Kellyanne Conway, new campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17, 2016.
Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP

Team Trump wants to debate the nuances of ‘sexual assault’

When Donald Trump, newly married for the third time, boasted about his sexual exploits in 2005, he went further than routine braggadocio. As we discussed yesterday, Trump described situations in which he kissed women without their consent and grabbed them by their genitals. For reasons that should be obvious, it’s led many to accurately characterize Trump’s actions as sexual assaults.

Yesterday morning, Rudy Giuliani, one of the Republican candidate’s top surrogates, conceded the point without pushing back. Indeed, in last night’s debate, co-moderator Anderson Cooper was rather direct on this point, asking Trump, “You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”

It’s quickly become clear that Trump and his team do not understand that. In the debate, the GOP nominee insisted he “didn’t say” anything about sexual assault. After the debate, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), another leading Trump surrogate, told the Weekly Standard, in reference to the candidate’s own claims, “I don’t characterize that as sexual assault. I think that’s a stretch.”

When the Weekly Standard followed up, “So if you grab a woman by the genitals, that’s not sexual assault?” Sessions reportedly replied, “I don’t know. It’s not clear that he – how that would occur.”

As Vox noted, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, apparently hopes to remove the phrase from the campaign conversation altogether.
“That’s a very unfortunate phrase, and people really should stop using it,” Conway said.

“Why?” Bash said.

“Because I know him better, and I know better,” Conway said.
Of course, in reality, whether or not someone knows Donald Trump has no relevance to whether or not he was describing sexual assault.

In the same interview, Conway added that Trump “did not say the word ‘sexual assault’ ” in the 2005 audio clip, which is true. But again, if someone brags about committing sexual assault, their actions are what matter – not their literal word choice.

We can debate whether or not Trump was lying; whether or not Trump’s boasts will be politically damaging; and whether or not his comments should be disqualifying.

But for the sake of basic human decency, let’s not debate whether or not the actions he described constitute sexual assault. There’s nothing debatable about it.

Update: An aide to Sen. Sessions emailed a statement in response to yesterday’s reporting. It read, ”The Weekly Standard’s characterization of comments I made following Sunday’s Presidential debate is completely inaccurate. My hesitation was based solely on confusion of the contents of the 2005 tape and the hypothetical posed by the reporter, which was asked in a chaotic post-debate environment.  I regret that it resulted  in an inaccurate article that misrepresented  my views. Of course it is crystal clear that assault is unacceptable.  I would never intentionally suggest otherwise.‎”