Donald Trump vetoed a series of brutal attack ads in the 2020 election campaign that targeted Joe Biden’s behavior towards women, because he was afraid of opening his own “can of worms”.
Biden has been criticized for touching and hugging women in ways widely deemed inappropriate, behavior he has said was not meant to be “disrespectful” and complaints to which he said he would “listen respectfully”. In early 2020, he faced a claim that he sexually assaulted a former aide. He forcefully denied it.
Trump famously boasted he was allowed to “grab” women “by the pussy”. He has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by no fewer than 25 women. He forcefully denies all such claims. But some have landed him in court and his former attorney Michael Cohen was convicted of violations of campaign finance law over hush money payments made to women before the 2016 election.
The news site Axios reported on Monday night on campaign ads it said were considered by Trump but which proved “so far-fetched even he vetoed them”.
One, titled “Predator”, showed Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate who is now the first woman to be vice-president, saying: “I know a predator when I see one.”
The clip included quotes from Tara Reade, the former aide who accused Biden of assault, and Lucy Flores, a former Nevada state politician who in 2019 told CNN Biden’s behaviour towards women including her was “disqualifying”.
But Trump “never wanted to run the predator or women’s-style ads against Biden”, Axios reported an unnamed campaign source as saying, “because he was afraid he was going to open up his own can of worms”. Axios said a second unnamed source confirmed the story.
The ads finished with a logo for Parscale Strategy. Brad Parscale was eventually ousted as campaign manager. In a familiar development to those who follow Trump’s business dealings, Axios said Trump did not pay for the ads he rejected. Axios also said Parscale attended the ad viewing sessions, “often [sitting] so close it bothered the president”.
Trump faces a defamation lawsuit from E Jean Carroll, a writer who says he raped her in a department store changing room in the 1990s. Stormy Daniels, an adult film star and director who says she had sex with Trump in Nevada in 2006, also sued for defamation. Trump denies both accusations – but reimbursed Cohen for expenditure including a $130,000 payment to Daniels shortly before the 2016 election.
According to Axios, among other ads nixed by Trump were one focusing on Biden’s health and one that mocked Don Lemon, a CNN anchor, over his coverage of protests against structural racism which gripped the US last summer.
Trump was reported to have said of the Lemon ad: “God, that’s brutal, but I don’t know if we can put it up.” Lemon is African American. The ad shows his face gradually whitening, as he becomes a clown.
Trump lost the election by 306-232 in the electoral college – a result he called a landslide when it was in his favor over Hillary Clinton – and by more than 7m ballots in the popular vote. He refused to concede defeat and pursued baseless claims of electoral fraud in court, losing almost all such cases.
Trump is now in Florida. In Washington on Tuesday, his second impeachment trial will begin. He is charged with inciting an insurrection, the 6 January attack on the US Capitol. Shortly before the deadly riot, at a rally near the White House, he told supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn his election defeat.