For more than a week, the Trump campaign has been grappling with the now- infamous pussy-grabbing tape followed by the accusations that Donald Trump sexually harassed and assaulted women. Republican officials have been put in the awkward position of endorsing a scandal-ridden and erratic candidate or rejecting him and earning the ire of his supporters.
For hardcore Trump supporters, though, the real scandal is the way the media is hyping dubious, decades-old stories to tear down the one man who could rescue the country from doom.
Many of these supporters gathered this Saturday in a car-dealership parking lot in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for a Trump rally. The usual signifiers were there: "Deplorable Me" and "Trump that Bitch" T-shirts, an overwhelmingly white and mostly middle-aged or older crowd. The attendees were mostly men, but there were plenty of women as well, none of whom seemed to have an iota of doubt about their candidate.
"The media, they're obsessed with sex, but the people are not," said Ellie Martin, a volunteer with the Trump campaign.
Martin said she's angry that media outlets are paying more attention to the women's stories than to emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign released by WikiLeaks. She's scared of what might happen in a world where Trump loses the election, worried that taking in more refugees would be devastating to a country that she believes is already drowning in debt. As a conservative living in hyper-liberal Vermont, she's been thrilled to see Trump bring voters like her out of the woodwork. And she's not happy with the Republicans who rapidly abandoned the Trump train in light of recent events.
"It's the same old, same old Republican Party," she said. "They shoot themselves in the foot every chance they get."
To Stacey Danforth, a Massachusetts real estate broker who was at the rally with her brother, Patrick Lundgren, the complaints against Trump look transparently political.
"My thought is it's pretty convenient," she said. "I think Bill Clinton's actions were worse than Donald Trump saying what he did."
Almost universally, the women I spoke with at the rally said that the complaints are exaggerated or completely invented, echoing what Trump and his surrogates have said about the allegations, including the charge that the women should have spoken up before now.
"If I was a woman and I was on a plane 20-plus years ago, and someone did that to me, I would have said something immediately," said Sandy Gallan, a Vermont teacher wearing a hand-lettered "Deplorables for Trump" shirt, referring to allegations made by Jessica Leeds. "Why would you wait 20 or 30 years?"
Gallan said the important thing is to focus on issues like the deficit and Obamacare. She thinks a president Trump would restore a sense of cohesiveness and togetherness to the country.
"President Obama, when he was first elected, said that one of his goals was to end racial divisions in our country, and I think it has gotten much worse," she said.
A nurse wearing a flag scarf and a hat decorated with a Trump sticker ("It's an American look, something you will not see with Hillary") said there are bigger women's issues than the allegations against Trump, like the potential influx of Syrian refugees.
"We'll be wearing burkas if we have Hillary Clinton," said the woman, who declined to give her name.
She added that she's convinced Clinton has Parkinson's disease, was doped up for the debates, and is probably incontinent. She said she's noticed the outline of a catheter in Clinton pants. If Clinton gets elected, she said, the real president will be her longtime aide Huma Abedin—"the Muslim in the White House."
Among the Trump supporters I spoke to, the question of their candidate's bad behavior—the target of so many attacks from his opponents—was beside the point. Listening to Trump address the rapt crowd on this perfect fall day, it was easy to see why: Who cares about some creepy acts when America is about to fail? The country, Trump told his audience, is in rapid decline. Clinton ought to be in jail. She supports open borders, which threaten the very sovereignty of the nation. If Clinton wins, this could be the last competitive democratic election in the US. But if he wins, illegal immigration will disappear, crime will plummet, and no one will think Americans are a bunch of stupid people anymore.
Beyond that bigger picture, some in the crowd thought the media focus on the sexual assault allegations reflected misplaced values. Bobbie Files, a Massachusetts real estate agent, agreed with other supporters that there's probably nothing to the allegations, and she said the focus on them risks depicting women as powerless victims. Working in a male-dominated environment, she said, she hears men say plenty of crude things about how they'd like to approach women.
"What I always say to the guys is, 'I dare you to go and do it,'" she said. "And if a female does let a guy grope her—that's permission."
Files said it bugged her that some Clinton supporters complained about Trump standing behind her during the second debate, comparing it to stalking. "Get your pussy off the pedestal," she said. "Would anybody be saying, 'He's stalking, he's threatening,' if Hillary was a guy?"
The only person I met at the rally who said she took the allegations against Trump seriously was Barbara St. Gelais. She and her husband, unlike many in the parking lot, aren't committed to voting for the GOP candidate. They came to the rally with her Trump-supporting sister and brother-in-law, Patricia and Wayne Tucker.
To the Tuckers, it was obvious that the women coming forward were politically motivated liars. Why else wouldn't they have spoken up before now? Why wouldn't they have gotten angry about the mistreatment they described? But St. Gelais disagreed. She said things have improved over the decades when it comes to what women have to endure, and that's changed our conversations for the better.
"I think it's wonderful that people are speaking up," she said. "They couldn't be angry then because there was nothing they could do."
The two couples obviously disagreed about this, but they were laughing and joking, showing no signs of letting the disagreement come between them. Maybe there's hope for the country after all?
For her part, St. Gelais said she wanted to keep an open mind about who to vote for. "I'm just waiting to see if anything else comes out," she said.
Follow Livia Gershon on Twitter.
All photos by the author