As a seemingly endless string of sexual misconduct and domestic abuse allegations bring down people near the center of U.S. politics and culture, some have noticed an apparent pattern in President Trump's responses to selected scandals.
We could even state it as a hypothesis:
Whether Donald Trump believes a woman's claim of sexual misconduct depends on his relationship to the accused man.
So let's test it.
Case 1: Trump's aide Rob Porter
Trump's White House staff secretary was accused of assaulting two ex-wives, which he denies. Porter resigned after the accusations and photos became public this week, but not before the White House press secretary and chief of staff both praised his character. The White House statements then spoke of shock and spousal abuse being intolerable, but Trump on Friday still praised Porter for his work, while reasserting that Porter said he was innocent. And on Saturday, Trump wrote what appeared to be a defense of his former aide:
Case 2: GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore
In December's Senate election in Alabama, Trump endorsed the Republican candidate, despite his being accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls. Many Republicans abandoned Moore after the scandal broke, but Trump campaigned for and defended him, recognizing that Moore represented a key 52nd GOP vote in the Senate. “He totally denies it,” Trump said. “He says it didn’t happen.” Trump urged Alabamians to vote for Moore for political reasons. Only after Moore lost the election did Trump rescind his support.
Case 3: Trump critic Al Franken
While the Moore scandal was still playing out, the Democratic senator from Minnesota was accused of groping women. Both men denied the worst of the accusations, but as CNN noted, Trump blasted Franken and stood by Moore. “Where do his hands go?” the president wrote of the former "Saturday Night Live” cast member who often used the president as a punchline.
Case 4: Trump's frenemy Matt Lauer
It's unclear the relationship Trump had with Matt Lauer before the NBC anchor was accused of sexual misbehavior last year. He attacked a 2013 magazine story critical of Lauer, and Lauer had been accused of going soft on Trump when he moderated a 2016 presidential debate. But after appearing on Lauer's show in 2014, Trump appreciatively retweeted someone who called the anchor “an annoying sand gnat.” Similarly, Trump's response to Lauer's firing in November was hard to gauge. “Wow,” he tweeted, and quoted the accusations verbatim without saying whether he believed them.
Case 5: Trump's friend Roger Ailes
Trump's relationship with the former Fox News chief is less nuanced. Under Ailes, the network helped turn Trump's candidacy from a fringe sideshow into a national movement, former Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza wrote for CNN. The two were reportedly old friends, and Ailes was widely reported to be advising Trump's campaign in mid-2016, after he was ousted from Fox in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal. As you might expect by now, Trump defended Ailes and cast suspicion on the women accusing him. “I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he's helped them,” Trump said.
Case 6: Trump's friend Bill O'Reilly
Without getting too deep in the details, Trump was also friends with Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, who was also ousted from the network in a sexual harassment scandal, and Trump also told reporters that O'Reilly did nothing wrong.
Case 7: Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski
“How do you know those bruises weren’t there before?” Trump asked in 2016, after a female reporter accused his campaign manager of assaulting her — an incident caught on video. Trump fired Lewandowski a few weeks later. Lewandowski was charged but not convicted of assault, and he reportedly remains in close contact with the president.
Case 8: Trump's profitable prizefighter, Mike Tyson
The pattern of defending allies goes back well before Trump's political ambitions. In the 1990s, CNN reported, Trump earned millions sponsoring matches with heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. Then Tyson was convicted of rape. Not only did Trump call the conviction a “travesty,” but he also said one of Tyson's accusers had gone to his hotel room “at her own will” and looked “happy as could be” the next day.
Case 9: Trump's friend Bill Clinton
Forget the epic Trump-Clinton rivalry of the modern age. Before he became a Republican politician, Trump invited both Bill and Hillary Clinton to his 2005 wedding reception, Politico reported. While it's unclear how far back the friendship went, Trump was notably sympathetic to Clinton during his presidency, when several women accused him of sexual misconduct. “His victims are terrible,” Trump said at the time. He even called Clinton “really a victim himself.”
Case 10: Trump's enemy Bill Clinton
Okay, now fast-forward to the aforementioned epic rivalry. Whatever goodwill existed between Trump and the Clintons rapidly disintegrated during the 2016 campaign, when he ran against Hillary Clinton for president and Bill Clinton often mocked Trump on the campaign trail. As Trump's friendship with Bill Clinton evaporated, so apparently did his belief in Clinton's innocence.
In case that did not sufficiently complete his about-face, Trump later invited several of Clinton's accusers to a presidential debate. Years ago, he had called them an "unattractive group." Now, he called them “courageous.”
Case 11: The U.S. military (when someone else led it)
It's been all but forgotten, but Trump has portrayed sexual assault against female soldiers as an epidemic.
But that was early in Trump's flirtation with politics, and his rival President Barack Obama was in charge of the armed forces. After he declared his candidacy in 2015, Trump awkwardly backed off his opposition to letting women serve in combat.
If Trump still considers sexual assault in the military a “Massive problem” now that he's commander in chief, it's hard to find evidence of it.
Case 12: Donald Trump
Donald Trump is Donald Trump and accordingly sounds convinced that more than a dozen women who have accused him of molesting or assaulting them are liars.
Addendum: Bill Cosby
Technically, Trump didn't say whether he believed the many women who accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them when he wrote:
But the construction of the Tweet is interesting. In responding to one of the most horrific sexual assault scandals of the 21st century, the first thing Trump tells us is his prior opinion of the accused man: "I am no fan." Of the women and the allegations he says nothing at all. This is a message to, for and about the man.
Not one of a dozen cases above contradicts the hypothesis that Trump believes women who accuse his rivals of misconduct and disbelieves those who accuse his friends. That doesn't mean it's true, of course. At best, it's a correlation, and there's no way to be sure our list is exhaustive. We may have missed examples. But the closest thing to a contradictory case we can find is this:
In 2009, the singer Chris Brown was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend, Rihanna. Several years later, Trump heard rumors that she was dating Brown again and warned her:
The Washington Post can find no indication that Trump was ever involved in a political, personal or business rivalry with Brown, nor that he had ever previously expressed strong feelings about the singer.
This suggests that in at least one case, Trump's opinion of a woman's claim against a man was based on the claim's merits and nothing else.