Melania Trump does look pretty damned hot naked on that bearskin rug in the cabin of Donald Trump’s private Boeing 757 – but the words were jarring. “Meet Melania Trump, your next first lady. Or you could vote for Ted Cruz on Tuesday.”
There’s a reason Trump came in a distant third in Utah that evening. That image popped up here and there. Straight and narrow Mormons don’t like the guy much. Now they like him even less. Of course, when he was president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy had a hot wife – the former model and pop singer Carla Bruni – and there were thousands of nude shots from her former career – but he’s French and she’s Italian and things are a bit different over there. The French shrugged, but this is America, and Donald Trump didn’t shrug:
As Republicans in Utah waited for their caucuses to start on Tuesday night, Republican front-runner Donald Trump – who had lagged in the state’s polls and went on to lose Utah – tweeted an attack on his chief rival that got personal.
“Wow Sen. Ted Cruz, that is some low-level ad you did using a picture [of] Melania in a G.Q. shoot. Be careful or I will spill the beans on your wife,” Trump tweeted 17 minutes before the Utah caucuses were scheduled to start.
Within seconds, Trump deleted the tweet. Ten minutes later, he posted a more polished version of his seemingly impromptu attack: “Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!”
Sen. Ted Cruz called Donald Trump’s Twitter attack on his wife a “new low” on Wednesday. “Even for Donald, though, he reached a new low. It’s one thing to try to attack another candidate. It’s another thing to come after my wife,” Cruz told reporters here. …
Cruz defended his wife, who is the daughter of Christian missionaries. The Cruzes have two young daughters. Heidi Cruz is on leave from her job as a managing director at Goldman Sachs.
“Heidi has spent a couple of decades in the business world. She’s used to the rough and tumble, I’ll tell you it is not easy to be a woman in the business world, and she is used to dealing with bullies, and Donald Trump doesn’t scare Heidi remotely,” Cruz said.
Will this sort of thing determine the Republican nomination, not terrorism or the economy? Perhaps so, as Ted Cruz went all Hollywood on Trump:
Earlier, speaking on Fox Business Channel, Cruz used a line that is very similar to one from a movie to defend his wife.
“Donald Trump, if you want a character fight, stick with me, because Heidi is way out of your league,” Cruz said.
It’s very similar to a line from “The American President,” a 1995 movie written by Aaron Sorkin, starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening.
“You want a character debate, Bob, you’d better stick with me, because Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league,” Douglas’ character said.
So, we’re in the middle of a breezy romantic comedy movie now, a fantasy about a woman who’s a bit of a harridan being charmed into romantic submission by a handsome and witty most-powerful-man-in-the world? Does Ted see himself that way? God help us, but Kevin Drum gets to the source of all this:
Liz Mair was anti-Trump before being anti-Trump was cool. After being let go from the Scott Walker campaign last March, she spent months during the summer and fall trying to get conservatives to take the threat of Trump seriously. In December she started up a super PAC dedicated to defeating him. But Mair also has a sense of humor – something that’s gotten her in trouble before. Her super PAC was called Make America Awesome.
Anyway, Mair decided to run a Facebook ad in Utah that featured Trump’s wife, Melania, from a nude photoshoot she did many years ago…
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Republican presidential primary. Slut shaming, schoolyard threats, and puerile taunts all carried out in full public view on Twitter. Are you feeling sorry for the demise of the smoke-filled room yet?
Many are, but Matt Levin points out that Heidi and Melania could both make better candidates than their husbands:
The model formerly known as Melania Knauss at least seems more humble and less interested in seeking the spotlight than her husband does. She also speaks five languages (English, Slovenian, German, Serbian and French). It’s a far cry from her mono-language husband, who, according to a Boston Globe analysis speaks English at a fourth-grade level.
Heidi Cruz, 43, was a rising star in politics before she left the game to support her husband’s career. Like him, she’s an Ivy Leaguer with a Harvard MBA. She has succeeded in both the public and private sectors.
