In the early 1990s, there was an interesting cultural debate about athletes and their responsibilities towards the young people who look up to them. NBA star Charles Barkley responded to the debate with a memorable commercial in 1993 in which he declared
, "I am not a role model. I am not paid to be a role model."Part of me wonders what Donald Trump thinks of the ad more than two decades later.During a televised debate this week, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) was asked whether or not she'd point to Trump "as a role model" for children. After hemming a bit, the senator, facing a tough re-election fight, told New Hampshire voters she would "absolutely
" do so. After the event, Ayotte reversed course, saying she "misspoke
." The Republican wants Trump to be president, but she wouldn't "hold up" Trump or Hillary Clinton "as role models for my kids."Ayotte's clumsiness created a new dilemma for her campaign, but it also raised a question for other Republicans to answer. In Pennsylvania, for example, Sen. Pat Toomey (R) has refused
to say whether or not he supports Trump's candidacy, but he did answer the role-model question yesterday."No," the Republican incumbent told reporters
. "Donald Trump is not a role model; not for my kids and I don't think for most American kids. The vulgarity and gratuitous insults of people is not exactly the way I encourage my kids to behave." (Toomey may, however, vote for Trump anyway.)I especially liked Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus' answer to the question. Politico reported
"You know, I think everyone's a role model in different ways," Priebus told Fox News' Bret Baier before Tuesday's first and only vice presidential debate. "When you look at someone who has built businesses, lost businesses, came back, lived the American dream, a person who sets goals, he's a winner."
"Everyone's a role model in different ways" is a great euphemism for "I really don't want to talk about this."Keep in mind, Ayotte's stumble has focused attention on the issue, but Democrats have spent months talking about just how awful a role model a President Trump would be for children. For example, it was the basis for a very memorable ad
from the Clinton campaign in July featuring children watching some of Trump's more vulgar moments on television.There was also First Lady Michelle Obama's speech
at the Democratic National Convention, when she talked about the lessons she and the president try to instill in their daughters.
"With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We, as parents, are the most important role models. And let me tell you, Barack and I take that same approach to our jobs as President and First Lady, because we know that our words and actions matter. Not just to our girls, but to children all across this country. Kids who tell us, 'I saw you on TV. I wrote a report on you for school.'"Kids like the little black boy who looked up at my husband, his eyes wide with hope, and he wondered: is my hair like yours? And make no mistake about it, this November when we go to the polls: that is what we're deciding. Not Democrat or Republican, not left or right. No, in this election and every election, is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives."
As we discussed
at the time, she didn't mention the Republican candidate's name, but the unstated question wasn't subtle: would anyone seriously argue that Donald J. Trump is a leader young people should emulate?The question isn't going away. "Everyone's a role model in different ways" probably isn't going to cut it.