Following this week's primaries, the 2016 presidential general election is, after more than a year of campaigning, coming into focus. It's not yet a done deal in either party, but odds are, Donald Trump will face Hillary Clinton in the fall. What's less clear is what Trump intends to do about it.
In recent months, the Republican frontrunner has prioritized insulting labels for his rivals, hoping to define them quickly in voters' eyes. Jeb Bush was "low energy"; Ted Cruz is "Lying Ted"; Marco Rubio became "Little Marco"; and so on. Trump's message about the Democratic frontrunner is still taking shape, but he's clearly begun trying out some lines of attack.
"If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote," Trump declared Tuesday night. The "only card she has is the woman's card," the Republican frontrunner added. On NBC this morning, Trump stuck to the line
A day after his chief rival picked a woman as a running mate, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump defended comments he made about Hillary Clinton playing "the woman card" saying the Democrat couldn't even win a local election if she were a man. "The primary thing that she has going is that she's a woman and she's playing that card like I have never seen anybody play it before," he said Thursday on TODAY.
Co-host Savannah Guthrie noted, "But Mr. Trump, for you to say, 'If she were not a woman, she would be getting 5 percent' suggests the only thing she has going for her is that she's a woman -- not that she was a former senator, a former Secretary of State and a lawyer. Do you understand why people find that to be a kind of demeaning comment?"
Trump was unfazed. "No, I find it to be a true comment," he replied
. "I think the only thing she's got going is the fact that she's a woman."
Trump added, "Nobody respects women more than I do. And I wasn't playing the woman's card; it's true she is playing the woman's card. Everything she says is about the woman's card."
If there's a smart political strategy lurking somewhere in all of this nonsense, it's hiding well.
It's possible that Trump recognizes the existing "gender gap" between the parties, and hopes to take steps now to mitigate the potency of the issue in the fall, when he'll probably be taking on the first-ever woman nominee of a major party. But what he doesn't seem to understand is that Americans already know Clinton is a woman, and trying to take this "card" off the table by questioning her qualifications raises questions about his judgment, not her's.
Part of the problem, of course, is that the underlying claim itself is difficult to take seriously. I haven't the foggiest idea what Trump thinks the "woman's card" is, exactly, but the assertion that Hillary Clinton has nothing going for her aside from her gender is ridiculous. Love her or hate her, Clinton is an accomplished public official with an extensive record of public service. Indeed, she'd be the first president in 150 years to have won a statewide election and served as a cabinet secretary before taking office.
For Trump to look at Clinton's background and conclude "the only thing she's got going for her is the fact that she's a woman" says far more about Trump than Clinton.
But the closer one looks, the more insulting his rhetoric becomes. MSNBC's Irin Carmon explained
that Trump has "deftly accomplished something new: He wove his usual boorish misogyny into his preexisting grand theory of politics -- that is, the politics of resentment."
Until now, Trump's attitude towards women has fallen into a very simple Madonna-whore framework. He puts women on a pedestal: He says he "cherishes" women and talks about all the things he is going to do for them, with all the grandiose noblesse oblige implied in that phrasing. He also calls them bimbos, once told a woman to drop to her knees in a quasi-professional setting, and makes a habit of publicly evaluating them on the basis of their sexual attractiveness to Donald Trump. By accusing Clinton of profiting off her gender, Trump has now placed being a woman on his pre-existing list of unfair advantages accrued to people who don't deserve them. Thanks to political correctness, the thinking goes, what was once perhaps a liability is now a free pass that comes at the expense of people more deserving of free passes -- people like Trump voters.
At various points, Trump has taken steps to alienate Latinos, African Americans, veterans, people with disabilities, and as we're reminded this week, women.
Given that white men do not represent a majority of the American electorate, it's a curious electoral strategy for a major-party presidential candidate.