Seething over accusation after accusation that he groped, kissed and ogled at women without their consent, Donald Trump forcefully denied Thursday that he’s preyed on anyone and dismissed the mounting allegations against him as a conspiracy conceived by the political establishment, rival Hillary Clinton and the news media.
“These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false,” he said at a feverish West Palm Beach rally. “These claims are all fabricated, they’re pure fiction, and they’re outright lies. These events never, ever happened, and the people that said them meekly, fully understand.”
In a 47-minute speech that at times took on an apocalyptic tone, Trump cast himself as a victim of entrenched interests and a martyr for a conned electorate.
“I didn’t have to do this,” he said of his presidential candidacy. “I take all of these slings and arrows gladly, for you.”
Something appeared to have shifted in Trump in the wake of the testimonies published one after another Wednesday night from at least four women who described being sexually assaulted by Trump. Their accounts directly contradicted the candidate, who said when pressed during a debate against Clinton on Sunday that he had never acted on the vulgar remarks he was caught making on a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape.
On Thursday, Trump offered the sort of lines candidates deploy in their defense after losing an election — even while he essentially suggested that notion was unthinkable.
“This is a conspiracy against you, the American people,” Trump said. “Our independence day is at hand, and it arrives, finally, on Nov. 8.”
Abandoned by a torrent of elected Republicans after the tape leak, Trump blasted political elites as worried more about their self-preservation than about the people who cast ballots for them.
“There is nothing the political establishment will not do, no lie that they won’t tell, to hold their prestige and power at your expense,” he said. “The Washington establishment and financial and media corporations that fund it exist for only one reason: to protect and enrich itself.”
The “corporate media,” according to Trump, “is no longer involved in journalism: They are a political special interest no different than any lobbyist or other financial entity.” He blamed the timing of the allegations on a plot to take attention away from a WikiLeaks release of hacked emails purportedly belonging to Clinton’s campaign chairman and showing the inner workings of her political team.
“Their agenda is to elect crooked Hillary Clinton at any cost, no matter how many lives they destroy,” he said. “For them, it’s a war, and for them, nothing at all is out of bounds. This is a struggle for the survival of our nation. Believe me. This will be our last chance to save it.”
Trump, whose fame was built on the covers and gossip pages of New York tabloids and as host of NBC’s “The Apprentice” reality show, blasted the media as the crowd of several thousand people turned to reporters penned in the middle of the floor.
“They will attack you. They will slander you. They will seek to destroy your career and family,” he said. “They will seek to destroy everything about you, including your reputation.”
“These false attacks,” Trump added later, “are absolutely hurtful.”
He took the stage shortly after First Lady Michelle Obama, campaigning for Clinton in New Hampshire, nearly came to tears describing the stunning past week of the election.
“I can’t believe that I’m saying that a candidate for president of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women,” she said. “I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.”
“This is not normal,” Obama added. “This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable.”
Trump spent the past three days in Florida, where polls taken before the tape leak and the latest debate showed him slightly behind Clinton. Nearly 2.7 million Florida voters have requested mail ballots and are already returning them. Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, is scheduled to attend a Miami-Dade County Republican Party fundraiser Friday.
Trump began Thursday at his Trump National Doral golf resort outside Miami. He tweeted angrily about his accusers. Once in West Palm, when a reporter tried to ask him about the allegations at a business roundtable, Trump dismissed him as a “sleazebag.”
Inside the South Florida Fair & Expo Center, after having arrived more than an hour late, Trump referred specifically to a People magazine reporter who wrote in an essay Wednesday that Trump pushed her against a wall and stuck his tongue down her throat in 2005 when she went to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach to interview him and his pregnant wife, Melania, ahead of their first wedding anniversary.
“Look at her,” Trump said, apparently directing his audience to check out the reporter’s appearance. “Look at her words. Tell me what you think. I don’t think so.”
“She wishes!” yelled one man in the crowd. It was standing-room only and nearing the hall’s capacity of 6,000 people.
The rally displayed an unbound Trump. During the Republican National Convention in July, Trump tried to stay about the fray when his Clinton mentions were met with chants of, “Lock her up!”
“Honestly, she should be locked up,” Trump told the impassioned West Palm Beach crowd. He called Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, “criminals” — without offering evidence other than to say their wrongdoing has been “well documented.”
During Sunday’s debate, Trump said he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton and send her to jail — the sort of revanchist move dictators exact against their political opponents. His campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said Trump didn’t mean the jail line literally, though he has repeated it since.
“I will never vote for Hillary,” said Barbara Mileto, a retired nurse from Port St. Lucie. “She is a liar. She is corrupt.”
Mileto, an independent, said the last Republican she voted for was Ronald Reagan. Trump, she said, “has too much integrity” for the groping allegations to be true.
“All men with power and a lot of money do these things,” said Mileto, a mother of three grown children who praised Trump’s own family. “Elite Republicans are scared to death [of Trump]. He is not a politician. He says what he means. I think he could work with anyone. The man built an empire by speaking with people.”
Jerry Kolata, a Jupiter retiree, said any sexual advances were “not right.”
“But I think he is the better choice than Hillary, the insider establishment. I think most people are good and bad. We have to choose the best of the two,” he said.
“The Republican Party has been in a civil war for eight years,” he added. “Trump is just the latest manifestation of that. The establishment Republicans have no one to blame but themselves.”