The “war on women” started as a Democratic talking point intended to delegitimize Republican positions on abortion, rape and domestic violence. But over the past couple of days, we haven’t even needed a policy debate or a slightly hyperbolic political slogan for a number of Republicans to do a truly impressive job of demonstrating just how much they personally hate women.
First, Donald Trump created a pre-debate stir by suggesting that he would invite Gennifer Flowers, who claims she had an affair with Bill Clinton, to attend his first contest with Hillary Clinton. Trump’s suggestion was a response to Clinton’s decision to give tickets to Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a businessman who has consistently questioned whether Trump’s business successes and claims of charitable giving are real.
By the standards of this presidential campaign, nothing is shocking anymore, but Trump’s jibe suggested that raising Bill Clinton’s failures as a husband was in some way a response to criticisms of Trump’s professional and philanthropic life. If Trump wanted to raise questions about whether Hillary Clinton has consistently supported women who report sexual harassment or rape, he could have suggested that he might invite Juanita Broaddrick or Paula Jones. Instead, he chose a woman who allegedly had a consensual relationship with Bill Clinton. The point wasn’t to critique Hillary Clinton’s behavior as a public figure. It was to shame her as an inadequate wife.
Flowers wasn’t at Hofstra University on Monday, of course — Trump is nothing but bluster and reversals. But the nastiness continued. During the debate, pollster Frank Luntz shared a text that he said he’d received from a Republican member of Congress saying Clinton “just comes across as my [b—–] wife/mother.” Totally aside from the fact that defining Clinton’s collected, occasionally funny, performance in a debate where she was constantly interrupted and lied about as shrill or unpleasant suggests that there is literally nothing a woman can do that won’t cause some moron offense, this is an astonishingly nasty thing to say about one’s own spouse or mother.
Not to be outdone, Trump called in to “Fox and Friends” Wednesday morning to dig in on one of the charges Clinton leveled against him. While he initially seemed to believe Clinton was making up a story about his harassment of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, asking “Where did you find this?” just hours later Trump was leaning into the story, saying Machado “gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem.”
While Trump was bemoaning the difficulties a woman’s body caused him, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, a man with all the personal charm of a cockroach, declared that “After being married to Bill Clinton for 20 years, if you didn’t know the moment Monica Lewinsky said that Bill Clinton violated her that she was telling the truth, then you’re too stupid to be president.”
This raises an interesting series of questions. Does Giuliani think that his second wife and the mother of his children, Donna Hanover, is a fool for attempting to keep their marriage together in light of what her divorce lawyer ultimately described as Giuliani’s “notorious adultery.” Does he think Ivana Trump is stupid for trying to maintain her marriage to Donald Trump even after Trump began cheating on her with Marla Maples?
Is Giuliani really so devoid of personal feeling or political strategy that he thinks people who are cheated on, even repeatedly, regularly and blithely admit it immediately and in public? The answer to that last one, at least, is probably yes, since Giuliani is the sort of person who holds a news conference to announce his separation from his second wife and to praise the woman who will become his third wife without informing the current wife that he plans on going public.
It’s also worth pondering, given that men like Trump and Giuliani tend to portray their adulteries as part of a process of trading up from their earlier wives, what Giuliani expected from Judith Nathan, that third wife. Since Giuliani famously used the impotence that resulted from his prostate cancer treatments as a defense in his second divorce, does he think Nathan would have been justified in swapping him for a healthier partner?
I get the point, not that I didn’t get it before. If I speak up, I’m a shrill nag. If my weight fluctuates at all, I’m a gross, inconvenient fatty. If my husband cheats, it’s on me. If I try to defend or salvage my marriage, I’m a stupid dupe. Men like Trump and Giuliani have advanced ideas like these so the women in their lives will be cowed, thin and compliant, while if they err, they’re swashbuckling and strategic. The idea that we should trust men who hate us in private to protect us in the public sphere is the ultimate insult to our intelligence.