Collapsing in the polls amid a torrent of sexual assault allegations and reports of major GOP donors urging party leaders to abandon the candidate’s sinking ship, 2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gave an angry, unapologetic speech in Greensboro, North Carolina, lashing out at a litany of political opponents.
On Friday, Trump slammed Clinton for not having any public events on the calendar until the third and final general election debate, scheduled for Oct. 19. “She said she’s doing debate prep, but really she’s just resting,” Trump said, a nod to the case of pneumonia Clinton contracted that caused her to collapse during last month’s 9/11 memorial service.
While Trump complimented Clinton’s tenacity at the conclusion of the second presidential debate, his campaign released an ad earlier this week about how she “doesn’t have the fortitude, strength, or stamina to lead in our world,” after showing images evoking the threat of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism.
The audience responded with a chant of “Lock her up!”—the slogan representing the Trump campaign’s pledge, unprecedented in American political history, to have his general election opponent thrown in jail if he ascends to the White House.
Citing documents stolen from numerous Democratic Party officials and released by the radical transparency group Wikileaks—an act the Obama administration has formally blamed on high-level officials within the Russian government—Trump suggested the government’s decision not to charge Clinton for her use of a private email server was part of a conspiracy to keep him out of the Oval Office.
“If I win, I will ask my attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor,” Trump said. “And we all have to investigate the investigation itself.”
Trump also suggested that, prior to the debates, Clinton had been “given the questions and answers,” which is why she was able to do well against him. “What a rigged system, folks,” Trump sighed.
Citing online polls, Trump said he had won the debates. However, those unscientific polls were heavily influenced by coordinated efforts from online hubs of pro-Trump activity like Reddit and 4chan, meaning they did not serve as an accurate indicator for how the American public as a whole felt about the debates. All of the scientific polls showed Clinton handily winning both debates—even executives at Fox News circulated a memo urging its employees to stop citing methodologically unsound online polls in their reporting.
The media was one of Trump’s primary targets in his speech. “The corrupt media is trying to do everything in their power to stop our movement, believe me,” he said. “They don’t want to this happening. We are one of the greatest moments. We have a movement, that’s never happened before.”
Trump singled out the “failing New York Times” for criticism. “The largest shareholder at the Times is Carlos Slim. Carlos Slim, as you know, comes from Mexico. He’s given many millions to the Clintons and their initiatives. Carlos Slim, largest owner of the paper, is from Mexico,” Trump said. “Reporters from the New York Times aren’t journalists, they’re corporate lobbyists for Carlos Slim and for Hillary Clinton. We’re going to let foreign corporations and their CEOs decide the outcomes. We just can’t do this. We can’t let this happen. We are not going to let it happen, where they decide the outcome of our election.”
Earlier this week, Trump threatened to sue the New York Times over a story the paper published detailing sexual assault allegations made by two different women against the former reality TV star. In an open letter to Trump, the paper’s lawyer refused to retract the story, asserting that “nothing our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself.”
Relations between the press and the audience at Trump rallies have become increasingly contentious. An attendee at another recent Trump rally drew a swastika and placed it on a media table at the event.
But of all topics, Trump spent much of the North Carolina rally defending himself against a slew of sexual assault allegations. “As you have seen, right now, I am being viciously attacked with lies and smears. It is a phony deal. I have no idea who these women are,” Trump insisted. “I have no idea. I have no idea. And I think you all know I have no idea because you understand me for a lot of years.”
Trump began his defense by casting aspersions on one of his alleged victim’s looks and then raising doubts about the ubiquity of sexual assault in American society in general. “When you looked at that horrible woman last night, you said, ‘I don’t think so,’” Trump said. “Whoever she is, wherever she comes from, the stories are total fiction. They are 100 percent made up, they never happened. They never would happen. I don’t think they happen with very many people, but they certainly aren’t going to happen with me.”
Trump acknowledged that he had been advised not to directly address the allegations, but said he felt obligated to respond personally to the charges. That tactic, of vociferously pushing back against accusations of sexual impropriety, echoes the unsolicited advice he once gave to Bill Cosby, back when the comedian was facing his own wave of sexual assault claims and refused to address the charges in public. “[Cosby] should say something because he is being accused of terrible things,” Trump told an E! reporter. “And to have absolutely no comment—I think he’s getting very bad advice from a PR standpoint. And he should do it differently. He’s not doing a very good job of handling it.”
Trump also cast doubt on the motives of his accusers. “Some are doing it probably for a little fame. They get some free fame,” he said. “It’s a total setup.
