Why do women stand by Trump?
With every new sexual assault claim, the Republican nominee bolsters his image as an unclubbable outsider
'I don't drink. I don't smoke. I have never taken drugs," Donald Trump told me in the muffled elegance of his Fifth Avenue office in 2013.
"Your weakness is women," I helped obligingly. The Donald smiled back at me. I had no idea how true that would turn out to be. And nor, I am sure, did he.
His "weakness" has now become a nuclear meltdown that imperils not just his run for the White House, but his business and his brand. Trump's boastful vulgarity - or worse, if some allegations are true - threatens to become an extinction event.
Or does it? Every new revelation about Trump's sexual Trumpness may be designed to imperil his swivel chair in the Oval Office, but the media's outrage and the revulsion of the Washington establishment is like a growth hormone to his popularity among one-third of the electorate.
For a man who "gropes like an octopus", according to one of his many recent accusers, Trump is bizarrely fastidious about personal hygiene. He is a self-confessed germophobe.
"Is it true you hate shaking hands?" I asked him. "Yup. True. I hate it. Don't like germs. Hate 'em."
I got the idea.
The billionaire was contemplating a run for the White House at the time, and I put it to him that shaking hands might be the unavoidable chaw of a long political campaign. He looked mildly alarmed at the thought, as if it had been sprung on him for the first time.
"Why don't we practise!" I suggested, and stuck out my hand. We both looked at it for a few seconds, as if it was some alien presence, hovering in mid-air. He finally reached out and shook it graciously, if reluctantly, clearly weighing up risks of contagion.
Looking back on that episode, I am trying to square his over-sanitised hand with the boast on the Access Hollywood tape that he "grabs p***y". Perhaps Trump's "locker-room talk" is just that. All talk. Perhaps the secret that terrifies Trump most is that he doesn't get nearly as much "p***y" as he boasted.
Similarly, what may haunt him most about revealing his tax returns is not that he avoided paying federal taxes - which he has already described as a "smart move" - but that he is worth much less than the $10bn he likes to brag about. Maybe that is also locker-room talk, of the financial variety.
Remember the tussle over the size of his hands with Senator Marco Rubio on the campaign trail? "I assure you there is no problem in that department," Trump said, holding up his truly small hands.
One seasoned Washington commentator told me: "The best way to destroy Trump is for one of his wives to come out and say that he has a tiny, under-used penis."
Ridicule is Trump's biggest enemy, not rage. He hates it even more than those pesky germs. But the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, the Republican establishment, and virtually all the media, have understandably chosen to go down the rage route, and maybe that is exactly where Trump wants them.
What his supporters hear more than the original tape is the cacophony of outrage against it. It fuels the widespread perception that the media is out to get him. And while recent polls show that Trump has only 27pc support among educated women compared with Hillary Clinton's 57pc, it explains why a group of women, dubbing themselves the Trumpettes, came out last week to defend him.
"Boys will be boys," said Toni Holt Kramer, a Hollywood journalist turned socialite.
Mrs Kramer now says that her all-female Trump support group has since reached thousands of women "from all backgrounds". Equally, at a Trump rally on Thursday night in Florida, after even more lurid allegations emerged against The Donald, Republican women turned up in their droves to show their support, with one 72-year-old saying: "There's a level of corruption within the government that's been covered up for years. Trump's not part of the crowd, he doesn't need the government's money. He's authentic."
Because, ultimately, the more the Bushes and the Romneys turn against Trump, the more his followers see this as confirmation that he is their man. He wears the outrage of the establishment like a badge of honour.
Trump's biggest contribution to the campaign is that he understands the dirty little secret of American politics. And it's not sex - it's class.
The 2016 election may be decided by sex, but it has been defined by class.
Ironically, the billionaire has fanned a class war that America thought it was too polite and egalitarian to have. For The Donald, this is personal. The old money in Manhattan has always curled its lip at the thought of Trump, who is from Queens and is sneered at as "a bridge-and-tunnel boy" by the Upper East Side elite.
Trump may have been born into wealth, but it was the wrong kind of money, and there wasn't enough of it by Fortune 500 standards.
That is why Trump loves to emblazon his skyscrapers with his super-sized name and plough though the air with Trump Force One. He is rubbing his name and new-found wealth in the faces of people who would never invite him to dinner. As the writer and Manhattan socialite Jay McInerney told me recently: "You never see The Donald at the kind of parties I go to!"
Trump is the unclubbable outsider who committed the ultimate faux pas. He has ventured on to political turf and proven that vulgarity works. Beyond everyone's wildest dreams.
This has left the so-called Republican establishment with a searing dilemma: is Trump, in his embrace of the gutter, the secret sauce that allows the Republican Party to win enough white votes to regain the White House - or is he obliterating the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln in the process?
That is why dozens of Republican candidates have endorsed Trump, before un-endorsing, re-endorsing and un-endorsing him again. These decisions are based less on personal outrage than on self-preservation. They are only deserting him now that they think he's losing.
Trump has succeeded in bringing everyone down to his level in the gutter.
Even Robert De Niro recorded a viral video in which he said he would like to punch Trump. In the last debate, Mrs Clinton declared: "When they go low, you go high."
But even the Clinton campaign is in danger of over-playing its hand. As the humiliated wife of a president who didn't boast about sexual harassment before entering office, but practised it in the Oval Office, she is playing a dangerous game.
The most striking image of last week's fight-night debate was the haunted, ashen face of Bill Clinton - looking on as his wife and his wife's enemy discussed who groped whom and when.
Yes, Trump has lost the "educated suburban women", without whom no candidate can claim the White House. He probably never had them. In previous elections, they were called "soccer moms". Now they are "educated", an adjective which, in itself, is bound to rally support among women who feel left out of the metropolitan Monopoly.
Donald Trump will probably lose this election because there just aren't enough white, bigoted, angry men to hoist him across the threshold at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But he has carved out a place on America's new Mount Rushmore of sleaze and class war. What Donald the Deplorable and his millions of "deplorables", as Hillary Clinton called them, do after November will shape the future of American politics as much as the person who becomes president.
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