate in other ways as well. Ever since his disgraceful performance in his last faceoff with Clinton, Trump and his surrogates have been threatening to bring up Bill Clinton’s affairs. If he does, Hillary Clinton has every reason to discuss Trump’s unapologetic talk about pursuing a married woman. “I did try and fuck her,” Trump said on the Bush tape. (It’s not clear whom he was talking about, and if the attempted fucking was before or after his 2005 marriage to Melania Trump.) “She was married,” he continued. “I moved on her very heavily. … I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. … Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything.” It’s worth noting that Harth also described Trump pursuing her relentlessly even though she had a boyfriend, George Houraney. In her lawsuit, she quotes Trump demanding that she “cheat on George.” Indeed, the man she describes in that suit sounds a lot like the man on the Billy Bush recording. Her story becomes more credible when we have Trump himself on tape describing his M.O. We might come to remember “Grab them by the pussy” as an analogue to Mitt Romney’s 47 percent speech. If so, it will be an appropriate catchphrase for the most degrading election in American history.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.