Donald the One-Trick Pony


This is an excerpt from Dylan Matthews’ article for Vox, “Three Winners and Two Losers from the First Presidential Debate.” I think that it complements Kelly Wilz’s widely read post to this blog, “A Feminist’s Guide to Critiquing Hillary Clinton.”


Loser: Donald Trump

trump-at-first-debate Rough night. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Say what you will about Donald Trump, but he is always exactly who you expect him to be.

On Monday night, he was bombastic, dismissive of moderation and decorum, passionate, seemingly unrehearsed, and extremely attentive to perceived insults to himself or his businesses. He was, that is, Donald Trump.

And it’s possible to imagine a debate where that Donald Trump would win. Indeed, you don’t even have to imagine. Just go watch any of the plethora of GOP primary debates where he ate Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz’s lunch. He made them seem overeager, petty, and small and was able to tactically retreat and let them attack each other when convenient for him.

But for a variety of reasons, he wasn’t able to replicate that dynamic Monday night. It was a one-on-one debate; Gary Johnson didn’t make the polling cutoff, so Trump wasn’t able to pull back and let his opponents finish each other off. And, crucially, it was against a woman.

Recall that Trump’s most notable defeat in the primary debates was against Carly Fiorina, because of roughly the same “domineering male candidate versus respectful woman” dynamic that sabotaged his efforts against Clinton Monday night. The problem was deeper than just that, though. A lot of Trump’s primary campaign insults were deeply gendered in a way that best applied to men.

Trump is very, very, very good at performing masculinity in a way that belittles and minimizes fellow men. He attacked Rubio for wearing “heels,” dubbed him Little Marco, and all buttold a debate audience that he had a bigger dick. He repeated a rally-goer who called Cruz a “pussy” and told a crowd that he was a “soft, weak, little baby.” He got off on dismissing opponents as weak and feminine.

That tactic might be effective within the minority of the electorate that votes in Republican primaries, and against other men, but it simply does not translate against a female candidate and when targeting a wider swath of Americans. It doesn’t come across as ribald or playful; it comes across as cruel and bullying. Which isn’t to say that using these tactics against Cruz and Rubio wasn’t cruel and bullying, but thanks to the patriarchy and norms of chivalry, there was less potential that Trump would get called on that.

Trump’s overt gendered insults were present but relatively few; his condescending comment to Clinton that he would call her “Secretary” because “I want you to be very happy” is just about the only one that stands out. But even that, combined with his extremely aggressive interruptions, was enough to appear jarring and like punching down.


Matthews‘ complete article can be found at:


Postscript: I thought that my title was clever. Although it may be clever, it is certainly not as original as I thought. Here is a screen capture just the first page of a Google search, and there are many other examples beyond that first page.



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