Well, whattaya know? Big, bad Donald Trump is afraid of a girl—well, a woman, to be more precise. A woman named Megyn Kelly.
On Tuesday, Trump announced he was pretty certain that he would skip the final Republican presidential debate if Kelly, the Fox News Channel host, wasn’t booted from her role as moderator, a decision he described as “pretty close to irrevocable.” (His campaign manager later said more definitively that Trump would not appear.) The problem? Kelly had treated the Republican frontrunner “unfairly,” he said, in an earlier debate.
“Let’s see how much money Fox is going to make on the debate without me,” Trump said at a press conference in Marshalltown, Iowa.
While the contretemps between Fox and Trump—two noxious media entities that, in the realm of cosmic justice, somehow deserve each other—is fascinating as a battle of titans, the source of Trump’s ire deserves greater attention. It’s about his contempt for women, and his irritation about being called on it, especially by a woman.
At an August debate sponsored by Fox News Channel, Trump took umbrage at Kelly’s question to him about the disparaging remarks he’s known to make about the physical appearance of women who criticize him.
"You've called women you don't like 'fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,'" Kelly said.
“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump quipped.
But Kelly didn’t let up, citing other examples of Trump’s misogyny, including a comment he made to a female contestant on his reality show, Celebrity Apprentice, that she would look good on her knees. How, Kelly asked, in a contest against Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton would he defend himself against the charge that he was part of a war on women?
Trump was beside himself, complaining that he was being treated unfairly. After the debate, he piled the misogyny on Kelly herself, telling CNN, "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” In the ensuing uproar, he insisted he meant no reference to menstruation. Yeah, right.
In a campaign based on rage toward and hatred of people who fall into a range of categories—Mexicans and Muslims come immediately to mind—Trump’s hostility toward women seems the most authentic, and not some mere contrivance meant to rile the GOP base. (Even after that first Fox debate, he went after Carly Fiorina, the lone woman in the Republican presidential field, not for her political positions, but for her face.)
When challenged on comments he’s made in the past, it’s those that pertain to his treatment of women that seem to most get under his skin.
A wise person once told me that bullies are actually frightened people. With his incessant bullying of the purportedly weaker sex, Trump signals a deep-seated fear of women, especially those who hold any sort of power.
Yet Trump’s popularity signals the same about a good chunk of America. In polls that examine a possible general election match-up between Trump and Hillary Clinton, the two are only a few points apart. His favorability rating among Americans hovers around 40 percent.
Compared to our counterparts in nations in which oppression of women is expressed as state policy, female human beings in the United States appear to have a decent deal. We can go to school, drive, marry whom we choose, or choose not to marry at all. But look at the pay gap between the sexes, or the make-up of the U.S. Congress—where only one in five lawmakers is a woman—and America’s fear of female power becomes plain.
The amplification of that fear through Trump’s misogynist megaphone is no doubt part of his appeal. Vote for me, and I’ll put those uppity gals in their place!
In its response to Trump’s announcement of nonparticipation in the final pre-Iowa debate, Fox News Channel’s famously caustic publicity department issued this statement:
We learned from a secret back channel that the Ayatollah and Putin both intend to treat Donald Trump unfairly when they meet with him if he becomes president—a nefarious source tells us that Trump has his own secret plan to replace the Cabinet with his Twitter followers to see if he should even go to those meetings.
However amusing that barb may be, it misses the point. Trump ain’t afraid of no ayatollah—he’s just another dude. And Putin, well, Trump thinks the Russian dictator is a total bro.
Megyn Kelly, on the other hand—not a dude, not a bro. Scary.
Hillary Clinton might do well to brush off the campaign slogan that defined her 2000 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat: “You go, girl!” She’ll have Bluster Boy quaking in his boots.