Donald Trump cherishes women. I know that because he told me so. (Well, not me specifically; rather, the media who followed him to Michigan where he gave a press conference ahead of a big speech yesterday.)
The speech came in the wake of Trump’s apparent reference to the menstrual cycle of Fox News host Megyn Kelly, who dared to ask the real-estate magnate and reality-show actor, during last week’s Republican presidential debate, to defend the many disparaging remarks he has made about women, particularly about the appearance of women with whom he takes issue.
“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” Kelly said to Trump as part of a question about whether his temperament was appropriate for the role of presidential nominee.
“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump replied.
A day later, when Trump accused Kelly of asking him those questions with “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” a collective gasp went up among the punditry class. Was he suicidal? Megyn Kelly is a conservative heroine!
And when Erick Erickson, founder of the RedState.com website—the man who dubbed Texas state Senator Wendy Davis “Abortion Barbie”—consequently banned Trump from Saturday’s RedState conference at which the Donald was scheduled to appear along with other Republican presidential candidates, this was considered proof that Trump had gone a step too far.
But what professional political observers missed was the fact that Kelly is a woman, a woman who put on the spot a man who happens to be the front-running presidential candidate of a party that boasts misogyny as its calling card.
The backlash against Kelly was not long in coming. NewsMax, the right-wing click-bait site, dug up Kelly’s 2010 appearance on the Howard Stern Show, touting it in its newsletter under the headline: “Megyn Kelly Rollicked With Howard Stern: Breasts, Penises, Sex,” as if talking about having sex with her husband was somehow on par with the misogyny exhibited by Trump. Then again, in the Republican mind, women who like sex—even sex with men—are to be vilified always, because a woman admitting to liking sex with a man is somehow far worse than a man displaying his contempt for and objectification of women.
As if the Stern story didn’t quite make the case about how awful Megyn Kelly is, NewsMax also featured, in the same newsletter, among ads for Trump campaign regalia, an item titled: “Black Women Tell Megyn to Back Off.” Because, you know, the Republican Party is quite a champion of black women. (Just ask Anita Hill.) As it turns out, those black women telling Megyn to back off number exactly two, shown together in a home video shot in somebody’s living room. And it wasn't just NewsMax. The Fox News audience, reports Gabriel Sherman on New York magazine's website, was also in revolt against Kelly, who, according to Sherman's source, said she was receiving death threats.
Trump, who claims credit for the record number of viewers that tuned into last week's debate (unfortunately, he's probably right), threatened to never again appear on Fox News, a move designed to force Roger Ailes, the right-wing channel's head honcho, to choose between Kelly and Trump. After Trump appeared on several network Sunday news talk shows with the exception of Fox's, Ailes and Trump had a telephonic tête-à-tête, after which Trump tweeted: "Roger Ailes just called. He is a great guy & assures me that 'Trump' will be treated fairly on @FoxNews."
The next day, Trump appeared on the weekday morning show, “Fox & Friends.” ”I’m glad we’re friends again," host Steve Doocy said to Trump.
Richard Viguerie, the direct-mail guru credited with paving Ronald Reagan’s path to the White House, weighed in with a “tsk-tsk” to Trump, using his newsletter to suggest that Trump should have taken the advice of Roger Stone, the longtime Trump adviser and occasional Trump enemy, who left the campaign after Trump’s remarks about Kelly, either because he was fired or because he quit, depending on whom you believe. Stone contends that he “fired” Trump after the reality-show star refused to take his advice to stop dissing Kelly.
Stone is such a great champion of women that in 2008 he founded an organization titled Citizens United Not Timid to oppose Hillary Clinton’s first presidential bid. “The group had no real operations and existed mostly so that Stone could refer to its acronym,” wrote The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin in his fascinating (and horrifying) 2008 profile of Stone (which opens with a scene of Stone, who worked on the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush campaigns, drinking in a Miami sex club). Viguerie’s defense of Stone is curious, given Viguerie’s role as a founder of the religious right. But then again, Stone is not a woman who likes having sex with her husband, but rather a man who likes having sex with his wife and a hunky man or two—all at the same time—so, well, bygones.
Since the Reagan Revolution of 1980, itself a challenge to the Republican establishment of yore, the GOP has shaped itself as the antidote to the women’s movement—at that time putting Phyllis Schlafly at the head of its ladies’ auxiliary, charged with the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment. (Alas, she succeeded, mostly on fear-mongering about the specter of unisex public restrooms.)
In Donald Trump’s surprisingly successful campaign, the Republican Party is reaping the rewards of the rage stoked by the Tea Party movement, now without a home given the Tea Party’s absorption into the party proper. Tea Partiers in Congress have to adhere to rules. They are now insiders, leaving those perennially aggrieved white men (and the women who love them) seeking an enraged new outsider to follow.
During Trump’s speech in Michigan on Tuesday at a local Republican gathering, the crowd showed no sign of punishing him for his jihad on Megyn Kelly. Instead, members of the nearly all-white crowd leapt to their feet, cheering wildly, as the blow-hard took the stage.
“Actually, Rosie O’Donnell saved me,” Trump told them. I’m not sure what he meant by that, but it’s a remark I’m certain came out of his whatever.