Typically, faced with a wide-ranging news conference, reporters try to figure out what was the biggest news, and to lead with that.
And yes, Trump said some individually astonishing things. He acknowledged that he “fights back” in a way some people apparently misinterpret as obstruction of justice. He asserted that Barack Obama came close to launching a nuclear war against North Korea. He accused China, without evidence, of trying to interfere in the midterm elections. And he insisted that the assembled leaders at the United Nations weren’t laughing at him on Tuesday, they were laughing with him.
But the big “news” is that taken as a whole, Trump showed possibly more clearly than ever before that he lives in a fantasy world where reality bends to whatever he wants to believe is true.
And even more importantly, taken as a whole, it was an extraordinary display of misogyny, both in how he answered some questions and how he refused to answer others. He has never treated women so clearly as the “other”, and as suspect, and as a threat to men.
He had no empathy for women as victims of sexual assault. Quite the contrary: He acknowledged that that he sympathizes with people who’ve been accused of sexual assault because he has, too. And he ended with a particularly dire warning about how “it’s a very dangerous period in our country” because women are accusing famous people of sexual assault.
I’m going to focus on Trump’s comments about women, because I don’t think he has ever spoken more honestly about his feelings toward them. They are threatening. They are not to be trusted. They love him (but they don’t.)
I’m working with Vox’s transcript, which isn’t perfect.
Consider this early exchange. Trump’s promise not to badmouth the women lasts all of two sentences. To Trump, there is a victim here, but it is not them.
Q. Mr. President, there are now three women accusing Judge Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Are you saying that all three of those women are liars? Is there anything that could be said at this point tomorrow that could cause you to withdraw the nomination?
TRUMP: I won’t get into that game. I only tell you this. This is one of the highest quality people that I have ever met. And everybody that knows him says the same thing. And these are all false, to me. These are false accusations in certain cases, and certain cases even the media agrees with that. I can only say that what they have done to this man is incredible.
He starts talking about other people he might pick to be judges – and how any of them could suddenly become the target of a woman:
[P]eople are going to be scared, because we could say it about you. 35 years ago, you met — and you might know — you might not know what’s going on.
It takes an astonishing lack of basic human empathy to mess up the answer to this question. But Trump doesn’t even come close. He literally has no idea what to say.
Q. Mr. President, if I could follow up, you have daughters. Can you understand why a victim of sexual assault would not report it at the time? Don’t you understand?
TRUMP: By the way, I only say this — 36 years. No charge. No nothing. But — that happens often. People are going to have to make a decision. 36 years. There’s no charge. All of a sudden, the hearings are over. And the rumors start coming out. And then you have this other con artist, [Michael] Avenatti, come out with another beauty today. I only say that you have to look at the facts too. The senators are very capable people. They’re very good people. I know many of them. They’re friends of mine. These are very talented, very good people. And they are going to vote.
They’re going to have to believe what they believe. I can — when I look at what’s happened to the reputation of a great gentleman, a great intellect, a brilliant man, somebody that has a chance to be one of our great Supreme Court justices in history, intellectually, I think it’s a shame.
Why does Trump “always seem to side with the accused and not the accuser?” Unable to answer, he instead casts women as possible aggressors, and then imagines that he “could pick a woman” and she could also be accused of assault.
As far as women, whether it’s a man or a woman, these are — you know, it can happen the other way. Allegations can go the other way also. You understand that.
And whether it was a man or a woman, 30 years ago, 36 years ago — in fact, they don’t even know how many years ago, because nobody knows what the time is. That’s a long time. And I could pick, as an example, hopefully I won’t have to do it as a replacement, because hopefully this is going to go very well on Thursday. It’s going to go very well on Monday or Saturday or Sunday or whenever they vote. But I could pick a woman. And she could have charges made from many years ago also.
Q. But don’t you understand, sir …
TRUMP: And I would look at the character. No, what I have to do —
Q. Are reluctant to come forward. You raised doubts about these —
TRUMP: I don’t think people are reluctant to come forward. They’re going to have a chance to speak at a — they have a major chance to speak. Excuse me. Excuse me. They have a major chance to speak. And it will be tomorrow, I assume. We’ve delayed this, meaning the Republican senators — not me. The Republican senators have delayed this for weeks now. They’re giving the women a major chance to speak. Now, it’s possible I’ll hear that, and I’ll say, hey. I’m changing my mind. That is possible. We want to give them a chance to speak.
Trump suggested that he would be willing to hear Kavanaugh’s accusers out, and ” could be persuaded.” But when a reporter pointed out that his tweet on Friday — that “if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed” — suggested he had already made up his mind, Trump floundered about.