She’s also credited with softening her husband’s edges (to the extent possible given the nature of the 2016 election), and is considered less ideologically strict than Ted Cruz.
Buzzfeed, in a profile called “The Trials and Triumphs of Heidi Cruz,” showed that Heidi Cruz seems every bit as politically savvy as Ted. She triumphed in the political realm before her husband got his footing. In 2003, she reported directly to Condoleezza Rice as a member of the National Security Council.
When her husband wanted to move from Washington, D.C., to Houston, Cruz took a position as vice president at a local Goldman Sachs office. She was the only woman working there. The same month Ted Cruz won his Senate race in 2012, Heidi became a managing director at the financial firm.
Yep, they’re both better than their husbands. That’s no surprise, and Salon’s Amanda Marcotte considers the likely backlash from Trump’s first Twitter blast:
It’s hard to imagine a tweet better crafted to scare off female voters, who are not known for liking rich men who defend their much-younger trophy wives by sneering about how other men’s wives, chosen from peer groups, are pedestrian and defective.
And there wasn’t much here:
It’s widely assumed that Trump was talking about an ad run by a conservative SuperPAC in Utah called Make America Awesome. Like a lot of SuperPACs, this one is less an impressive money-funneling machine and more a fly by night operation, one whose “ad” was really more a social media meme than an actual ad. That is not an exaggeration. The thing was disseminated mostly over Facebook and Instagram and is styled in a way that it almost surely was made on one of those meme-making websites.
Well, mission accomplished, as it did become a meme:
There’s been a robust discussion in feminist circles about this ad that is actually a meme and how it’s unfair and slut-shaming. There’s a strong argument to be had supporting this, but you have to give the woman who made it, Liz Mair, some credit for finding and exploiting a real vulnerability when it comes to Trump and female voters, both liberal and conservative.
While it’s true that Melania Trump is smarter than a lot of people realize and isn’t doing anything wrong by taking risqué photos, this ad isn’t really about her. This ad is about Donald Trump, highlighting that he really is a cartoonish stereotype: The wealthy sexist who talks about women like they’re objects for purchase and who is probably not interested in his wife because she speaks five languages and has studied architecture and design. One can politely ignore that fact in public, but there’s simply no way women aren’t taking note of it in private.
That is, in fact, what trapped Trump:
Trump’s reaction to this – to try to drag Ted Cruz into a wife-measuring contest, like they are debating the merits of owning a Ferrari vs. a Toyota Corolla – just confirms the suspicions that this ad is trying to raise.
This is why those who worry that Trump’s over-the-top sexism will somehow help him in a general election match-up against Hillary Clinton are completely misreading these particular tea leaves. Sure, there are a lot of men out there who see things the way Trump does. Those men admire him for his history of categorizing women as either sex objects or wastes of space whose continued existence is a mystery to him.
But those men are not the dominant voting bloc in a general election. In fact, men, as a group, do not make up the majority of voters. Women vote more than men and have since 1980. And women hate Trump. Sure, there’s a lot of sexist dislike for Clinton, which explains why her unfavorability ratings are significantly higher with men than women. But Trump’s sexism has an even more profound impact on his popularity with women.
Marcotte cites Jon Schwartz at The Intercept explaining that:
Women dislike Trump with what’s likely a historically unique intensity for a national politician. Trump’s average net favorability among women over the past six weeks is minus 33 percent – far worse than the minus 2 percent net favorability among women for Marco Rubio or the minus 14 percent for Ted Cruz. Likewise, in a poll taken just before the 2012 election, Mitt Romney had a net favorability among women of minus 2 percent.
And this is before the general election even really gets underway and Trump starts pulling his “why is this woman I don’t want to have sex with even talking” act with Hillary Clinton.
