Was it just me, or was Thursday night’s Republican debate deeply, deeply weird? The entire event seemed farcical, as though we were all watching a Saturday Night Live sketch of the nuttiest idiosyncrasies of the candidates. And yet Lorne Michaels was nowhere in sight. Presumably, the sixteen men and one woman (of course) who lined that stage last night showed up as their real, serious selves.
Dr. Ben Carson told the audience that he was an expert on separating Siamese twins and also possibly waterboarding, but it remained unclear how these skills might apply in the actual White House.
The Donald, with his perpetual RBF (that’s “resting bitch face”) stood in the middle of the stage, hurling Mafioso-like invective and spittle. Rand Paul made an earnest effort to undermine the time-space continuum when he declared that Americans fought the Revolution over the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. (What? Has he been talking to my students in my U.S. survey class?). Everyone’s hair looked really terrible, except for maybe Miami boy wonder Marco Rubio, whom LG wrote about earlier this week. Moderator Brett Baier had clearly spent far too much time in the spray-tan booth.
On the “J.V. team,” former Hewlett-Packard C.E.O. Carly Fiorina appeared to be the only one with any sort of gravitas, presenting crisp policy statements that made my speculation last month over at Nursing Clio about a 2016 lady Presidential power Fiorina-Clinton showdown that much more tangible. She was the night’s clear winner, most critics have agreed, with John Kasich, Rubio, or Jeb Bush coming in a close second in the main arena.
But frankly, the evening’s overall champion might have been Fox News and its moderator Megyn Kelly. I dislike much of her politics, but she did a great job in showing viewers her independent streak. She flung questions at the candidates like knives, sharply illustrating a series of “Megyn moments” in which she called out the men standing in front of her for their mendacities, misogyny, and moronic statements. (Also her eye make-up was on point. Seriously, where can I get her false lashes?).
As the New York Times put it on Friday, “This was an opportunity to demonstrate that their network is not, as its critics have charged, a blindly loyal propaganda division of the Republican Party, that Fox journalists can be as unsparing toward conservatives as they are with liberals, and that they can eviscerate with equal opportunity if they choose.” In a separate column, Frank Bruni wrote, “This wasn’t a debate, at least not like most of those I’ve seen. This was an inquisition.”
Kelly, to be sure, has botched other opportunities to buck the charge that she’s a conservative shill (see her total softball interview with the Duggars on hiding their son’s sexual abuse of minors), but Thursday night she proved in front of an enormous audience exactly why she has her own show on the network.
Despite Kelly and Fiorina giving voters hope that maybe the Republican party can shed its image of perpetuating a “war on women” – it was still nearly impossible to not think about this charge as I watched a stage lined with men in dark suits and flag pins. They each stumbled over themselves to prove more eagerly than the last that they believed only in traditional marriage (read – patriarchal marriage), had defunded Planned Parenthood in their state, did not support exceptions like rape or incest for abortion and that they would get rid of federal entitlement programs that benefit poor women and children. At the same time, it’s only fair to admit that there’s a lot of economic and social complexity wrapped up in those decisions. We can at least discuss the moral and intellectual merit of these candidates’ opinions on social issues with a modicum of respectful seriousness.
The same does not go for Donald Trump. On Friday night, during a post-debate CNN interview with Don Lemon, Trump pulled out the most utterly astonishing insult of all, and one that far outweighs – indeed isn’t even comparable to – anything Huckabee or Bush or any of the others said regarding issues that affect women. Angry at Kelly’s line of questioning for him during the debate, Trump told Lemon, “She had blood coming out of her eyes. She had blood coming out of her wherever.”
He said this in public, during a primetime interview on a major news network. As though this kind of language in discussing women is acceptable. As though Democrats don’t already have enough ammunition to keep yelling about the conservative “war on women.” As though it is fitting for a Presidential candidate to charge that a woman asking tough questions and doing her job must be on her period, and it makes her unable to control her emotions or her intellect.
Trump later backtracked, saying he meant that blood was coming out of her nose, and that only a “deviant” would think otherwise.
To your “wherever,” Donald, I say, “whatever.” We know what you really meant. Say it with me. It’s called a “vagina.”
Concerningly, Trump continues to poll high, and I doubt his numbers will fall very much because of these remarks. Though a small number of Republicans admit to liking him, there are a lot of men who think like he does about women, even if they don’t say it. (See: much of Twitter, Reddit). Moreover, he could plausibly steal the whole show if he decides to run as an independent.
And if he does end up our President, what is he going to do when other female world leaders piss him off? Is he going to call someone like Angela Merkel an idiotic whore when she does something he doesn’t like? I can’t stand the chauvinistic politics of Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz, or Scott Walker et. al., but at least they seem far less likely to cause a national security crisis with their opinions about women.
Trump is beyond sexist or chauvinistic – he is a misogynist. And there’s a difference.
We can only hope that his fellow Republican campaigners and party elite call out Trump for what he really is, and get him off the national stage as quickly as possible. Voters deserve better than this. Women voters in particular. And most of all, so does Megyn Kelly.
Lauren MacIvor Thompson is a History Ph.D. candidate at Georgia State University. She will complete her dissertation, “’Suffrage is not the goal:’ Law, Medicine, and Radical Thought in the Struggle to Legalize Birth Control in the United States, 1870-1930” in the spring of 2016. She also blogs at Tropics of Meta and serves as an editor for Nursing Clio. You can follow her on Twitter at @lmacthompson1.