TRUMP: It doesn’t mean they had to report it, because in some instances, people keep it quiet. It’s a very tough situation for a woman. There’s no question about it. And in some cases, they do report it. Frankly, had they reported it, it would have been pretty amazing, wouldn’t it? But I guess they didn’t. And that’s okay. I’m not saying they had to report it. Because it’s a very personal thing. It’s a very big problem. There’s no question about it. Go ahead.
Q. Do you want to hear her story before —
TRUMP: I’d like to hear her story, yeah. We’re giving her time.
Q. You’ve already made up your mind.
TRUMP: They would have given her time last week. This is the United States Senate. This is the most important position that a president can give out. I think we can say that by far. I’ve actually heard it’s the most important decision a president can make. I disagree with that. War and peace. I always say war and peace. And after that, Supreme Court justice. Right? I look forward to hearing from her. We could have heard from her last week. We could have heard from her for a long time. It will be interesting to hear what she has to say, okay?
Trump’s most revealing responses may have come to the questions about whether his own experience being repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct predisposed him to be sympathetic to the accused rather than the accuser.
It does impact my opinion. You know why? Because I’ve had a lot of false charges made against me….. I’ve had a lot of false charges made against me. Really false charges. I know friends that have had false charges. People want fame, they want money, they want whatever. So when I see it, I view it differently than somebody sitting home watching television where they say, oh, Judge Kavanaugh, this or that. It’s happened to me many times. I’ve had many false charges.
Trump spoke at length about four women who he said were misquoted about false allegations against him that they were paid to make. Bbut in fact he has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct by at least 13 women and there’s no evidence any were paid to talk.
After calling on Sky News correspondent Hannah Thomas-Peter, Trump would not let her finish a question – nor would he answer it. Although his conflation of the sexual misconduct accusations against Kavanaugh and the accusations against his campaign of Russian collusion further highlighted his perception of himself as a victim.
Q. Are you at all concerned at the message that is being sent to the women who are watching this when you use language like con job? Allegations —
TRUMP: That’s probably the nicest phrase I’ve ever used. Con job. It is. It’s a con job. You know, confidence. It’s a confidence job. But they — it’s a con job by the Democrats. They know it.
Q. What about the message that’s being sent to women —
TRUMP: The same with the Russia investigation. They tried to convince people that I had something to do with Russia. There was no collusion….
Then Trump started to lie about the extent of his support from women:
The people that have complained to me about it the most, about what’s happening, are women. Women are very angry. You know, I got 52% with women. Everyone said this couldn’t happen. 52%.
Trump has repeatedly used that statistic. It is wrong. He won 52 percent of the vote among white women. He only got 41 percent of the vote from women if you include women of color, which he doesn’t. Trump continued with his fantasy of women supporting him — and being angry on his behalf.
Women are so angry. And I, frankly, think that — I think they like what the Republicans are doing. But I think they would have liked to have seen it go a lot faster. But give them their day in court. Let her have her day in court. Let somebody else have a day in court. But the ones that I find — I mean, I have men that don’t like it. But I have women that are incensed at what’s going on. I’ve always said, women are smarter than men. I’ve said that a lot. And I mean it. But women are incensed at what’s going on.
Trump’s inability to see men as anything but victims was most visible in his response to a question from CBS News’ Steven Portnoy.
Q. You were asked earlier by my friend from Sky News about the message that you are sending the women of the country. What about the message that you may be sending to young men? You’re a father. What does this moment we’re in, the cultural moment…
Trump: It’s a very big cultural moment.
Q. Right, so what message do you have for the young men of America?
Trump’s answer: Be afraid of false accusations from women — and evil Democrats.
It is a very good question. It is a big moment for our country because you have a man who is very outstanding but he has very strong charges against him. Probably charges that nobody is going to be able to be — to prove. So I could have you chosen for a position, I could have you or you or you, anybody, and somebody could say things, and it has happened to me many times. …
This could go on forever. Somebody could come and say, 30 years ago, 25 years ago, ten years ago, five years ago, he did a horrible thing to me. He did this, he did that, he did that. Honestly, it is a very dangerous period in our country, and it is being perpetrated by some very evil people. Some of them are Democrats, I must say…. It’s a con game at the highest level.
When you are guilty until proven innocent, it is just not supposed to be that way. Always I heard you are innocent until proven guilty. I have heard this for so long, and it is such a beautiful phrase. In this case you are guilty until proven innocent. I think that is a very, very dangerous standard for our country. With that being said, I look forward to what she has to say. I also look very forward to what Judge Kavanaugh has to say. I think it is going to be a very, very important day in the history of our country. I want to thank you all.
Here’s how it ended:
TRUMP: We’ll do it again.
Q. A message to young men? Sir, young teenage men?
[Trump exits press conference.]