Donald Trump cut to the chase after his big wins Tuesday night: “Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the women’s card.”
Which is a hell of a thing to say after almost 250 years of American presidential candidates implicitly playing their “men’s cards”—perhaps no one more so than Trump himself, whose campaign rests largely on tough guy assertiveness and machismo bloviating. For many of his supporters, his appeal is very much that he’s a white man.
Don’t believe me? Try to imagine a woman of color running for president on his playbook. “Trump’s attitude coming from a woman or minority would make that person even more beloved by Trump supporters,” one person tweeted me. Which is not only incorrect but preposterous.
First of all, I can’t think of a single woman of color in American politics today who would back the sorts of ludicrous attacks on women and people of color that Trump supports. I can’t name one woman of color who wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States, summarily round up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants—let alone who habitually calls other women like “dogs” and “fat pigs.”
But even some Trump-ian woman of color Trump were to exist, it’s impossible to imagine her suffering the same landslide of critiques as Trump and yet emerging similarly unscathed. Women and people of color are simply held to a higher bar in our society. When you’re the only white woman in the corporate board room or the only black man in the legislature, you’re under constant pressure to prove that you’re as smart and qualified as everyone else and that you deserve to be there. It’s a bar white men are simply presumed to meet.
That’s the very definition of privilege—which is not just about where you come from, but what’s assumed about you the moment you walk in a room. And we know from study after study that the sexism and racism baked into American culture means that women and people of color are presumed less than—less than qualified, less than talented, less than deserving.
Try to imagine a woman of color skating by in a presidential primary with Trump’s thin soup of policy “ideas.” Imagine a white woman candidate reading a meandering, inconsistent and impractical foreign policy speech off a teleprompter. Imagine a black male candidate asserting he doesn’t need to give specifics on his policy proposals or how he’ll get things done because people should just trust him. Imagine a woman of color saying she only likes the soldiers who don’t get captured.
You know as well as I do they would be laughed out of politics.
Meanwhile Trump’s entire appeal is based on hyper-masculinity and machismo. He critiques Clinton, saying it’s “always drama” with her and she “doesn’t have the strength” for the job while he calls his Republican opponents names like “little Marco” and “low energy” Bush. He brags about his hot wife and how rich he is. Hand size innuendo aside, Trump is literally and figuratively boasting that he is the biggest guy in the room and as president will be the biggest guy in the world and will “Make America Great Again” because he’s great.
To buy into Trump’s candidacy, you have to buy into the Trump persona— because, let’s be honest, there’s nothing much else to go on there.
And his appeal is most directly to those who feel they have nothing else to go on themselves—mostly working-class white men who feel somehow that the ever-so-modest increase in rights for women and people of color in America has somehow meant less rights and opportunity for white men such as themselves. These voters would not, very simply, vote for a woman or person of color because that’s who they implicitly blame for their lot in life. Data have shown that, among white voters, higher levels of racial resentment correspond with higher support for Trump.
When Trump bases his entire campaign against political correctness, he’s implicitly evoking opposition to those who traditionally support political correctness—namely people of color and women. It’s no coincidence that Trump is running to succeed the first black president while running against the first major woman candidate. As Jamelle Bouie noted in Slate, this doesn’t feel like change to these voters as much as an inversion: “the end of a hierarchy that had always placed white Americans at the top, delivering status even when it couldn’t give material benefits.”
These Trump supporters—clearly not all, maybe not even most, but definitely many—are arguably the same people who think that racism against African-Americans isn’t really a problem in America today but believe in the myth of “reverse racism” against white people as a growing danger.
The impossibility of it aside, Trump supporters would never vote for Trump if he were a woman of color because they see women and people of color as a symptom of if not the actual cause of America’s problems today. These voters are clinging desperately to their white maleness and to their white male candidate.