Donald Trump’s crude prescription for hitting on women became an issue during a legislative health forum in La Crosse Monday, with the three candidates for the 32nd District State Senate seat sparring over the Republican presidential nominee’s lewd comments.
“I would never display a lawn sign supporting a man who brags about sexual assault,” Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said during the forum at Viterbo University, adding that her Republican opponent, Republican Dan Kapanke, “proudly displays one in his yard.”
“There is no place in our society to elevate somebody who brags about sexual assault,” said Shilling, a La Crosse Democrat.
Shilling was referring to a videotape that surfaced Friday in which Trump described, in lurid detail, how he kisses women at will, that he tried desperately to seduce TV hostess Nancy O’Dell when she was married, and that women would let him grab them by their genitalia because of his “star” status.
The leaked tape created a political firestorm during the weekend, and many Republicans denounced Trump, some withdrew their support for him and a few insisted that he withdraw as the GOP nominee.
Trump issued an apology in a 90-second videotaped statement posted on Facebook around midnight Friday in which he pivoted quickly to dismiss the incident as a “distraction” from serious issues.
In a hint at one of the tacks he would take during a town hall-style debate Sunday night between him and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump then said in his mea culpa, “I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. (Former President) Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.”
On Saturday, the Trump campaign issued a statement with wife Melania’s name attached saying her husband’s comments were “unacceptable and offensive” but said they don’t reflect the man she knows. She expressed hope people would accept his apology.
In reaction to Shilling’s comments Monday, Kapanke said he was “appalled” at Trump’s ribald remarks but reminded the audience of about 100 people, including several Viterbo nursing students, that the video was from 11 years ago.
“I would not say what he said, and I would not do what he said,” Kapanke said. “I would get down on my knees and ask for forgiveness. I can forgive because others have forgiven me.”
Noting that Trump’s observations were “words on tape,” Kapanke said, “We have a former president who actually did things.”
Chip DeNure, independent candidate for the Senate seat, condemned Trump’s remarks but said, “Donald Trump is God’s own angel compared to Bill Clinton.”
Hillary Clinton defended her husband amid allegations of sexual assault and harassment of women, DeNure pointed out.
During an interview after the forum, Shilling also criticized Trump’s behavior during the debate at Washington University in St. Louis.
Throughout the 90-minute town hall, Trump rarely stood at his podium, instead pacing about the stage and grimacing — sometimes planting himself directly behind the former secretary of state — in what appeared tantamount to bullying and one network debate commentator described as “an angry man” stomping around. Several times, he leveled accusations at her, pointed a scolding finger at her and insisting that she should be ashamed.
Although Clinton returned some of the acrimony, she remained low-key and measured in her responses to Trump.
“Donald Trump’s body language — he seemed to be lurking around, hovering over Secretary Clinton — says a lot,” Shilling said.
“Women pick up on those nonverbal actions” and see them as “threatening and demeaning,” she said.
Also Monday, Shilling issued a statement saying, in part, “Despite our political differences, Democrats and Republicans should be united in our opposition to sexual assault and gender inequality. Instead, we continue to see Republican politicians turn a blind eye to Donald Trump’s dangerous and offensive comments condoning sexual assault, workplace harassment and the objectification of women.”
Trump’s behavior “has demonstrated that he is unfit to serve as president of the United States,” Shilling’s statement said. “I call on my Senate Republican colleagues and candidates to immediately denounce Trump’s inexcusable actions and rescind their support for his candidacy.”
The 32nd District includes the towns of Angelo, Adrian, Tomah, Leon, Wells, Ridgeville, Wilton, Portland, Jefferson, Sheldon and Wellington and villages of Norwalk, Wilton, Melvina and Cashton in Monroe County. The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 8.