Donald Trump has already defied the rules of political campaigns, which is why he will almost certainly face no repercussions from defying a basic principle of running against a female candidate: Keep the sexism subtle.
When Hillary Clinton ran for Senate in 2000, it was enough for her opponent Rick Lazio to cross the debate and wag a finger at her for him to be successfully portrayed as a sexist bully. Today, after Trump said Clinton had been “schlonged” by Barack Obama in the 2008 race, those seem like innocent times.
With this most recent round, not only has Trump rendered the dog-whistle a bellow, he will likely even benefit from it.
Rendering the Yiddish term for male genitalia into a verb is ambiguous – did Trump mean to use it as a synonym for the relatively neutral “screwed”? Was he suggesting sexual violence? Was it gibberish borne of Trump’s lifelong proximity to American Jewish culture in New York? But there is no mistaking the boorish version of masculinity from which the comment sprang. The point, unmistakably, was to put Clinton in her place.
Indeed, right before Trump distracted everyone into Yiddish exegesis, he said of Clinton, “That’s not a president.”
Those words curiously echoed comments Trump had made about a Republican rival – the only woman in that primary race, Carly Fiorina. “Look at that face!” Trump said. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” (Trump later claimed he meant Fiorina’s “persona.”) What both sets of comments share is the raw belief that it’s unimaginable for a woman to be president. Trump is not alone in that belief. A woman in charge is, in fact, something America has previously been unable to fathom.
Just like Trump remarking that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” after she challenged him about yet another set of sexist comments, or his Fiorina comments, “schlonged” is not only unlikely to make a dent in his support, it may even strengthen it. Poll after poll shows that Trump’s supporters are disproportionately, if not exclusively, older white men. A recent NBC/WSJ News poll found that 46 percent of women found Trump’s comments “frequently insulting,” but only 36 percent of men agreed. They were far likely to say Trump “tells it like it is.”
“The gender gaps in attitudes toward Mr. Trump, as it happens, hold true not just among Americans generally, but also among men and women who identify themselves as Republican primary voters,” The Wall Street Journal noted. “Mr. Trump is a guy’s guy, it appears, a characteristic that cuts across party lines.”
These are not the voters that Clinton is focusing on. Democratic pollsters have been touting the power of unmarried women, young people, and people of color (and people who are all of those things at once.) These folks – the coalition that twice elected Obama – are probably not thrilled by “schlonged,” unlike the older white men manifestly thrilling at Trump’s daring to flout political correctness. The gift Trump gives the Clinton campaign is that his crude sexism is so explicit, they barely even have to parse or condemn it. Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri made that clear:
For Clinton’s base, that’s also telling it like it is.