September 27, 2016 at 9:40 AM
Well, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump almost got through the debate without an overtly sexist comment. Almost.
But mere moments from the debate's end, responding to a direct question from moderator Lester Holt about his claim that Hillary Clinton, the first woman to become a major party's presidential nominee, does not have "a presidential look," Trump all but affirmed that he does not respect women or regard them as equals.
What's more, Clinton managed to do something in that moment that students of social stratification in the United States may study for years to come: She managed to demonstrate the ways in which the various bigotries that Trump has been repeatedly accused of harboring do not live in convenient silos — where only Mexicans are "rapists," only the mostly black and Hispanic people stopped and frisked in New York are "thugs," and only women "fat pigs" and "slobs" affected professionally by their fluctuating hormones and menstrual cycles. Clinton managed to use Trump's words to illustrate just how Trump's disregard for one group lends itself or leads to a rationale for minimizing or monitoring others.
Perhaps without realizing it, Trump seemed to leave American voters — at the memorable end of the debate — with evidence that his ideas of how to "make America great again" will require large slices of the population to accept a president who regards them as lesser citizens, lesser human beings. Really, this moment could not have gone better for Clinton if she and her debate prep team had scripted it.
Just to be clear, here's the portion of the debate The Fix is referring to, from a transcript of the event:
HOLT: Mr. Trump, this year Secretary Clinton became the first woman nominated for president by a major party. Earlier this month, you said she doesn't have, quote, "a presidential look." She's standing here right now. What did you mean by that?
TRUMP: She doesn't have the look. She doesn't have the stamina. I said she doesn't have the stamina. And I don't believe she does have the stamina. To be president of this country, you need tremendous stamina.
HOLT: The quote was, "I just don't think she has the presidential look."
TRUMP: You have — wait a minute. Wait a minute, Lester. You asked me a question. Did you ask me a question?
You have to be able to negotiate our trade deals. You have to be able to negotiate, that's right, with Japan, with Saudi Arabia. I mean, can you imagine, we're defending Saudi Arabia? And with all of the money they have, we're defending them, and they're not paying? All you have to do is speak to them. Wait. You have so many different things you have to be able to do, and I don't believe that Hillary has the stamina.
HOLT: Let's let her respond.
CLINTON: Well, as soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina.
TRUMP: The world — let me tell you. Let me tell you. Hillary has experience, but it's bad experience. We have made so many bad deals during the last — so she's got experience, that I agree.
But it's bad, bad experience. Whether it's the Iran deal that you're so in love with, where we gave them $150 billion back, whether it's the Iran deal, whether it's anything you can — name — you almost can't name a good deal. I agree. She's got experience, but it's bad experience. And this country can't afford to have another four years of that kind of experience.
HOLT: We are at — we are at the final question.
CLINTON: Well, one thing. One thing, Lester.
HOLT: Very quickly, because we're at the final question now.
CLINTON: You know, he tried to switch from looks to stamina. But this is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs, and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers, who has said...
TRUMP: I never said that.
CLINTON: .... women don't deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men.
TRUMP: I didn't say that.
CLINTON: And one of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest. He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them. And he called this woman "Miss Piggy." Then he called her "Miss Housekeeping," because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name.
TRUMP: Where did you find this? Where did you find this?
CLINTON: Her name is Alicia Machado.
TRUMP: Where did you find this?
Got that? Clinton managed to highlight Trump's attempt to pivot away from the insinuation that Clinton does not "look" like a U.S. president with a claim about her fitness for the job. Trump, in turn, acknowledged that Clinton was the one onstage with experience but not the good kind, he said. Undaunted by that complex argument, Clinton unleashed the long and well-documented list of things that Trump has said about other women and essential life processes such as pregnancy. Trump offered an unspecific denial. Truth is, he has said all of the things Clinton mentioned, and more.
This also made way for Clinton to mention another of Trump's public assessments of a woman that at least some of America had not, until Monday night, heard at all. That is the story of Alicia Machado, a story receiving a lot of attention on Tuesday.
In 1996, a teenager from Venezuela named Alicia Machado won the Miss Universe title. Machado was also the first Miss Universe to wear the crown after Trump bought the organization behind the pageant. Away from home for the first time, exposed to America's massive portions, under intense stress and so out of her element that Machado had a hard time keeping up with the variety of things she had done in the past to maintain a svelte physique — including severe food restriction and heavy exercise — she put on weight.
Her new boss, Trump, didn't like it. But he also saw dollar signs.
Trump set about referring to Machado as "Miss Piggy" and complaining about her weight in public, in print and on TV. He demanded that Machado shed the weight and do things like show up and work out with a trainer in front of a gaggle of mostly male reporters and photographers in a New York City gym. And when Machado balked at what she described as Trump's physical advances and refusal to include more nonprofit and cause-related work in her schedule, Trump took to alternating his references to her as "Miss Piggy" with "Miss Eating Machine," "Miss Housekeeper" and "Miss Housekeeping."
"He would say to my face or to other people, 'Who does she think she is? Miss Housekeeping is going to do as she is told,'" Machado told me in an interview earlier this year before she had become a U.S. citizen — in order, she said, to vote against Trump.
"I don't know for sure why he called me those things," Machado said. "But I think it was because I am not German. I am not American. I'm a Latina. I'm Venezuelan and that is what Donald Trump thinks of people like me."
Scroll back up. Look at the transcript. Trump did not deny that he referred to Machado as Miss Housekeeping. The Fix reached out to the Trump campaign for comment immediately after the debate and did not receive a response by deadline.
In the meantime, the Clinton campaign released a video highlighting Machado's experience.
This entire segment of the debate amounted to just the sort of thing that Trump very much needed to avoid. Trump has not just had difficulty attracting the support of women voters, he was almost 20 points behind Clinton with likely women voters in the September Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week.
What's more, Trump managed to remind viewers in the final moments of the first general election presidential debate of the very issues that overshadowed his performance in the first primary debate and left many people — women in particular — dubious about his fitness for office.
That, in case anyone has forgotten, would be the debate where Fox News's Megyn Kelly, one of the primary debate moderators, asked Trump about his history of referring to women as fat pigs and dogs — and of saying, on television, that the sight of female contestant on his business-themed reality show "on her knees" would be an appealing thing. Trump's response: He doubled down on calling women various names. The next day, he implied that Kelly had been unreasonably mean and behaved unprofessionally because she was having her period.
"You could see that there was blood coming out her eyes, blood coming out of her [brief pause] wherever," Trump said the next morning.
That is where the Trump campaign took us in his very first debate. And on Monday night, Trump did it again. He followed the comments in the transcript excerpt above with advising America that no one should feel sorry for Rosie O'Donnell, the target of his "fat pig" commentary. She deserved it, Trump said.
Those are Trump's words. They are not likely to be forgotten anytime soon.