So we will acknowledge this off the top.
Carly Fiorina had more than a few run-ins with that game-show-esque buzzer at Tuesday night's Republican presidential debate. She routinely went over her allotted speaking time. But there were a few other people on stage who, shall we say, challenged her for that crown.
Still, well into the debate, when some viewers and almost certainly some candidates were beginning to plot out what they would do next, Donald Trump managed one of those moments so awkward that it's hard to believe that it was real.
First, this is one of those moments that gives the old saw — the pot calling the kettle black — rich and real meaning. Trump might be many things, including some of the many superlatives that he has used to describe himself. But a man in a position to remind anyone about their manners? Probably not.
And yet, he saw fit to inform Fiorina that she was being rude.
"Why does she keep interrupting everybody?" asked an exasperated Trump, who by the way wasn't even involved in the relevant exchange.
What Trump almost certainly is, is a man on a debate stage with a female candidate who has been warned within an inch of his campaign's life to operate in such situations with care. All the communications experts and debate prep staffers that Trump's mostly self-financed campaign can buy will have almost certainly warned him to watch the content and tone of his on-stage interactions with or comments about Fiorina. All the male candidates have very likely been warned.
Why? Voters watching on television might not consider that kind of tough talk, directed at a woman, something they like. That's not to say that Fiorina and all female candidates are default damsels in distress. That's just to say that voters are culturally programmed and have in the past been repulsed by male candidates who register as bullies when they interact with women on a debate stage. And there are a lot of people watching — watching Republicans and Trump, in particular — for signs and symptoms of sexism.
Of course, just because Trump was probably told that does not mean he heard or believed what those advisers had to say.
Trump's (shall we say) complaint didn't just single out Fiorina for interrupting. He said it in a way that sounded much more like a surly comment directed at Fiorina than a question for the debate moderator team.
"Awkward" might, well, be far too nice and neutral a word for all that that moment contained. Even Trump seemed to backpedal a bit after the debate when moderator Neil Cavuto asked him about it off-stage.
“I thought she was fine, I thought she did fine, but a lot of people were being cut off," Trump told the Fox Business Network audience. "Absolutely, I think she was fine. But I thought that maybe somebody should speak up.”
This much we know for sure: Donald Trump, a man who has been known to call women "fat pigs" and "dogs" and to flat-out equate the validity of what they have to say with his assessment of their appearance. And that was before he started running for president. This election cycle has had something to say about, well, cycles, and a few memorable words about Fiorina's face. All of this is to say, that Donald Trump is really not in a position to make the case that the moment America witnessed Wednesday night was in no way sexist, at all.
Now, in fairness, the men in the 2016 race are facing something that men in only one other presidential campaign run have before. They have to figure out how to compete and contend with women who are formidable candidates and serious competitors in ways that don't also register as sexist or aggressive bullying. The two aren't always unrelated or distinct but sometimes are. And both not only rank among the things that any paid communications profession tells any male candidate not to do when facing female compassion. They generate the kind of clips and endless replays and commentary on cable TV that no male candidate wants or needs.
That said, the candidates can either put that on the list of modern challenges that the men — the mostly white men — who came before them never faced. Or, as my grandmother would say, they can put that issue in their respective little red wagons and decide whether to drag it around while complaining at inopportune moments.