COLONIE — With chants of “lock her up” and “Trump, Trump, Trump,” roughly five dozen women from throughout upstate New York gathered for a lunch rally here in support of the GOP presidential nominee, who they said was uniquely qualified to end the “gravy train” where the nation’s political class has supped for decades.
“My decision is based on my love for my county and my country,” said Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell, the highest-ranking elected official present. “My decision is based on my respect for law enforcement. … It’s about the Second Amendment and it’s about the next 25 years of the Supreme Court. My respect for the Republican Party is about much more than one man’s loose comments.”
Odell, reflecting the view of most of the luncheon’s attendees, said it was “disappointing” to hear Donald Trump talking in a 2005 recording about grabbing women “by the pussy” if he found them attractive, which women’s rights advocates and Democrats say condones sexual assault.
The comments caused many Republicans to put distance between themselves and Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan said he would no longer campaign for the nominee, and would focus instead on his own flock. The Utah political establishment declared it would not vote for Trump, as did Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
In New York, Democrats immediately pounced on the comments but top GOP officials, including Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who is fighting in a series of districts for control of the chamber, stuck by Trump.
Others have been quiet and sought to talk about other things. Indeed, several elected Republicans from the area — Rep. Elise Stefanik, Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino as well as state Sens. Kathy Marchione and Betty Little — were absent.
But the women who came to the Desmond, a nautically themed hotel in exurban Albany, went on offense over a lunch of mixed green salad and pie.
“If women are so outraged, why are so many copies of ‘50 Shades of Grey’ selling?” Yates County GOP chairwoman Sandra King said, referring to the blue-tinged bestseller.
Putnam County Republican chairman Tony Scannapieco said “95 percent” of men had made comments similar to Trump, and that he had seen lewder remarks on the stalls of the ladies’ room in the movie theater that he cleaned as a younger man.
The speakers made several basic points. First, that the impact of Trump’s comments were being distorted and overblown by the media, which was ignoring salacious tidbits in emails hacked from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Second, that Democrats were being hypocritical, given Bill Clinton’s documented dalliances and New York Democrats’ excuse-making as the state Assembly weathered a string of sexual harassment scandals. And finally, as Odell suggested, that the election was about a candidate of change, regardless of his past statements.
“The bottom line is, when Shelly Silver was paying hush money to cover up the sexual predations on young women in the Assembly by Vito Lopez, Andrew Cuomo was right there defending that hush money and Shelly Silver saying that it wasn’t any secret, it was just confidential, and the fact that the public didn’t know about it wasn’t of any consequence,” Republican state chairman Ed Cox told reporters before the luncheon.
Wendy Long, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, said “the real bigots are the media and the elites,” adding, “I am so proud to be on these signs with Donald Trump and Mike Pence.”
“It’s just incredible to me that this is what people would focus on. No, we don’t like the comments that Mr. Trump made 11 years ago. But you know what I really loved was his very sincere apology. Have we forgiven him?” Long asked, drawing cheers.
Long accused Clinton of “harboring enabling a rapist and a sexual assaulter, Bill Clinton.” She said there was rampant media “hypocrisy” for “smothering” Trump with his comments but saying little about emails showing Clinton aides disparaging Catholics. Also part of the hypocrisy, Long said, was “crude” talk and dress by comedienne Amy Schumer and Fox News hots Megyn Kelly.
Polls show Schumer leading Long by 46 points, which puts him within striking distance of winning a statewide election with the largest share of the electorate. That record is now held by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who beat Long in 2012 by 45.8 points. Long said she was confident she would win and that Trump would carry New York, and faulted the media for spinning a false narrative that Schumer is unbeatable.
The keynote speaker at the event was Lara Trump, the nominee’s daughter-in-law. She recalled how she first met Trump at Trump Tower without any forewarning, and was struck by how down to earth he is.
“As nervous as I was to meet him, as soon as Donald Trump talks to you one-on-one, he immediately puts you at ease. This is a man that looks you in the eye, that is very actually soft spoken,” Lara Trump said. “He was so kind and so different from what I envisioned him to be initially. Then he did something that really just blew my mind and actually just put me completely at ease. He said, ‘I’m going to get some ice cream. Can I get you an ice cream?’ I thought, that is so normal.”
In anticipation of the event, Albany Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlin issued a statement saying it was “beyond my comprehension” how women could attend the event.
“He says women should be punished for making their own reproductive health choices, supported shutting down the government if it meant defunding Planned Parenthood, and would pick Supreme Court justices who want to overturn Roe v. Wade,” McLaughlin said. “I’m saddened that his comments relating to women are even worse than his policies.”
But Lara Trump offered a positive case for her father-in-law’s election.
“I have women constantly coming up to me saying, ‘I’m so glad that there are women within the Trump family and part of the Trump campaign talking about Donald Trump,” she said. “He is going to do things not just for women, but for all Americans, and women understand that. We all want the same things. We want to know that our country is safe, we want prosperity, we want our shot at the American dream and that is what Donald Trump wants to give us.”