“Somebody that you’ve never seen is going, ‘Oh, in 1992, he went like this,” Trump continued, making a groping motion with his hands, which drew an eruption of laughter from the crowd.
“One came recently where I was sitting alone in some club,” he said, referring to allegations by Kristin Anderson, who claims that Trump reached up her skirt while she was sitting in a Manhattan nightclub in the early 1990s. “I don’t sit alone that much. Honestly, folks, I don’t think I sit alone… I was [supposedly] sitting alone and then I went ‘wah,’” he said, miming another grabbing motion, which again drew laughter from the crowd.
However, nowhere in the Washington Post‘s story of these allegations did Anderson assert Trump was by himself at the time of the alleged assault.
Trump went on to attack former People magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff, who published a harrowing first-hand account earlier this week about how Trump allegedly sexually assaulted her while she was at his Florida resort writing a profile on the then-Apprentice host.
“Here is my question about the dishonest reporter for People magazine: Why didn’t she write what she said happened before she wrote the story?” Trump asked. “Why didn’t she put it in the story? The story would have been one of the big stories. I was the big star of The Apprentice. Why didn’t she do it 12 years ago? She’s a liar. She’s a liar. She is a liar.”
In her piece detailing the incident, Stoynoff gave her rationale for excluding Trump’s advances from her initial story.
Except for a few close friends and family, I didn’t talk about the incident. In time, I chalked it up to one of the hazards of a roller coaster ride of celebrity journalism: I’d danced barefoot in Cannes with John Travolta, sang with Paul McCartney, talked about Bogie with Bacall, quoted Shakespeare with Brando and Prince Andrew yelled at me until I cried. Oh, and Donald Trump forced himself on me. I tried to make myself believe it was no big deal.
Only, it was.
Now he’s running for president of our country. The other day, I listened to him talk about how he treats women on the Access Hollywood tape. I felt a strong mix of emotions, but shock wasn’t one of them.
I was relieved. I finally understood for sure that I was not to blame for his inappropriate behavior. I had not been singled out. As he explained to Billy Bush, it was his usual modus operandi with women. I felt deep regret for not speaking out at the time. What if he had done worse to other female reporters at the magazine since then because I hadn’t warned them?
And lastly, I felt violated and muzzled all over again.
Trump’s insistence about the dishonesty of his accusers is echoed by his followers. Mindy McGillivray, who alleges that Trump groped her in 2003, said fears for her safety and plans to flee the country. “We feel the backlash of the Trump supporters. It scares us. It intimidates us. We are in fear of our lives,” she told the Palm Beach Post.
Even as he denied accusations of sexual assault, Trump did little to distance himself from the perception, one pushed by his political opponents since the start of the campaign, of his misogynistic tendencies.
In the midst of complaining about the media narrative of how he loomed over Clinton during their town hall debate, Trump couldn’t help but make a crack at the expense of the former secretary of state’s appearance. “The other day, I’m standing at my podium, and she walks in front of me. When she walked in front of me, believe me, I wasn’t impressed,” he said, again drawing a jolt of laughter from the crowd.
Trump also disparaged the appearance for one of his accusers, saying of Jessica Leeds, who says Trump groped her while on a plane in the early 1980s, “She would not be my first choice, that I can tell you.”
Trump attempted to turn the tables, calling on someone to invent sexual assault allegations against President Barack Obama. “He’s out campaigning all day long. He’s talking about me like he knows me. I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me. Why doesn’t some woman maybe come up and say what they say falsely about me, they could say it about him? They could say it about anybody,” Trump said.
When a protester interrupted Trump’s speech, he paused for a moment, pointed at the man who was responsible for the interruption, and ordered, “Get this guy out of here.”
A Trump supporter in a red “Make America Great Again” put the protester in a violent chokehold until security officials broke up the altercation.
Trump concluded by stoking fears that the outcome of the election will be illegitimate if the results don’t fall in his favor. “You see what’s happening. The process is rigged. This whole election is being rigged. It’s one big fix,” he said, repeating allegations that have certainly played a role in over half of his supporters expressing strong doubts their ballots will be counted fairly on Election Day.
At a rally later in the day in Charlotte, North Carolina, a song by the Backstreet Boys played while the crowd waited for Trump to go onstage.
One day prior, the boy band had asked the Trump campaign to stop playing their music at rallies. Trump, unsurprisingly, paid little to heed to anyone telling him what to do.