Trump Takes 'Shackles' Off, On The Trail And On Twitter
Donald Trump declared "the shackles have been taken off me" Tuesday morning on Twitter.
It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016
That has been apparent since Sunday night, when he held a briefing before his second debate with Hillary Clinton alongside women who say they were sexually assaulted by former President Bill Clinton. He then proceeded to seat those women in the audience at the debate and confront Hillary Clinton with their allegations on stage.
This is Trump's response to the leaked videotape showing him using vulgar language to describe women and their bodies, and even bragging about groping and kissing them without consent.
Trump has apologized, but on the campaign trail he doesn't sound humbled.
Campaigning in Pennsylvania on Monday, those charges became part of his prepared remarks. "Hillary Clinton has been deeply familiar with her husband's predatory behavior, and instead of trying to stop it, she made it possible for him to take advantage of even more women," Trump said. (NPR has fact-checked these claims.)
Trump also spoke about the 1969 car crash involving the late Sen. Ted Kennedy on Chappaquiddick Island, Mass., in which Kennedy's female passenger was killed.
He appeared to repeat propaganda from a Kremlin-funded news site.
And on Tuesday, Trump's campaign released an ad that claims through words and images that there are serious concerns about Clinton's health, the subject of debunked right-wing conspiracy theories, many of which have been amplified by Breitbart News, the site recently run by Trump's campaign CEO Stephen Bannon.
With less than a month to go before the election, Trump has dozens of members of his own party calling on him to step aside. House Speaker Paul Ryan told GOP lawmakers he won't defend Trump, and the nominee has been hitting Ryan back on Twitter.
Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan, had a bad conference call where his members went wild at his disloyalty.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 11, 2016
(Ryan's office responded with a statement saying, "Paul Ryan is focusing the next month on defeating Democrats, and all Republicans running for office should probably do the same.")
In Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Monday night, before a nearly full arena, Trump was in rare form. There was no sense of a campaign in crisis as he turned up the temperature on his usual attacks against Clinton and the establishment — and raised once again the specter of a "stolen election."
"And everybody knows what I'm talking about. And this crooked media, they're talking about crooked Hillary, they're worse than she is," Trump said, as the crowd chanted "CNN sucks."
"Oh, they just turned off their camera," Trump retorted, even though the cable network was still rolling.
But it was all part of the show for Trump's hardcore followers, who seemed unfazed by the scandal.
As a supporter struggled to organize a round of the wave before the rally began, Jeannie Hovan of Towanda, Pa., joined in. The 62-year-old retiree said Trump's comments about women were no big deal.
"Any one of these people, if they've never uttered a vulgar word, then they shouldn't live in a glass house, because that's just the way it is," Hovan said.
When asked if it's normal for men to joke about groping women, Hovan responded, "Yeah, oh yeah. 'Oh, I'd like to grab that,' or, 'Yeah, I'd like to tap that.' Yeah, they're always saying that."
Her friend Myra Harkness, a dairy farmer from near Binghamton, N.Y., said Trump has apologized and it's time to move on.
She said it's just talk — and even if it was more than talk, "then you just haul off and punch 'em and move on. Everybody's getting too sue-happy and crazy like that. Back, we didn't have this 10, 15, 20 years ago."
As for Republican leaders who are bailing on Trump, Hovan sees a cynical move to hang on to their positions.
"They're afraid they're gonna lose their place in the hierarchy. I think they're making a big mistake. They need to get behind him because he's their only hope," Hovan said.
Speaking to NPR's Morning Edition, Florida GOP strategist Mac Stipanovich, who says he's voting for Clinton, described Trump's supporters as "literally face-down in the Kool-Aid."
But regardless of what some Republican Party leaders think of their nominee's chances on Election Day or his supporters, they are an energized part of the GOP base.