Just think about it:
The only time Carly Fiorina was really doing well with Republicans was when Trump was disrespecting her in this way. And that’s with a crowd that has way higher tolerance for overt sexism.
The public at large is not going to like it, not one bit. Nor will this hurt Trump with just women, either. Sure, Trump plays well with the Maxim crowd, but he takes the sexist vitriol so far that it repulses a whole bunch of men, both liberal and conservative. The exchange with Cruz was a good example of how the way Trump talks about women is also insulting to men.
That’s why Cruz later called Trump a coward:
Most news sources are assuming that Trump was referring to Heidi Cruz’s history of struggling with depression, and if so, then congratulations, Trump. You did the impossible: You made Ted Cruz, by far the creepiest politician on the national stage since Ross Perot, seem like a decent man who cares for and stands by his wife.
That sort of thing doesn’t just impact female voters, but a lot of men, as well. Even some men who might have some sympathy for Trump’s leering sexism are going to draw the line at treating a beloved wife like she’s a defective product who needs to be returned to the factory just because she has some health problems. Most men’s marriages are more like the Cruz marriage than the Trump marriage. They aren’t going to be keen on the idea that Trump would look down on them for that.
Six out of ten female voters think Trump is an embarrassment, but it’s also true that four out of ten male voters think that. Just wait until the general election, where his sexist antics will get even more attention (as hard as that may be to believe) than they are getting now. This is a man who can’t crack fifty percent of Republican voters, even in Arizona, where his xenophobic campaign should be going over like gangbusters. On a national stage, against a female opponent whose very existence counters Trump’s reductionist attitudes about women’s worth, Trump is going to look even more like an embarrassment.
The election may turn on that, and he does say his hands are normal size, so there’s no problem with that other part of his anatomy. He keeps reminding America of that. Melania is happy, one must assume. He’s a strange fellow, but the election may turn on other stuff, as Greg Sargent notes:
Donald Trump continued stomping towards the GOP nomination with a big win in Arizona last night, which will stir more anxiety among GOP elites who worry that his strategy of courting white backlash could drive away minority voters, helping unleash an electoral bloodbath up and down the ticket. Paul Ryan is set to give a speech today decrying the “tone” in our politics that will likely hint at criticism of Trump along these lines.
But what if Trump’s efforts to court white backlash constitute one of the essential ingredients of his success among Republican voters?
A new analysis of Washington Post/ABC News polling strongly suggests this may be the case. A Post/ABC national poll this month asked: “Which of these do you think is a bigger problem in this country – blacks and Hispanics losing out because of preferences for whites, or whites losing out because of preferences for blacks and Hispanics?”
The answer shows what this election could really be about:
A large plurality of Republican respondents nationally says that the bigger problem is whites losing out, by 45-19. I asked crack Post polling guru Scott Clement to break these numbers down among supporters of Trump and the other candidates, and it turns out that Trump supporters believe this in far larger percentages…
A majority of Trump supporters – 54 percent – believe the bigger problem is whites are losing out. Meanwhile, 37 percent of Trump’s supporters believe this strongly, again higher than among any other candidate’s supporters.
Trump is onto something, even if, as Sargent notes, the poll also found that Trump supporters are more likely to say they are struggling economically – but when you look more closely, Trump supporters tend to believe their losses are being caused by other groups’ gains – in a zero-sum game. If blacks and Hispanics and Asians do better, as they seems to be doing, whites must be doing worse. These folks just don’t believe in any sort of everybody-wins concept:
The Atlantic’s Molly Ball recently talked to dozens of Trump supporters and concluded that many of them are driven by what she characterized as “the idea that they, the others, enjoy privileges, resources, and status to which we are denied access.” Ball concluded that support for Trump is rooted in “a form of racial resentment based on historic white entitlement and a backlash to the upsurge in leftist identity politics that has marked American politics in the age of Obama,” and in the idea that Trump will essentially empower his supporters again.
