We’ve always known the first Clinton-Trump debate was going to be a shitshow, but this is something special. On Saturday evening, Donald Trump publicly made plans to seat Gennifer Flowers, Bill Clinton’s longtime mistress, in the front row at Hofstra University. Right in front of Hillary. Jesus Christ.
If Trump follows through on this plan, it will emblematize everything rotten about 2016. On behalf of a dying White Man’s America, Donald Trump will smear the nation’s first female president on a grand stage usually reserved for statesmanship. With no experience rising to the occasion, he’ll lower the occasion to him. Degradation is the only way he can leave his mark. He executes this mission in the name of publicity, which makes it solemn to him. It doesn’t matter that he’s defiling the hope, in every young girl watching, that maybe if you get to be almost-president you will no longer have to put up with bullies calling you ugly. What’s important to Trump is his message, his pathetic empowerment: that however high a woman might rise, she will always be subject to the catcalls of men like him. Who, bitterest of all, will be around forever.
I’ve worried for months about the day Trump decided to tear into the soft flesh of Bill and Hillary’s marital history. A mention of Monica during the debate, at worst, was what I expected. But seating Gennifer Flowers in the front row to get even in a Twitter spat? Once again, Donald Trump has committed an act of such breathtaking cuntyness that it’s hard to imagine he isn’t suffering from some sort of mental sickness.
More than any of his Jeb!-related zingers, this moment encapsulates the black humor Trump has used to make his campaign not just outrageous, but captivating. It’s what Trump means when he claims to be a showman. Sure, it’s the kind of “showmanship” rubberneckers see in a car crash, but to a narcissistic tyrant raised on TV numbers, any appeal works.
The question for Trump has always been how far is too far. Finally, he may have overstepped his wiles. This episode could generate real blowback at the ballot box because it strikes directly the one demographic he cannot afford to lose: women.
If Donald Trump puts Gennifer Flowers in the front row on Monday night, he will lose every female vote in America. Or come as close to it as an American politician is able.
Could anything piss off female voters more than witnessing a man humiliate a woman by invoking her husband's infidelity in public? Is there a single woman in America who won’t react with gut-level hatred at the sight of the nation’s first female nominee having to answer for the presence of the peroxide bimbo her husband fucked for twelve years?
If you tried, you couldn’t dream up anything better able to unite the female race in revulsion.
To be sure, unifying women on any electoral matter would be unprecedented. Women do not vote as a bloc. They make up more than half the population and vote primarily along class and racial lines. In the past nine elections, the female vote has split more or less evenly among the two parties. Actually, given that women cast 53% of the ballots in 2012, “the female vote” is arguably just a name for the American electorate in general. And we know how divided that is.
Then again, no one in modern politics has engineered a provocation seemingly designed to enrage women of every political affiliation. Confronting Hillary Clinton with Gennifer Flowers would not fall under the protection of partisan sniping. It would be a personal insult — a bullying, anti-rhetorical aggression as far to the opposite of tact as you can go.
If Donald Trump puts that woman in Hillary’s face, it’ll be a lurid celebration of every advantage men have over women in personal life. The husband’s right to come back from adultery versus the wife’s invitation to get over it; the intimidation of a woman on every ground but the intellectual; the man’s power to mock a woman’s history despite countless transgressions of his own. The whole thing is a challenge: whether Hillary can stay emotionally unscrambled under bright lights.
Vanishingly few American women, even conservatives, will view this torment positively. Every female vote represents a person who knows what it’s like to suffer the judgments of idiot chauvinists like Trump. I’d imagine most wives would think it a nightmare to have the biggest, most public moment of your life usurped by the apparition of the Other Woman who caused you untold misery. So there you have it. Donald Trump, realizer of nightmares.
If I were Trump, I would be wary of pissing off every woman in the country. He needs them to win. First off, his unfavorables are so high among every minority that he has to sweep the white vote in order to stand a chance. He’s got a double-digit lead with men, but he’s losing white women. Second, 60% of undecided voters are female. Some of them might become decided if they see Trump accosting Hillary for having been cheated on. Finally, there’s an interesting dynamic at play with female Trump supporters. Via Philip Bump:
Among the Republican women with degrees who do support Trump, there's a reason why: Hillary Clinton. Only 38 percent of white Republican women with college degrees who back Trump do so because they like Trump as a candidate. More than half back him because they dislike Clinton.
If these women were to suddenly experience a moment of clarity and recognize Hillary as the preferable human of the two, a third of Trump’s entire support base would be in jeopardy of decamping for Sanityville.
Now, I saw the Republican National Convention. I saw the lusty chants of “Lock her up!” coming from men and women. I know that of the 48% of Trump supporters who are female, a certain percentage of them will love seeing Hillary squirm. (I also know that if Flowers does show up, Hillary will brush it off with deadpan alacrity. She will not get pushed off center.)
So, sure, not every female vote will defect to Hillary. But the effect might be enough. In a race where so much hangs on the female vote, Gennifer Flowers might turn off enough women to tip the balance towards Clinton. Let’s hope.
It’s one thing to attack Hillary as an emblem of plutocracy. It’s much more base to ridicule her for the failings of the man in her life — a familiar source of heartbreak for many women, if not every woman, and one that probably dwarfs any frustrations they have with the political elite.