“The campaign, when I talked to them, first refused to even acknowledge Trump had said anything other than ‘bleeding out of her eyes,'” Erickson recalls. “When I sent them the transcript and audio, they called back and said he meant ‘whatever,’ though he might not have said it that way. Trump was just trying to move the conversation along. I asked them if they would publicly make that clarification and they refused, at which point I knew they weren’t being sincere about it.”

Erickson disinvited Trump from the conference. Yet Trump’s spin on the remark — that he was merely incoherent, not misogynist — won out with Republican voters.

The Incoherence Dodge has really only failed Trump once, and we might look back in a few months and realize once was all it took. When a Rolling Stone reporter heard Trump joke about Carly Fiorina’s looks — “can you imagine that, the face of the next president?” — the candidate insisted that he was “talking about persona” and not whether she was attractive.

It was arguably the least substantive Trump gaffe. But it was hit at someone — Fiorina — who had hard-won credibility with Republicans. Whenever that’s not present, Trump, to the bafflement of his rivals, can really say anything he wants.