If there’s any one thing the Trump campaign wants you to remember about Hillary Clinton, it’s that she’s a woman—a play for the votes of people who believe that’s not a good thing.
In Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate, Mike Pence, the right-wing extremist Indiana governor who is the running mate of Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, attempted to paint the foreign policy of Trump’s Democratic opponent as weak, saying of the war in Syria, “Look, we have got to lean into this with strong, broad-shouldered American leadership that begins by rebuilding our military.”
Ah, that broad-shouldered leadership. You know who doesn’t have broad shoulders? The woman!
It’s not the first time Pence has trotted out the term. Just before the September 26 debate between Trump and Clinton—the first time a woman has stood on the debate stage as a major-party presidential nominee—Pence said of his boss, “Look, Donald Trump's got broad shoulders. He's able to make his case and make a point."
Pence is smooth, carefully choosing his turns of phrase. Nothing crass here, just very polite sexism of the kind that could serve him well when he vies for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020.
Other Trump surrogates are less adroit. On Sunday, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani went straight to the point. Addressing a New York Times report indicating that Trump may not have paid personal income tax for some 18 years, Giuliani described his man as a “genius” for having worked the system so brilliantly.
“Don’t you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a woman?” Giuliani asked during an appearance on ABC’s This Week.
The Trump campaign has long played to the fears of a large constituency of white men unnerved by the changing role of women in the world. More than any one thing, the place of white men in society is what this election is all about. For them, knowing that no matter how hard the times on which they’ve fallen, they’ve still got a leg up on people who are not like them—be they women, black people, or brown-skinned immigrants—is no longer a given.
In addition to Trump’s crasser statements of misogyny, he’s suggested that Clinton “doesn’t have a presidential look.” (Her shoulders are not broad enough?) And, of course, Trump’s repeated questioning of his opponent’s “stamina” is all about gendered stereotypes—as if we still lived in the days when corseted upper-class white women regularly took to fainting couches from forcing themselves into lung-crushing garments constructed of grommets, laces, and animal bones, all to have a figure like that of a Miss Universe pageant winner.
Questioned about his “presidential look” comment by moderator Lester Holt, Trump doubled down. Clinton neatly dispensed with his reply, saying, “As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a ceasefire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina." (During her tenure as secretary of state, Clinton’s travels covered 956,733 miles; she spent 401 days on the road.)
The upshot of Trump’s debate performance in September was to reopen Clinton’s lead among women. Going into the first debate, Clinton’s advantage among women, according to national polls as parsed by the International Business Times, was as low as 5 percent. But in the days following the debate, her advantage soared by as much as 20 points, according to two Fox News polls. Meanwhile, according to the most recent CNN/ORC poll, Trump is winning men by 5 points.
Trump is not likely to win back many of those women voters, so his campaign has little choice but to make a fierce bid for every vote of every white man in the country who fears the usurpation of the Barcalounger throne in his cul-de-sac castle. Hence, whatever such a man’s misgivings about Trump, he’s got to be, as Giuliani so baldly put it, “better than a woman.”
Yet the very things that set off alarm bells in such men are the very things that appeal to women. Hillary is confident, capable, and remains unruffled by the very sorts of insults that every woman who has sat in a male-dominated workplace meeting, or simply walked down the street alone, has had to endure. She’s the embodiment of the Urban Dictionary’s definition of a “broad.” Once a pejorative term, “broad” came to denote something admirable, according to Urban Dictionary contributor Alexei Kotsov. “Broads … know how to compete and win in a man's world,” he writes. To summarize, Kotsov quotes Bette Midler, who said, “People always love a broad—someone with a sense of humor, someone with a fairly wicked tongue, someone who can belt out a song, someone who takes no guff."
No one yet knows the true dimensions of the 2016 electorate (the people who actually cast a ballot on Election Day). But we do know that women historically vote in greater numbers than men.
In the vice presidential debate, Pence offered little defense of his running mate—except for Trump’s broad shoulders. But women voters are likely to pick the broad minus the shoulders, as are a number of guys who find broads more appealing than bluster. That leaves Trump scurrying to muster a militia of angry white men large enough to put him over the top. More misogyny is surely on tap.