The conversation about President Trump's perceived lack of respect for women appears to have shifted to displays of masculinity.
The GOP is struggling with women voters, the party's chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, admitted. While some of those difficulties may be because the party leader faces about a dozen allegations of sexual misconduct and allegations of affairs with a porn star and Playboy model, the fact that some women haven't seen fruit from Trump's economic campaign promises could be a factor, as well.
Regardless of the reason, former vice president Joe Biden said that if he and Trump were hypothetically in high school — both men are in their early 70s — he would physically assault Trump if he disrespected women.
“A guy who ended up becoming our national leader said, 'I can grab a woman anywhere, and she likes it,'" Biden said at an anti-sexual-assault rally at the University of Miami. “They asked me if I’d like to debate this gentleman, and I said 'no.' I said, 'If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.'”
Biden, who is potentially eyeing a 2020 run against Trump, said any guy who disrespected women was “usually the fattest, ugliest SOB in the room.”
The audience unsurprisingly cheered in response to Biden's comments. While former first lady Michelle Obama urged Democrats to rise above the Trump-related drama by “going high,” others on the left view Trump as a bully who needs to be checked by someone comparable. Tough talk from Biden may feed that appetite. But it may not be enough to win him the support of the millions of Americans who voted for Trump, even though the president is losing support with women.
While more than 40 percent of women supported Trump in the 2016 presidential election, only about a third of women approve of his job performance now, according to Gallup. And perceptions of his respect for women in general are low. Nearly six in 10 of those surveyed say Trump does not respect women as much as he does men, according to a Quinnipiac poll.
Biden could face his own set of challenges with women if chooses to run in 2020. He was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 when Anita Hill testified against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas for alleged sexual harassment, and he has been criticized for his handling of the aggressive treatment of Hill. Biden has since apologized.
Time after time, some Trump supporters — even some women — have showed that they are not deeply concerned with reports about the president's alleged mistreatment of women. Persuading these voters to walk away from Trump and toward Biden would probably take more than sharing how Biden would have responded to Trump in a hypothetical situation in the 1960s.
If anything, Biden's words could cost him some votes from women who are tired of seeing stereotypical expressions of manhood offered as a solution to the very real problem of sexual assault of women.
In response to Biden's comments, opinion journalist Batya Ungar-Sargon wrote: "1950 called. It wants Joe Biden and his toxic masculinity back.”
Author and activist Ryan Douglas has called toxic masculinity “a performance invented to reinforce it.”
“Toxic masculinity is built on two fundamental pillars: sexual conquest and violence — qualities men regale as manly and virtuous,” he wrote in the HuffPost. “How can we hope to stop violent sexual behavior if violence and sexuality are still considered primary virtues of manhood?”
“Too often we allow presentation of strength to overstep strength itself, which can and should be defined beyond the physical. Where true strength is absent, a man overcompensates by showing everyone that no, really, truly, he’s strong — just look at how he’s proving it. He’s not smiling. He’s flexing and punching things. He’s growing facial hair and purposely deepening his voice.”
Biden has repeatedly displayed that he understands that the mistreatment of women in America is a real issue. Many voters have expressed a desire for a leader who takes the issue of sexual misconduct against women seriously. But it is still not yet clear whether the 2020 field of candidates will include a man who puts the focus on women — and not their own masculinity — in seeking a lasting solution to sexual harassment and assault.