How Republicans Are Empowering Trump To Bully Women

by Clarissa-Jan Lim
John Moore/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Thursday morning, President Trump tweeted to his 32.9 million followers that MSNBC's Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski was "bleeding badly from a face-lift." Trump's tweets sparked widespread backlash, including from several Republican lawmakers and House Speaker Paul Ryan. If history is any indication, Republicans will deem Trump's latest verbal assail against a woman yet another forgivable — and forgettable — offense.

Trump, it seemed, had crossed a line this time. His tweets were excoriated by his fellow Republicans. Sen. Lindsey Graham told Trump on Twitter that his remark "represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America." Maine's Republican senator Susan Collins tweeted, "This has to stop. ... We don't have to get along, but we must show respect and civility."

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, implored in a tweet, "Please just stop. This isn't normal and it's beneath the dignity of your office." Lisa Murkowski, an Alaskan GOP senator, admonished the president in two tweets, one exclaiming "Stop it!" and another tagging his official @POTUS account that asked, "do you want to be remembered for your tweets or your accomplishments?"

After the heat dies down, Trump will likely return to tweeting insults to the media, his critics, and Democrats, and Republicans will continue to back him.

This is an all-too-familiar play that historically has yielded no change: Trump viciously rails against a woman, Republicans criticize him, often harshly, and then — nothing. After the heat dies down, Trump will likely return to tweeting insults to the media, his critics, and Democrats, and Republicans will continue to back him, whether implicitly or through their silence.

From the election campaign to the White House, the GOP's tactic in dealing with Trump's crass behavior toward women is one of forgetfulness, and in doing so, they empower President Trump to demean women without consequences.

Trump's habit of degrading women and their appearances were honed during his early days as a prominent businessman and reality TV star. Several contestants in the 1997 Miss Teen USA contest told BuzzFeed News last year that Trump barged into the dressing room unannounced.

As he zigzagged across the country during the election campaign, Trump left a trail of misogyny-tainted breadcrumbs in his wake.

Days later, CNN dug up a 2005 interview on The Howard Stern Show in which Trump's own words back that up. "Well, I'll tell you the funniest is that before a show, I'll go backstage and everyone's getting dressed, and everything else, and you know, no men are anywhere, and I'm allowed to go in because I'm the owner of the pageant and therefore I'm inspecting it," he said. "You know, I'm inspecting because I want to make sure that everything is good."

Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe, has also said that Trump publicly humiliated her for gaining weight after the competition, calling her "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping." She told the New York Times that Trump's bullying led to a years-long eating disorder.

"I was 18," she said. "My personality wasn’t created yet. I was just a girl.”

In an article published in October 2016, the Associated Press interviewed more than 20 former employees on The Apprentice who corroborated what they argued was Trump's sexist behavior on the show. Trump, they claimed, rated female cast members based on the size of their breasts, and wondered out loud about their bodies and what they were like in bed. Trump's spokeswoman Hope Hicks dismissed the allegations as lies, saying, "These outlandish, unsubstantiated, and totally false claims fabricated by publicity hungry, opportunistic, disgruntled former employees, have no merit whatsoever."

As he zigzagged across the country during the election campaign, Trump left a trail of misogyny-tainted breadcrumbs in his wake. He slammed Fox News host Megyn Kelly after she grilled him hard during a debate, saying in a CNN interview that there was "blood coming out of her wherever." He told the New York Times of model Heidi Klum, "Sadly, she's no longer a 10." He reportedly said of Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the 2016 Republican primary, "Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?"

Each time Trump disparaged a woman on the campaign trail, Republicans issued public condemnation. They canceled appearances with him and rescinded his invitations to events. They spoke of their mothers, wives, and daughters, and the respect with which women should be treated. Yet when he clinched the Republican nomination, the party leadership fell in line. Ryan, the highest-ranking GOP politician in the country at the time, told NPR that he believed Trump would "endeavor to try to change." Reince Priebus, then the chair of the Republican National Committee, called for the party to unite behind Trump. (Priebus is now the White House chief of staff.)

But Trump saved his worst jibes for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, whom he repeatedly blasted during the campaign for not having the "look" or the "stamina" for the role of president. He called her names and complained about the sound of her "very shrill" voice. He repeatedly attacked her marriage to Bill Clinton, and once even retweeted — then later deleted — a post that read: "If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?"

Though there were reports that Republicans expressed concern about Trump's sexist lines of attack on Clinton, they said nary a word in public.

Republicans pushed back against or played deaf on Trump's sexist remarks on Machado, Kelly, and other women throughout the campaign, but as he looked more likely to become the party's nominee, their criticism grew tempered. Then the 2005 Access Hollywood tape came out. Scores of high-ranking Republicans, including Arizona Sen. John McCain and former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, issued public condemnations of Trump's comments about grabbing women's genitals and being able to "do anything" to women when "you're a star." Some withdrew their support for his nomination. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, two of the top-ranking Republicans in Congress, fiercely denounced his remarks — though neither pulled their endorsement of him.

But Trump nevertheless beat Clinton on Nov. 8, dealing the Democrats — and everyone else caught flat-footed by the results — a stinging blow. He defied the odds to become the GOP's presidential nominee, and swept the party to the White House. Criticism of Trump disappeared overnight.

The GOP leadership will do what they have always done with Trump's treatment of women: Turn the other cheek.

On Nov. 9, Ryan congratulated Trump for his win, hailing it as a "most incredible political feat." Days later, Ryan appeared on CNN and offered comfort to minorities and women, whom host Jake Tapper said were "terrified about what this America means under President Trump."

"First of all, I hate it that people feel this way, and second of all, they should not," Ryan said. "I think people should be rest assured. America is a pluralistic, inclusive country. I really think that people should put their minds at ease."

Trump's latest attack on Brzezinski is shocking, and as a president, it certainly crossed a line. But Republicans have said that before, when the Access Hollywood tape came out. They said he crossed a line when he denied sexual assault allegations from Natasha Stoynoff, a reporter, by alluding that she was too unattractive — “Take a look. You take a look. Look at her," he said at a rally in Florida in October. "Look at her words. Tell me what you think. I don’t think so" — and when Machado spoke out against the way he had treated her.

As the leader of the Republican Party, Trump has been granted a staggering amount of leeway in his behavior. As controversies bog down the White House and Republicans in Congress count on the president to sign their bills into law, the GOP leadership will do what they have always done with Trump's treatment of women: Turn the other cheek.

After the dust from his attack on Brzezinski settles, Trump will go about his business of bullying women as usual.