“Is it possible to rape your wife?” just became a serious question in the Republican primary

With Donald Trump solidifying a lead in Republican primary polling, it was only a matter of time before journalists started vetting him like a serious candidate. Last night, the first round of that vetting came through, and hooooboy it was a doozy.

As Tim Mak and Brandy Zadrozny at The Daily Beast reported, in what is likely the most Donald Trump news yet this news cycle, the man who called an entire country a bunch of rapists may himself be a rapist. And if you report on it, his lawyer will first say that it’s legally impossible for Trump to be a rapist and then threaten to sue you, your organization and everyone you know and love.

Let’s back up a step.

According to the 1993 book, Lost Tycoon, The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump, Trump’s ex-wife, Ivana, reportedly stated in a deposition that Trump made her feel “violated” during sex, recounting an incident in which Trump — following a “painful scalp reduction” — tore patches of her hair out while sexually assaulting her. As recounted in the book, “According to versions she repeats to some of her closest confidantes, ‘he raped me.’”

Trump clarified the allegation in a statement published in the book, noting that while she had referred to the encounter as rape, she did not want her words to be interpreted in the “literal or criminal sense.” Per the terms of her divorce settlement with Trump, she is not allowed to discuss matters concerning their marriage without his consent.

However, the details of a book published in 1993, however graphic, aren’t the only thing that made the story explosive. When Mak reached Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, for comment he first asserted that “by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”

When Mak reminded Cohen that that isn’t true — New York’s “marital rape exemption” law was struck down in 1984 — Cohen “changed tactics,” threatening to sue The Daily Beast for $500 million if a story with Trump’s name and the word “rape” was published. As Mak reported:

“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen said. “So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”

“You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word rape, and I’m going to mess your life up… for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet… you’re going to have judgements against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it,” he added.

Apparently, Donald Trump’s representatives are exactly the kinds of people you would expect to see hanging around Donald Trump. Abusive, reactionary, entitled jerks who base their legal reasoning on power instead of the law.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump, via lev radin / Shutterstock.com

Also, now that every political reporter in the country is queuing up stories that include a story that “has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word rape,” will Cohen feel obligated to mess everyone up? With this news now going viral, has Trump dragged himself into a situation in which he feels the need to honor-sue the entire political media? Come to think of it, that would probably improve his standing with the Republican base.

In any case, Trump’s campaign pushed back against the story by saying through a spokesman that the “money-losing” Daily Beast has been inaccurately reporting on Trump for years, to which the site’s editor, Noah Schactman, provided the perfect response: “Did they actually provide any examples of those inaccuracies or are their media critiques as busted as their legal interpretations?”

Schactman went on to list a series of followup questions he, along with the rest of the public, has for Trump in light of the story. Would a President Trump — who would presumably retain Michael Cohen in a high-ranking communications position — make a habit of threatening reporters? If this story really is such “old news,” as Trump’s spokesman called it, then why did Cohen feel the need to squash it so aggressively. And, most importantly, does Trump agree with his lawyer that it is legally impossible for non-consensual sex between a married couple to be classified as rape?

That last question isn’t just important for Trump; now that he’s leading the field, every Republican candidate is now going to have to say whether they think it is possible to rape your spouse. And I’d bet a few of them are going to have some very interesting answers.

This is yet another Trump-induced disaster for the Republican establishment that has seen their brand tank within their own party since the gilded dumpster fire entered the race. The same Republican Party that’s trying its damndest to avoid another national discussion about what counts as “legitimate rape” has now been dragged into one. They are currently being led by a candidate whose official position on the subject is that it’s common knowledge that marriage makes a woman sexual property, with no right to say no to the sexual demands of her husband, however violent and depraved they may be.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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