At a campaign event in New Hampshire on Saturday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump renewed allegations that the U.S. presidential election is rigged against him.
“The election is being rigged by corrupt media, pushing completely false allegations and outright lies, in an effort to elect [Hillary Clinton] president,” Trump said at an outdoor rally in Portsmouth, N.H.
Leaders on both sides of the political spectrum worry that this rhetoric, which supporters sometimes repeat in interviews, undermines the electoral process in a country with a history of peaceful democratic transition.
At the same event, Trump also accused Clinton of being on some kind of drug during the last debate.
Trump was mocking Clinton for taking time off from the campaign trail to prepare for the next debate when he made the extraordinary suggestion that she might have been on some kind of performance-enhancing drug during their last face-off.
He says, “I think she’s actually getting pumped up” while she’s off the trail.
He’s calling for both candidates to take a drug test prior to the final debate Wednesday.
Trump is denying stories in which eight women have accused him of sexual misconduct. At an event on Friday he mocked his accusers, employing a now-familiar tactic of criticizing a woman’s appearance as a means to deflect suggestions of wrongdoing.
Referring to allegations by Jessica Leeds, who appeared on camera on the New York Times’ website last week to recount how Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt on a flight from the Midwest to New York in or around 1980, Trump said, ‘”Yeah, I’m going to go after you. Believe me she would not be my first choice, I’ll tell you. That would not be my first choice.”
He pantomimed the descriptions of his alleged assaults, mimicking pawing at a women’s chest and reaching under a skirt.
Clinton is off the campaign trail today to prepare for the debate, but at an event Friday she expressed dismay at the tone of the election race.
“This election is incredibly painful,” she said. “I take absolutely no satisfaction in what is happening on the other side. I am not at all happy about that because it hurts our country, hurts our democracy and sends terrible messages to people here at home and around the world.”
It’s an election, Clinton said, that “makes you want to unplug the internet or just look at cat gifs.”
In its final weeks, the 2016 campaign is awash in charges and countercharges of assault and groping, sexist slurs and graphic language.
Eight women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct and assault. The New York billionaire, meanwhile, has argued that Clinton “viciously” attacked the women who said her husband, former President Bill Clinton, committed rape and sexual impropriety.
Trump supporters commonly wear T-shirts with slogans such as “Hillary sucks but not like Monica” and “Trump that Bitch.” At several Clinton rallies this past week, hecklers interrupted her speeches with shouts of “Bill Clinton is a rapist.”
“It distracts from it enormously. Who ever dreamt this would be the way this campaign would turn out,” said Cynthia Friedman, who co-founded a Democratic National Committee effort to support women in politics with some help from Clinton in 1993. “Watching Hillary at the debate, I actually got almost physically sick to see somebody abused and spoken to so rudely to their face.”
Undo decades of progress
Advocates worry that Trump’s impact goes beyond Clinton, and potentially could undo decades of progress on issues such as sexism and sexual assault, by normalizing violence against women.
Women’s advocates say they expected conflict, but not such extreme language.
“Would there have been sexist mudslinging? Absolutely. But not like this,” said Nita Chaudhary, a founder of the women’s advocacy group UltraViolet. “We’ve made progress on rape culture and on sexism in the last two years. It feels like the Trump candidacy is undoing all of that.”
Some Republicans are equally dismayed, seeing Trump as a force that will alienate women from their party for years to come, as polls indicate the political gender gap has reached historic levels.
Clinton’s campaign, meanwhile, has focused on giving voters a reason to back her, by keeping the message on her policies and credentials.
‘High wire act for some time’
“It’s been a high wire act for some time,” said Ann Lewis, a longtime Clinton adviser. “You have to deal with what’s happening, but this can’t take over the presidential campaign.”
While Clinton may be able to ignore Trump’s taunts, voters have not. The negative tone of the campaign has exacerbated deep national divides, prompting anxiety across political lines about how Clinton and congressional Republicans can unite the country should she win the White House.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to recover from this,” said Mary Deutmeyer, 70, a retired teacher from Iowa who cast her ballot early for Clinton on Wednesday. “It’s almost like walking in the gutter.”
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