Congratulations, Donald Trump. You made sure that throughout a gorgeous summer weekend, headlines and chyrons everywhere blared your claim that a professional woman did her job badly because she was menstruating. I’m no fragile flower, but by Sunday, I admit, I felt a little bit ill.
Of course the media wasn’t making the charge, they were reporting it. And I’m not suggesting anyone should have censored Trump. But seeing the word “MENSTRUATING” over and over, linked to Megyn Kelly, a conservative journalist who is at the pinnacle of her profession, showed the extent to which a primitive fear and hatred of women powers far-right backlash politics today.
So many in the media are shocked at the rise of Trump and the piggishness he represents. I can’t understand why. From the dawn of the Obama administration some of us have experienced the surge of racism and misogyny personally.
Within days of Obama’s inauguration, I had former House Majority Leader Dick Armey tell me on “Hardball,” after I'd criticized Rush Limbaugh, "I'm so damn glad you can never be my wife, because I surely wouldn't have to listen to that prattle from you every day." A lot of folks on the left were outraged; on the right, they laughed and cheered Armey.
One of those who laughed was Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, a debate moderator along with Kelly Thursday night. On conservative Mike Gallagher’s radio show, Wallace said he found feminist anger over Armey’s insult “pretty funny.” Here’s how it went:
GALLAGHER: Now, now, feminists are very angry that he said, “I’m glad you couldn’t be my wife.” I mean…
WALLACE: It’s pretty funny actually.
GALLAGHER: It’s hysterical. Do you know how many times a week I say, “thank God I don’t have to wake up next to her.” I mean some of these callers, these shrews that call…
Ah, the "shrews." Gallagher put us in our place, and Wallace laughed.
Let’s remember, some of the shrews are menstruating. Just a few months later, Watergate felon and torture apologist G. Gordon Liddy decided that it had been my “time of the month” when I beat him in a CNN debate on torture. “It upset her greatly,” Liddy told his radio sidekick. “Probably that time of the month.” Later the two men discussed searching my bio page. "There's no mention of a husband there at all is there?" Liddy asks.
"No sir," his buddy quips. "But the next time you're tempted to feel sorry for yourself, just remember--"
"You could be married to her," Liddy says, laughing.
"Somewhere there is a Mr. Pelosi," his pal replies.
Despite the sexist slurs directed at me and at then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, conservatives continued to go on Liddy’s radio show until he retired in 2012.
Then there’s John Kasich, who won praise merely for seeming like a decent guy in Thursday night’s debate. He angrily told me to “learn to control yourself” -- ah, the ancient idea of woman as hysterical shrew -- after I mentioned his work for Lehman Brothers when we were guests on “Hardball” in 2010. At least Kasich is consistent: He refuses to denounce Trump for his attack on Kelly,
Let's be clear: I'm not comparing myself to Megyn Kelly, a much more prominent journalist, whose wrangle with Trump occurred in front of 24 million people during a GOP presidential debate. Still, liberal women are regularly attacked by right-wing sexists with little or no rebuke. So forgive me if I’m not moved and encouraged by spectacle of many (if not all) on the right finally standing up to misogyny when it smears Kelly, one of their own.
The pinnacle of hypocrisy, of course, was Erick Erickson’s opportunistic decision to rescind Trump’s invitation to his Red State Rising event this weekend (where candidates were invited to one-up one another on shutting down the government over defunding Planned Parenthood.) Erickson is a sexist oaf who’s made a career out of Trump-like attacks on women. He famously called Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis “Abortion Barbie” – but he extended that insult to GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers merely because she fought to insure the House GOP’s 20-week abortion ban included exceptions for rape and incest.
Erickson’s called Michelle Obama a “Marxist Harpy Wife,” branded the 2012 Democratic National Convention “the Vagina Monologues” and regularly attacks “ugly feminists.” But for his brave disinvite to Trump, Jeb Bush praised him as “on the side of women.”
Poor dumb Jeb. Bush also tried to portray himself as on the side of women, denouncing Trump for his attack on Kelly – but he did it in the most ham-handed and opportunistic way, attacking not the decency of Trump’s insults but the way they were hurting GOP electability.
“Come on, give me a break. Do we want to win? Do we want to insult 53 percent of all voters? What Donald Trump said is wrong.”
It’s apparently not wrong because it’s sexist and ugly; it’s wrong because it hurt Republicans.
Another profile in courage, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, repeatedly refused to denounce Trump on “Meet the Press” Sunday. “I’ve made a decision here with Donald Trump,” he told Chuck Todd. “If I comment on everything he says, my whole campaign will be consumed by it. That’s all I’ll do all day. ”
Of course Rubio criticized Trump for calling undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists and criminals” and said his comments about Sen. John McCain “disqualified him as commander in chief.” But he won’t attack Trump's misogyny. Makes sense: Rubio’s apparently decided to surrender the women’s vote by coming out against exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother in abortion bans.
Trump reminded Megyn Kelly, and all of us, of the primitive fear of women at the heart of the conservative backlash, when he smeared her with one of the oldest reasons women can’t be trusted to play a role in public life. For days now, we’ve been marinating in ancient primal male prejudices against women. It’s progress, of a sort, that most of the world recoiled in horror at Trump’s insult. But the fact that Trump would suggest it at all shows we’ve got a lot more progress to make.