Following his thorough thrashing in Monday’s debate — in all of its nose-sniffing, man-terrupting, fact-checked glory — it would seem that The Donald has two options.
Option one: Start heeding the advice of the more moderate GOP (who, terrifyingly, have become the voice of reason in this scenario), and concentrate on actually making himself look remotely viable as a presidential candidate. Activities for option one include actually forming something resembling cogent policy stances, and curbing his bigoted, trigger-happy tongue, at least until the next debate is over.
Option two: Batten down the hatches and fully commit to the awful, lowest-common-denominator tactics he’s been employing so far. After all, if you’re male enough and rich enough, and you say something is right enough times, it becomes fact. That’s something Donald Trump himself can tell you. Believe him. Bigly.
As you may have surmised, Trump has decidedly swerved toward option two. This is specifically true when it comes to one of his biggest pitfalls in the debate — his consistent, cartoonishly misogynist treatment of women, up to and including interrupting Clinton 51 times during the debate itself. He also fell into the trap Clinton laid for him when she mentioned former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. Trump had called her Miss Housekeeper and Miss Piggy, Clinton revealed, and after the debate, Trump doubled down, insisting Machado’s weight gain was a “real problem” and insinuating that she’d done sex tapes. She hasn’t, not that it’s any of his business.
Some people called this a new low, but it will be the old low any minute now. Though it was pleasantly surprising that Trump abstained from mentioning Monica Lewinsky during the first debate, and though he tackily praised himself for not doing so both during and after the debate, the time has apparently come for him to make that degrading, irrelevant sexist punch below the belt. Trump’s campaign is intimating that it might just bring up Bill Clinton’s affairs, including Monica Lewinsky, ostensibly as evidence that Clinton treats women far worse than Trump. Despite the G.O.P.’s desperate pleading for Trump not to mention Bill Clinton’s affairs, it seems like a real possibility that he will, during the next debate.
When the G.O.P. is begging you not to be as sexist as you want to be, you know you’ve gone down a dark, dark road.
The idea that these are the ways Trump wants to fight allegations of sexism — by pitting women against women, by attempting to sexually humiliate Clinton by bringing up her husband’s (completely irrelevant) affairs, and by dredging up the trauma and humiliation Lewinsky and other women endured as a gambling chip in the guise of concern for their suffering — all speaks to a uniquely sexist way of approaching this issue, and approaching the world.
No male candidate would ever have to face this, and no female candidate would ever get as far as Trump has if she were on her third marriage, with five different kids from three different men. But this uniquely sexist tactic is especially ludicrous considering the fact that Trump himself has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by multiple women. Considering this, it seems outright ridiculous that Trump would attempt to make the argument that she, based on hypothetical shaming of the women her husband had affairs with, somehow has a worse track record when it comes to women than his proven misogynist statements and behavior and allegations of sexual harassment.
In the best case scenario, Trump will somehow magically grow the part of his brain that informs him what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate to bring up during a presidential debate. However, given the Donald we’ve all been forced to get to know, that now seems unlikely. In the meantime, Clinton is undoubtedly preparing to once again face the double standards that have defined this entire race. Considering how adeptly she handled Trump during the first debate, it seems unlikely that she won’t be able to make his decision to bring up her husband’s affairs as ridiculous and ultimately sexist as it is. Monica Lewinsky, meanwhile, will have to prepare to have her name once again dragged through the mud by a bloviating man obsessed with Bill Clinton’s sex life. Only this time, he’ll be pretending to care about other people dragging her name through the mud while he does so.
Lana Adler is a Forward Fellow in opinion. Follow her on Twitter @Lana_Macondo