When the Republican presidential debate began Tuesday evening in Milwaukee, I was still in my car heading home, so I listened to the first part on satellite radio.
As Richard Nixon learned after his 1960 televised debate with Jack Kennedy, listening to a debate without the distraction of participants’ facial expressions changes how we hear them. We tend to focus more on substance. For Nixon, this was a good thing. For Donald Trump, not so much.
A quick aside for political junkies: In 2006, Meet the Press host Tim Russert walked into the show’s greenroom and told my husband and me why Nixon had become such a wet mop of a mess in that same studio during that debate. Bobby Kennedy, knowing of Nixon’s propensity for sweating, arrived early to the studio to turn up the thermostat. Nixon didn’t stand a chance. Remember that story the next time someone goes on and on about how debates were always such an honorable tradition before this circus came to town.
Driving along the streets of Cleveland, I heard Trump without seeing the usual pouty expressions and ubiquitous shrugging of his shoulders. Whenever he spouted in his meandering know-it-all voice, I thought, “Whom does he remind me of?”
I didn’t have the answer until after I walked through the door and made it to the TV in time to catch Trump complaining about Carly Fiorina. She had interjected her opinion about Ronald Reagan and Reykjavik before Rand Paul had finished talking. Her repeated behavior of stepping on the comments of others was no different from that of her male colleagues on the stage. Trump singled her out anyway.
“Why does she keep interrupting everybody?” he said, waving his left arm in her direction. “Boy, terrible.”
A smattering of laughter and applause preceded loud booing from the audience, and for a fleeting moment, I identified with Fiorina. That feeling quickly passed, but I had finally figured out whom — or, more accurately, what — Trump represents to a lot of his fans. He’s that other Donald, albeit a less classy and certainly less sophisticated version of him. He’s the Mad Men throwback, a Donald Draper wannabe.
Even if you’ve never seen an episode of the AMC show, if you are over 50 or wish we still lived in the ’50s, you know the type I mean. He’s the guy who thinks women are either a prop or a problem, and he is incapable of hiding his contempt for women who think otherwise.
His comments about Rosie O’Donnell in the first debate were such an egregious example of misogyny that it was easy for some to dismiss him as a dinosaur. His public display of disgust for fellow presidential candidate Fiorina, however, revealed a more sinister side. Not only does he think it’s ridiculous that he has to compete with this, this woman but also he assumes plenty of others agree with him.
If this were Trump in a vacuum, we could dismiss him as the summer replacement for the prime-time show returning this fall. But he continues to poll as one of the top two presidential candidates for Republican voters, which means a lot of people are, at the very least, getting a kick out of him. They either share or don’t care about Trump’s attitudes toward women.
This doesn’t surprise a lot of women in my generation, who long ago lost count of how many times we’ve been told to pipe down. Certainly, it’s no news to my daughters’ generation, either. The stories they tell.
Our youngest daughter is weeks away from giving birth. She has started sharing with me comments from male strangers and men she barely knows. They point to her belly and let her know she’s pregnant and feel free to tell her she should be napping, not working at her job. They feel free to ask her whether she’s going to nurse, too, as if her pregnancy has given them permission to discuss her breasts.
These men are old enough to know better and way too young to claim an elderly generation’s habits. This is all part and parcel of the same thing. They are Trump, multiplied, and to them, he is a godsend. He’s rich and powerful, and he’s made it popular again to say it out loud — to treat women as nothing more than a distraction and an invitation to misbehave. In that way, we women are no different to Trump from the 11 million Mexicans he wants to march right out of here.
As we lean in to the 2016 campaign, I leave you with this, from Don Draper: “Get out of here and move forward. This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.”
From your lips, mad man.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. She is the author of two books, including …and His Lovely Wife, which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2015 CREATORS.COM