Women Are Taking Trump Down, And He Can't Stand It

by Seth Millstein

After gaining steadily in the polls for several weeks, Donald Trump has plummeted once again. One of his more recent collapses was precipitated by his disastrous performance in the debates with Hillary Clinton, as well as an ill-advised feud with Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe. There’s something deeper going on here, though. It is women who are taking Trump down, and he cannot stand this.

Trump is a misogynist, and his record of sexism is sufficiently well-documented. For the majority of his life, and perhaps the entirety of his professional life, this hasn’t been a barrier to his success. When he said in 1991, for instance, that negative press coverage doesn’t matter “as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass,” it didn’t hurt business. There were no consequences the next year, when said “you have to treat [women] like shit,” or 10 years later, when he told a woman that she was “disgusting” for pumping breast milk.

Put simply, Trump has spent most of his life occupying realms in which it was perfectly acceptable to be a gleeful misogynist. But running for president is different from running a business. It has a different set of standards and norms, and generally requires candidates to at least attempt to avoid coming off as unrepentant sexists.

Trump has not been able to do this. When he said during the primaries that Carly Fiorina shouldn’t be president because of “that face,” it resulted in one of his worst moments in any of the primary debates. When he said that Clinton got “schlonged” by Barack Obama in 2008, it dominated the news cycle for days. When he suggested that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly was tough on him because she was menstruating, it became a weeks-long controversy. As a result of these and other incidents, Trump developed a hideous favorability rating among women, and it’s stayed hideous throughout the entire campaign.

Trump’s sexism hasn’t abated, and as Clinton’s knockout debate performance and the subsequent feud with Machado illustrate well, his misogyny is beginning to look like one of his biggest weaknesses as a candidate.

During the debate, Clinton was calm, collected, and cool as a cucumber — and Trump was visibly furious about this. In what was in retrospect a brilliant move, Clinton closed out the forum by scolding Trump for sexist and racist comments he made about Machado after she won the Miss Universe pageant in 1996.

The smart thing for Trump to do would be avoid taking this bait, say something vaguely nice about Machado, and attempt to move on. But he didn’t do that, because he is temperamentally incapable of doing such a thing. The prospect of a woman effectively painting him as a sexist was too much for him to handle, and so he flew off the handle.

After the debate, Trump applauded himself for not bringing up Bill Clinton’s affairs, apparently under the assumption that it’s valid to attack a woman whose husband has cheated on her. Then his campaign instructed surrogates to bring up the affairs anyway. More significantly, he launched a full-fledged assault against Machado, calling her “disgusting” and reiterating charges that she gained “so much weight” after winning the pageant.

The result? After drawing Clinton to a virtual draw in the polls, his numbers have cratered. In 11 swing state polls conducted since the debate, Clinton has led Trump in every one.

Before Trump won the Republican primaries, it had occurred to me that he might be an easy general election opponent for Clinton to defeat, because every negative stereotype about Clinton — ruthless, vindictive, corrupt — applies tenfold to him, thus neutralizing those attacks on her. And while that’s all true, I’m starting to think that I got it backward. Trump isn’t the ideal opponent for Clinton so much as Clinton is the nightmare opponent for Trump.

In almost every setting in which Trump has operated — and this includes the Republican primary — he’s been able to rely on his macho tough guy act, and its accompanying sexism, to bring him success. But that isn’t the case anymore. Not with Clinton as his opponent. Politics aside, she’s a tough, accomplished women whom Trump can't control or put down. This is driving him nuts, and he may very well lose the election because of it.