Wom­an­hood is a charged elec­tion is­sue

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Eu­gene Robin­son

— It is hope­lessly retro, but per­haps un­sur­pris­ing, that wom­an­hood has be­come a prom­i­nent is­sue in the pres­i­den­tial race. This has to be bad for Don­ald Trump, a hall-of-shame sex­ist — and good for Hil­lary Clin­ton, an ac­tual woman.

It was po­lit­i­cal id­iocy for Trump to fall into Clin­ton’s art­fully laid trap at the de­bate Mon­day night when she men­tioned how he treated the woman who won his Miss Uni­verse pageant in 1996: “He called this woman ‘Miss Piggy.’ Then he called her ‘Miss House­keep­ing,’ be­cause she was Latina. Don­ald, she has a name.”

Clin­ton was re­fer­ring to Ali­cia Machado, whom Trump threat­ened with tak­ing away her ti­tle af­ter she gained a few pounds. Trump seemed flus­tered and could only re­spond with a com­plete non se­quitur — a de­fense of the many ugly things he has said about co­me­dian Rosie O’Donnell, main­tain­ing that “I think ev­ery­body would agree that she de­serves it and no­body feels sorry for her.”

I, for one, do not think O’Donnell, or any other woman, de­serves be­ing called “a slob” who is “dis­gust­ing” and has “a fat, ugly face,” among other gross in­sults Trump has hurled over the years. But aside from con­grat­u­lat­ing him­self for his re­straint in not say­ing some­thing “ex­tremely rough to Hil­lary, to her fam­ily,” Trump had no re­sponse to the ques­tion of his treat­ment of Machado.

But the fol­low­ing morn­ing on “Fox and Friends,” Trump could not re­sist elab­o­rat­ing. He said of Machado that “she was the win­ner and, you know, she gained a mas­sive amount of weight and it was a real prob­lem ... not only that, her at­ti­tude.” He called her “the worst we ever had. The worst. The ab­so­lute worst. She was im­pos­si­ble.”

Machado did go on a diet dur­ing her Miss Uni­verse reign af­ter gain­ing, she said, about 15 pounds. Trump went on Fox News again Wed­nes­day and told Bill O’Reilly that by fat-sham­ing Machado, “I saved her job. ... And look what I get out of it. I get noth­ing.” So who here is be­ing piggy? The Clin­ton cam­paign had an­tic­i­pated that rais­ing the Machado in­ci­dent would get a rise out of Trump. He helped fo­cus a spot­light on one of the more un­sa­vory facets of his per­son­al­ity: an ugly, un­re­pen­tant sex­ism that would have been in­ap­pro­pri­ate even in the “Mad Men” era — and is light-years be­yond the pale to­day.

Trump’s sur­ro­gates are not help­ing. Newt Gin­grich of­fered the de­fense that “you’re not sup­posed to gain 60 pounds dur­ing the year that you’re Miss Uni­verse.” For Trump and Gin­grich, both of whom have am­ple spare tires where their waists should be, to crit­i­cize any­one about his or her weight is ridicu­lous. Bet­ter to point fingers at each other rather than at Machado.

The Clin­ton cam­paign is al­ready run­ning a pow­er­ful ad in which Trump’s voice ut­ters a string of sex­ist com­ments while the viewer sees im­ages of young women. Trump’s cam­paign man­ager, Kellyanne Con­way, is a poll­ster; she knows that most vot­ers are women, and that women al­ready fa­vor Clin­ton by a wide mar­gin. This ter­rain is po­ten­tially lethal to Trump’s hopes, but no one has yet man­aged to zip his lip.

Trump’s threat to say some­thing “ex­tremely rough” was a ref­er­ence to Bill Clin­ton’s in­fi­deli­ties. For a man who has had three wives, and who cheated on the first two, this is a case of the pot call­ing the ket­tle black.

The hus­band of the ket­tle, ac­tu­ally: I have a hard time believ­ing that in this day and age, a man would ac­tu­ally try to blame a woman for her hus­band’s in­dis­cre­tions. But that ap­pears to be the cliff’s edge that Trump is hurtling to­ward.

Clin­ton, on the other hand, has the chance to make his­tory. Not enough is be­ing made of the ob­vi­ous fact that she would be the first fe­male pres­i­dent. Coun­tries such as In­dia, Ar­gentina, Chile, Brazil and Liberia have all reached this mile­stone be­fore the United States. It’s about time.

When you watched the de­bate Mon­day night, you saw a woman who was pre­pared, poised and per­fectly un­flap­pable. And you saw a man who was try­ing to wing it, with lit­tle grasp of the is­sues and less abil­ity to con­trol his im­pulses. He bluffed and blus­tered. He in­sisted on “facts” that were un­fac­tual. He in­ter­rupted his op­po­nent con­stantly, ap­par­ently not grasp­ing the con­cept of wait­ing one’s turn. He sub­sti­tuted chest-thump­ing ar­ro­gance for ac­tual sub­stance.

I’m guess­ing that many women who will vote in Novem­ber might know a man or two who act that way. Not good for Trump.

Eu­gene Robin­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at eu­gen­er­obin­son@wash­post.com.


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