The White House is rotting from the head down

As the saying goes, the fish rots from the head down; and there is a stench coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The antidote to this rot? The powerful #MeToo movement, sensible, patriotic Republicans with spines and the 2018 elections.

This past week has seen a White House in freefall (and to say that about a White House in constant chaos speaks volumes), with a president, a chief of staff and senior aides embroiled in a crisis of competency and character that inevitably turned into a crisis of communications of the highest order.


The resignation of staff secretary Rob Porter has unmasked a White House uninterested in protecting women in abusive relationships and, instead, protects the alleged abuser, especially if he is doing a good job. They did not care. Plain and simple.


Reportedly, the highest ranking senior aides, including White House general counsel Don McGahn and chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, have known for months, if not a whole year, about the horrific allegations of domestic abuse by two ex-wives and a girlfriend of Porter’s. They weren’t just rumors, either. The concerns were brought to them by the FBI. They did nothing; plain and simple.

The White House quickly became consumed in a downward spiral of public statements. First, they were indignant at the accusations and strongly defended one of their own. As it became clear this would be public relations debacle, they scrambled to put out a flimsy statement about domestic abuse having no place in our society and about how Porter had resigned. It was too little too late; plain and simple.

The response to this whole episode on behalf of the White House was wholly inadequate at best. At worst, it reflects the tone that the man in the Oval Office set the moment he entered the once-hallowed halls of the White House. 

Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE has set a misogynistic tone all of his life — from his interviews on Howard Stern as he objectified and degraded women on air, to his insults of Rosie O’Donnell and Megan Kelly, to the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape where he proudly brags about committing sexual assault, to the more than 16 women who have accused him of sexual harassment or sexual assault.

Trump acts as if he does not believe women are equal to men. They are not peers to be respected, given equal treatment or protected from the obvious discrimination and sexism that runs rampant as a societal scourge.

He cannot even show any kind of sympathy or empathy. He is devoid of humanity toward women who are victimized by men.

He has a history of siding with men who have been found or have been accused of abusing women — Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Roy Moore and Mike Tyson — unless the men are Democrats like Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenCould Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? Al Franken to launch 15-stop comedy tour Democrats, GOP face crowded primaries as party leaders lose control MORE and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFor families, sending money home to Cuba shouldn't be a political football Anything-but-bipartisan 1/6 commission will seal Pelosi's retirement. Here's why Could Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? MORE.

Trump misogyny translates into policy prescriptions as well as hypocrisy on a global level. Trump’s White House has not appointed a White House adviser on violence against women, created during the Obama administration.

They have left the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence against Women and the State Department’s Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues vacant as well. They closed the Office of Women and Girls, also a priority under the Obama White House. Many advocates fear Trump will not back the re-authorization of the Violence against Women Act.

Furthermore, this past weekend, Trump seemed to belittle and betray the #MeToo Movement by tweeting that men’s lives can be destroyed by a “mere” allegation.

Porter’s ex-wife, Jenny Willougby, so took umbrage at Trump’s demeaning tweet that she responded with a scathing column in Time berating his ignorance at the real and dangerous societal malady that is domestic abuse.

As a woman, a mother and a human being, this is troubling on so many levels. What does the behavior of this president say to America’s little girls and young women coming of age? Right now, it says, “You don’t matter.”

But the #MeToo movement, the women of America and the men who support them say otherwise.

That is why Trump is afraid. He should be. The #MeToo movement brings up all of the accusations that multiple women have hurled against him. He has zero credibility on the issue, but instead of staying silent, he is batting for the wrong team — the alleged abusers.

Trump should also be afraid of the movement because it is what is energizing and mobilizing women all over the country to run for office and to register and vote in the midterm elections. More than 25,000 women have expressed an interest in running, according to Emily’s List (20,000 are currently doing so).

Trump is losing ground with women across the board — even the non-college-educated women who were a foundation of his base. But Republicans should be especially worried for the midterm elections.

If they are not seen as separating themselves from a misogynistic White House and administration, and instead are seen as enabling them, they will not fare well in November. 

Many questions remain about what exactly happened in the Rob Porter case. Who knew what and when? Where are the voices of the top women at the White House, and how can they defend these actions?

How can someone with alleged sexual battery in their background survive for over a year in the Oval Office? And how, in the face of clear evidence of domestic violence, can the president of the United States defend a wife beater and disparage the women accusers?

That is what rot does. When the person at the top lacks basic humanity and decency and suffers from a dearth of morality, the people around them either become infected with the same, or they never had the needed values to stand up to the rot to begin with. Plain and simple.

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.