Everything that is wrong with Donald Trump – that makes him such a danger to the Republican Party and to the country – emerged in the opening minutes of Thursday’s debate in his response to Megyn Kelly’s question about misogyny.
“You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals,’” Kelly noted.
Trump, being Trump, interrupted, with what he thought was a joke. “Only Rosie O’Donnell,” he said.
Kelly wasn’t deterred. “You once told a contestant on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees,” she persisted. “Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who is likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the ‘war on women’?”
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Here Trump had a choice. He could have distinguished between his role as reality-TV provocateur and his new role – this is painful to type – as GOP front-runner. He could have dialed back.
He could have expressed at least some understanding that what is appropriate on “Celebrity Apprentice” might not be fit for the campaign trail or, heaven forbid, the Oval Office.
Instead, Trump doubled down in characteristic fashion – first by changing the subject, then by lashing out. His response has drawn some attention, but not nearly as much as his disparagement of John McCain’s military service. It deserves more, not simply because of what it tells us about Trump’s attitude toward women but about his fundamental fitness for the office he seeks.
“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” Trump said. “I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness,” he added. “And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.”
This is not only wrong – incivility is a bigger problem in public discourse than political correctness – it is intellectually incoherent. Truth-telling about Mexico and China, whose threats Trump went on to cite, has nothing to do with, and offers no justification for, being rude – frankly, being abusive – toward women.
But Trump couldn’t stop himself there. He went on to a vaguely menacing threat. “What I say is what I say,” he said. “And honestly, Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that.”
Until he did, hours later, sharing a tweet that called Kelly a “bimbo” and telling reporters that she “behaved very badly.”
The debate did voters a service by exposing Trump’s compulsive bluster and boorishness. Clinton had to go to his (third) wedding, Trump said, because he had bought her attendance. “She didn’t have a choice because I gave,” Trump said, Godfather-like. Question: Why, exactly, did he want her to be there?
Where the moderators could have done more, and where the next debate could be important, was to expose Trump’s empty-suitedness on policy. Asked about his support for a single-payer health care system 15 years ago, Trump replied, “As far as single payer, it works in Canada. … It could have worked in a different age, which is the age you’re talking about here.”
Seriously? The health care system was so different 15 years ago?
There’s much to say about the other candidates. Jeb Bush seemed uncertain and uncomfortable. Marco Rubio was measured, declining invitations to go at it with Bush and making his case for generational change without seeming too callow.
But the most refreshing contrast with Trump came from Ohio Gov. John Kasich. I could have done with one fewer reference to his mailman father. But Kasich eloquently defended expanding Medicaid in the state, to keep the mentally ill and drug-addicted out of prison and the working poor out of the emergency room, simultaneously treating people decently and saving money.
Kasich’s answer on how he would deal with a lesbian daughter was similarly touching. “I’m going to love my daughters … no matter what they do,” he said. “God gives me unconditional love, and I’m going to give it to my family and my friends and the people around me.”
How lovely. How un-Trumplike.
Washington Post Writers Group