Reporting contributed by Lauren Kirschman.
AMBRIDGE — Like countless women across the country, Carrie Lindsay of Export, Pa. was appalled when she heard Donald Trump talking about groping women with impunity on a now infamous leaked audio recording.
But unlike many of them, Lindsay said she’s still planning to vote for the Republican nominee on Nov. 8.
“I thought it was offensive, of course. However, it happened over 10 years ago and at the time he was not a politician. I’ve heard women speak worse than that,” she said outside a Trump rally here on Monday. It was Trump’s first stop back on the campaign trail since the candid conversation was made public on Friday.
For voters like Lindsay and her sister Brooke, Trump’s comments, while disturbing, don’t change the fact that they see him as better suited for the presidency than his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
“I’m more concerned about the bigger issues facing this country. Just look at this town,” Lindsay said, referring to Ambridge, a once-bustling industrial enclave about an hour northwest of downtown Pittsburgh.
“We really need someone who’s going to fix the infrastructure in this country and he’s got the track record.”
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Her sister Brooke added: “To me, I think we need to address, in addition to the infrastructure, the heroin epidemic and just a multitude of issues that have fallen to the wayside due to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.”
Elsewhere in the crowd, Trump supporter Mary Wagner of McMurray continued a deflection first employed by Trump’s campaign in a surreal press conference held hours before Sunday’s town hall debate, one comparing the vulgar claims Trump made on-tape to accusations and indiscretions that have dogged his Democratic rival’s family for decades.
“[It’s] words versus what Bill [Clinton] did, it’s plain to see. I hope America wakes up,” Wagner said.
Danielle Cole of Carnegie agreed, saying “To me, everybody talks like that, even women talk like that. So, when I compare that to what Bill Clinton did and everything that’s coming out about Hillary that she’s done, there’s no comparison there.”
She continued: “I love him [Trump]. I like that he’s outspoken and he doesn’t care what he says and I think he’d be really good for America.”
Delores Armour of Beaver County also turned the subject to Bill Clinton’s past indiscretions, some substantiated and others alleged. Trump spent much of Sunday night’s town hall debate attempting to do this as well, while his surrogates spent Monday morning hammering home the Clintons’ actions-versus-Trump’s words rationale.
It was a line of argument that Trump’s supporters in Ambridge were happy to pick-up for him outside the rally that afternoon.
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“I think that Bill Clinton did a lot worse. It was actions, [Trump] was talk. I think, in today’s world, a lot of that talk goes on. That doesn’t affect my support for Donald Trump,” Armour explained.
But not everyone in Ambridge agrees.
As Armour spoke, a long line of supporters formed behind her outside the Fieldhouse at the Ambridge Area Senior High School, where Trump was set to take the stage at mid-afternoon and where security concerns around the rally had prompted an early dismissal of students.
Across the street, a much smaller group of protesters were gathered, many holding signs condemning Trump while also shaking bottles of Tic-Tacs, the breath mint name-dropped by Trump in that leaked audio tape.
One of them, Tina Aquino of Ambridge, said while she’s never supported Trump, she can’t imagine doing so now. Aquino also said she’s frustrated by women, like the Lindsays and Armour, who continue to support the Republican nominee despite this latest revelation. But she also went a step further, saying any man who votes for Trump is also guilty by association.
“The tape is disgusting. And any man that votes for Trump, in my opinion, is as sexist as he is, and any woman that votes for him has to be crazy,” Aquino said.
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Another protester, Ann Flener-Gittlen of Pittsburgh, who’s also Director of the United Steelworkers Women’s Steel program, said of the tape:
“When I saw that tape, it made me ill. I think what brought most of us out here today was the need to speak out against misogyny and racism and just plain old bullying. We’re trying to protect our kids in school from bullying and I’m sitting on the couch last night with my granddaughters wondering if I should allow them to watch the debate or not for fear of what would come out of Donald Trump’s mouth. … He’s shown us who he is, we need to believe that. It’s not just words.”
But amid questions about what the tape will do to Trump’s standing with women nationwide, and ultimately his chances of winning next month’s general election, it was clear that at least some in his pre-existing female fan base are standing by him.
“Do I agree with [Trump’s recorded statements about women]? No. But is it forgivable? Absolutely,” said Cletus Abate, a female Trump supporter from Pittsburgh’s Overbrook neighborhood.
“Giving someone else an opportunity to lead the country that really doesn’t have anyone in their pocket, per se, will give the country a chance. Again, I feel freedom of speech and freedom of religion are on the line right now.”
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