And that will lead to this:
Trump will simply laugh and shrug when GOP leaders such as Paul Ryan issue their noble calls for a more elevated campaign tone. After all, such lofty appeals may prove as weak as straw in the face of the darker forces that Trump is tapping into among some segments of the GOP electorate. And as long as Trump has an incentive to stick to his white-backlash strategy, it is that much more likely that he will keep up with the wretched antics that risk driving minorities and young voters further away from the GOP.
But as predicted, Ryan did lay out his noble call for a more elevated campaign tone:
House Speaker Paul Ryan Wednesday lamented the divisive, angry tenor of the Republican primary fight, warning Republicans must engage in “battle of ideas, not insults” if they hope to win a mandate from the American public.
“Our political discourse – both the kind we see on TV and the kind we experience among each other – did not use to be this bad and it does not have to be this way,” Paul told a crowd of Republican congressional interns.
“Now, a little skepticism is healthy. But when people distrust politics, they come to distrust institutions. They lose faith in their government, and the future too. We can acknowledge this. But we don’t have to accept it. And we cannot enable it either.”
Ryan did not name any of the presidential candidates, but it was clear he was referring to the tone of his party’s presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s campaign.
“Ideas, passionately promoted and put to the test – that’s what politics can be,” he said. “That’s what our country can be … Instead of playing to your anxieties we can appeal to your aspirations. Instead of playing the identity politics of our base and their base, we unite people around ideas and principles. And instead of being timid, we go bold.”
“We don’t resort to scaring you, we dare to inspire you. We don’t just oppose someone or something. We propose a clear and compelling alternative. And when we do that, we don’t just win the argument. We don’t just win your support. We win your enthusiasm. We win hearts and minds. We win a mandate to do what needs to be done to protect the American Idea.”
Ryan may have not been spending much time on this planet, but he did say this:
I’m certainly not going to stand here and tell you I have always met this standard. There was a time when I would talk about a difference between “makers” and “takers” in our country, referring to people who accepted government benefits. But as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized I was wrong… So I stopped thinking about it that way – and talking about it that way.
Kevin Drum calls bullshit on that:
The obvious pushback is that while Ryan may have stopped talking about “makers and takers,” his policies are exactly the same as they’ve always been. After all that time spent listening, he changed his rhetoric but apparently none of his substantive views…
If all Ryan is doing is telling a bunch of interns that they can get more done if they watch their language and hide their true intentions then there’s nothing much to applaud here. At the same time, it’s still good to say this stuff out loud, regardless of how sincere it is. Not many people do anymore.
Now, how about doing it again in front of a more important audience and with a few explicit references to Donald Trump thrown in?
Matthew Yglesias wonders about that too:
It’s difficult to know what was going through Ryan’s head as he composed this address. Did he intend, at some earlier part in the process, to give an anti-Trump speech and then change his mind? Had he long planned to give a kind of boring speech and then opportunistically teased it as if it was going to be interesting?
It’s impossible to say.
But what’s clear is that this speech was not an endorsement of Cruz, or a rebuke of Trump, and does nothing to lay the groundwork for taking extraordinary measures to deny the presumptive nominee the nomination.
Given the chance to reflect on the state of national politics, Ryan does not sense an alarming rise in overt racism or anti-Muslim prejudice. Ryan does not feel that anti-immigration sentiment has gone too far. Ryan doesn’t even express alarm at the backlash against international trade. Ryan isn’t worried about protestors getting beaten up at rallies, and Ryan isn’t worried that a leading presidential candidate lies constantly. Ryan just thinks people should be nicer, in general, and that Republicans should say nice things about poor people.
This really was no more than that, and if so, what is this election about – who has the most impressive “little woman” – or who can best make sure that all those black and brown and yellow people don’t take all your stuff? That’s about it, but Paul Ryan wants them to talk nicely about such things. Bernie and Hillary keep talking about making this a better world. No one quite knows what these other guys are talking about.