Less than a week after denying at a presidential debate that he had engaged in the sort of sexual assault of which he boasted in the now infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, Donald Trump was confronted this week with a series of statements from women who said, yes, he had groped or kissed them against their will.
The reports exacerbated the problem Trump created by his gross and demeaning language about women, not just in the "Access Hollywood" tape but on countless occasions. As First Lady Michelle Obama powerfully put it on Thursday: "The shameful comments about our bodies, the disrespect of our intelligence, the belief you can do anything to a woman: It is cruel. It's frightening. And the truth is, it hurts. It hurts."
The Republican nominee said that the latest "totally and absolutely false" accusations were the creation of Democrat Hillary Clinton and the news media. At a rally in Florida on Thursday, he also suggested that the attacks were designed to deflect attention from WikiLeaks' release of hacked emails "exposing the massive international corruption of the Clinton machine."
Such conspiracy-mongering is par for the course for Trump. Even before the latest allegations surfaced, he had descended into a political bunker, muttering (or rather tweeting) about disloyal Republican leaders such as "very weak and ineffective" House Speaker Paul Ryan and declaring that "the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to."
Lately he has seemed less unshackled than unhinged: threatening to jail his opponent and warning that "we have to make sure that this election is not stolen from us." Increasingly, his objective seems not to win but to construct a narrative that will allow him to shift the blame for his defeat onto others, leaving the party that nominated him to try to reunite and reconcile his supporters.
Yet Trump mostly has himself to blame for the declining fortunes of his campaign, engaging in one pointless and distracting fight after another rather than making a persuasive case for his election. And it was Trump who decided that sexual misconduct — Bill Clinton's, that is — was a salient issue in the campaign, to the point that his campaign paraded a group of the former president's accusers before the news media just before the last presidential debate. Now, of course, Trump and his beleaguered band of television surrogates object that the media and public are being distracted by the "extraneous" issue of Trump's behavior toward women.
Trump is correct that the disturbing accusations against him have coincided with the release of emails from the account of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, which do contain information embarrassing to the Clinton campaign — as would the ventilation of the private communications of any political campaign — but no bombshells.
Even if the emails were purloined by hackers associated with the Russian government, as U.S. intelligence officials believe, the contents shouldn't be off-limits for discussion any more than were the Trump tax returns surreptitiously provided to the New York Times. Clinton already has been pressed to explain comments she made at a speech to a housing-industry group that public officials need "both a public and a private position." She likewise should respond to other details from the emails — for example, Chelsea Clinton's fear that associates of the Clinton Foundation were trying to capitalize on their government connections to aid their clients.
But the fact that voters are more interested in Trump's obscene comments about women captured on tape — and troubling allegations that he acted the way he talked — isn't surprising. Nor is it a result of a conspiracy. Trump trained this spotlight on himself.
For a complete list of The Times' endorsements for the Nov. 8 ballot, go to latimes.com/endorsements.