Her brown roots were visible through her corn-colored hair. Her skin was splotchy. Her lipstick stained her front teeth. She looked like she had just smelled something unpleasant. To make matters worse, she was right next to a supermodel.
And she was still more qualified to be president of the United States than the frequently bankrupt vulgarian who was making fun of her.
The image I’m describing, this being 2016, was of course circulated to millions of people by the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.
It was a Photoshopped meme, and Donald Trump tweeted it late Wednesday to his 7 million followers.
It depicted Heidi Cruz, the wife of his central opponent, Ted Cruz, in an unflattering pose next to a glamour shot of his own (third) wife, Melania Trump, a former model and, it would seem, a talented actress.
“No need to ‘spill the beans’ the images are worth a thousand words,” the text on the photo read.
It was retaliation for something Cruz had nothing to do with. Earlier this week, Make America Awesome—an anti-Trump political action committee with no affiliation with the Cruz campaign—produced an ad that featured a photo of Melania from GQ magazine, naked except for diamonds and sprawled on a bearskin rug. “Meet Melania Trump, your next first lady. Or, you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday,” it read.
Trump responded by blaming Cruz for the image and threatening to “spill the beans” on Heidi.
Trump is an established misogynist. In his world, a woman’s physical attractiveness—measured by his own subjective standards—is the most important thing about her, and unless that attractiveness is off his personal charts, her value is zero.
And so he believes that women who pose threats to his candidacy—like Megyn Kelly, Carly Fiorina, and now Heidi Cruz—can be destroyed with schoolyard bullying.
Why would anyone listen to the substance of Kelly’s questions when she might have been menstruating? How could anyone take Fiorina seriously as a candidate when she has an asymmetrical face? Why should Ted Cruz win when his wife isn’t as hot as Trump’s?
“Well, as you probably know by now, most of the things, many of the things others say are not based in reality,” Heidi Cruz told reporters on Wednesday, in response to Trump’s attacks. “I have one job on this campaign, and it is to be helping Ted win this race. And it is, I think, the easiest job in the world, and that is to speak the truth: what I know about my husband, our family, myself.”
Trump has given more offensive replies when asked what he wants for breakfast.
But as you can probably tell by the lack of gold finishes on the cruise missiles and the fact that the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s uniforms aren’t adorned with fine jewels, this isn’t Trump’s America quite yet. And in the real world, by any reasonable measure, Heidi Cruz has a more compelling résumé than the former reality television star, and her relative decorum is just the beginning.
She was raised in San Luis Obispo, California. Unlike Trump, she didn’t inherit a fortune or business from her father. Hers was a dentist and missionary.
According to The Washington Post, she knew at the age of 8 that she liked politics, following a vacation to Washington, and a few years later, she decided she would one day attend Harvard Business School. In high school, when she ran for class president, her slogan was, “Heidi Nelson, the auspicious choice.”
Trump, for his part, once gave his elementary school music teacher a black eye when he threw an eraser, according to Never Enough, a biography published in 2015.
Heidi got her B.A. in economics and international relations from Claremont McKenna College and a master’s the following year in European business from the Université libre de Bruxelles in Brussels. Five years later, she received the MBA from Harvard Business School.
After Harvard, Heidi worked for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign as an economic policy aide, which is where she met Ted.
Trump moved to New York City after his graduation from the University of Pennsylvania’s business school. He started off with a personal net worth of $200,000 (the equivalent of $1.4 million today), according to what he wrote in his first book, The Art of the Deal. At the time, his father, the real estate developer Fred Trump, had a business worth $200 million. (How much Fred gave Donald at the start of his career is a matter of some debate, but it is in the millions.) Upon his arrival in Manhattan, Trump started going to Le Club, a glitzy nightclub, and associating with a lawyer who introduced him to mobsters as he got his start in real estate.
By 2003, Heidi was employed by the National Security Council as the director of Western Hemisphere. She reported directly to then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Meanwhile, Trump’s governmental experience consists of having donated handsomely to powerful politicians, notably the Clintons, and also once he sued the county of Palm Beach for $100 million because he thought the airplanes flying over his property were too loud.
Heidi eventually followed Ted to Texas, where he was rising in the ranks in politics, and joined the private sector with Merrill Lynch.
By 2005, she already had a wealth of experience in the business sector and in government, at home and abroad—a more diverse range of experiences than, say, a certain Manhattan marketer and real estate man. Then she experienced a bout of depression that culminated with an Austin police finding her distraught and sitting near an expressway, according to a police report obtained by BuzzFeed News, but she soon bounced back, landing at Goldman Sachs and climbing the ranks to vice president in Houston. By 2012, just after her husband was elected to the United States Senate, she was promoted to managing director. She’s taken leave from her job to help Ted campaign.
Trump, who claims to be a billionaire but is so sensitive to claims to the contrary that he is known to threaten to sue anyone who questions his wealth, has filed for bankruptcy four times. He boasts a graveyard of failed Trump products—from steaks to vodkas to certain Atlantic City casinos—but The Apprentice, his reality show, was extremely popular.
Trump’s presidential campaign has been about his outsider status. He is, he says, not one of those do-nothing politicians beholden to special interests and lobbyists and therefore, he doesn’t need to answer questions and offer specifics because, well, people should just trust his judgment. Look how rich he is! His lack of traditional qualifications, in other words, is his major selling point.
The ridiculousness of this argument has been evident for years—just look where his lack of bona fides got him in the whole Obama-is-from-Kenya debacle—but it’s perhaps clearest in the context of his feud with Heidi Cruz, a woman who has had success in business, overcome obstacles in her personal life and, as far as anyone is aware, has never boasted about the size of her penis on a debate stage.