Donald Trump is slightly less evil: Trump and Cruz test how far right Republicans have become on LGBT and women's rights

Trump is mostly anti-woman and anti-LGBT, but Cruz is betting Trump isn't far enough to the right for the voters

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published April 22, 2016 2:19PM (EDT)

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz   (AP/Charlie Neibergall/Jeff Malet, montage by Salon)
Donald Trump, Ted Cruz (AP/Charlie Neibergall/Jeff Malet, montage by Salon)

Donald Trump, if reports are correct, appears to be a traditional enough of a politician to grasp the concept of pivoting to the general, claiming he's going to become more presidential and quietly reassuring potential backers that the loud-mouthed bore act is just an act. There's good reason to be skeptical, but, in his ham-fisted way, he was clearly trying to appear more mainstream during the "Today" town hall on Thursday, portraying himself as open to raising taxes on the rich and claiming he opposed the Iraq War.

These are both lies, easily provable ones, to boot. More persuasive, however, are the moments when Trump portrayed himself as, not moderate exactly, but somewhat less of a radical right wing nut job than much of Republican party on reproductive rights and LGBT issues. Persuasive because many people, both left and right, assume Trump's conservative Christian piety act really is just an act, making moderate-sounding gestures from him sound like they're closer to his "real" opinion, should he actually have such things.

When asked about abortion, Trump confirmed that he still supports banning it, which has been his position throughout the campaign, even though he's learned to back off language about punishing women for it. He emphasized, however, that he would support "the three exceptions," i.e. for cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. (His answer seemed hazy on the issue of health exceptions.)

Trump's reluctance to force women to bear children for rapists was too much for the anti-choice community, however. March for Life's  Tom McClusky put out a statement denouncing Trump and supporting the Republican platform, which seems to suggest that women should be forced to bear children, even if doing so will kill them.

"The Platform sets the standard that all candidates need to work from, and the suggestion that the platform should weaken its position on the pro-life issue would set back years of hard work in the pro-life movement," McClusky wrote.

You know things have gotten bad when Donald Trump is considered not quite misogynist enough to placate the right. His moment of sympathy for rape victims and women facing life-threatening conditions is clearly too soft a stance for anti-choicers. Next thing you know, he might start suggesting women are people with rights, instead of brood mares who should have no say in what happens to their bodies.

It's worth noting that Mitt Romney, as the 2012 Republican candidate, had the exact same stance — ban abortion, exceptions for rape victims and women about to die — that Trump is being called out for now.

The anti-choice movement has lost patience for even this tiny crumb of sympathy for women, however, and Ted Cruz is eager to cater to the extremists on this. He's avoided talking about exceptions to his proposed ban and instead says that life "should be protected from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death." While he's cagey about it, Cruz has a history of supporting the "personhood" movement, which aims to pass laws that target not just abortion, but female-controlled contraception methods, many of which they falsely claim are kinds of abortion.

During the same town hall, Trump also waved off an issue that is the right wing hysterical flavor of the month: The myth that rapists pretend to be trans people so they can lurk in bathrooms and rape you with their scary rape pervert liberal ways.

Instead, Trump said the North Carolina law banning trans people from using the best bathroom for them was a mistake, and said that in most places, people "use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate" and "there has been so little trouble". (Which is probably the only true thing he's ever said.)

When asked if "Caitlyn Jenner were to walk into Trump Tower and want to use the bathroom, you’d be fine with her using any bathroom she chooses," Trump affirmed that this is the case.

Meanwhile, Cruz is going hard on the anti-trans bigotry. Reacting to Trump's statements, Cruz said the country's "gone off the deep end" and argued that Trump was supporting "grown men" being "alone in a bathroom with little girls."

This is a lie. Trump was pretty clearly supporting letting women, whether trans or cis, in the women's bathroom. Men will have to stay in the men's room.

It is true, however, that country has gone off the deep end, but not because some places let trans people pee in peace. Trump was, and this is probably the last time this will happen, right. Anti-discrimination laws have been in place for years in many places and trans people are left alone, and nothing bad has come from it.

The people who are going off the deep end are the people who decided, just this month, to start freaking out over an urban legend about rapists in bathrooms. It's arbitrary and clearly some right wing creation to stoke fear and sex panic, with an eye towards the election.

Now a trans teenager named James Van Kuilenburg from Maryland is claiming he was kicked out of Cruz rally, with no explanation, though the reason is likely because, in his words, "I am a visibly trans person, and I'm proud of it, so I wore my trans pride flag around my shoulders and a National Center for Transgender Equality shirt."

"When trying to explain what had happened to the Cruz volunteers outside, they laughed at us," Van Kuilenburg continues. "The level of disrespect and aggression there was outstanding."

Cruz has been trying to portray Trump as somehow a secret liberal because he has opinions that were considered perfectly mainstream in conservative circles — that abortion ban exceptions are okay, that you shouldn't harass people you think are trans — even just a few months ago. Cruz is betting a lot on the belief that the majority of Republican voters expect a level of right-wing radicalism on women's and LGBT issues that they didn't want in 2012 or even in 2015. Whether his bet will result in an improvement in his poll standings before next Tuesday's primary remains to be seen, but needless to say, I wouldn't put a lot of money on his strategy working.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Donald Trump Elections 2016 Lgbt Rights Reproductive Rights Republican Primary Ted Cruz