During the 2016 election, a popular doomsday game among Democrats was debating whether Donald Trump or his running mate Mike Pence would do more damage, as president, to women. While Trump was widely understood to be unstable and ignorant on any number of policy issues, he often racked up points in his favor precisely because he seemed changeable.
Even after winning, Trump’s unpredictability gave optimists some hope that he might be influenced by so-called progressive forces like his daughter, Ivanka. Some even hoped that he would buck the GOP in favor of women’s reproductive rights, having once admitted that he was “very pro-choice.” As New York Times columnist Frank Bruni recently wrote, a look at Trump’s record would indicate that, “In his heart of hearts, he doesn’t give a damn about rolling back abortion rights.”
Pence, meanwhile, had a long, alarming record, from pioneering the first bill in Congress to ban funding for Planned Parenthood, to signing into law one of the nation’s most restrictive—and, it turned out, unconstitutional—abortion laws in Indiana. And then there’s the “Pence rule.” The Vice-President refuses to meet alone with any woman who isn’t his wife, including for professional reasons.
After the election, Planned Parenthood did a series of focus groups with voters who support the organization, but inexplicably voted for Trump (a group that includes almost half of people who said they would vote for Trump before the election). According to the results, Trump was seen as less likely than Pence to turn back the clock on social progress, in part because many voters interpreted Trump’s libertine behavior as a proxy for his political views. Someone whose philandering past was so widely known surely couldn’t be anti-choice in his “heart of hearts” (or loin of loins). How else could one square his behavior with his politics?
Of course, as with so many predictions about Trump, this one was wrong. The man who—not 20 years ago—declared himself pro-choice, has quickly racked up a slew of anti-choice victories. Allowing companies to refuse contraceptive coverage for women. Funding abstinence-only education. Reinstating the global gag rule. He’s done more damage to women’s reproductive rights than even Pence might have been able to do, in part because it was a surprise attack. Pence would have faced an early, sustained campaign against his abortion agenda in a way that Trump did not.
And now, thanks to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement and Mitch McConnell’s theft of a Supreme Court choice by President Barack Obama, Trump will have the chance to appoint a second anti-choice justice and shape the court for a generation or more.
Perhaps there is no zealot like the convert. Or perhaps we were wrong to think he wasn’t a true believer to begin with—that his behavior and statements over the past 50 (!) years weren’t directly aligned with the GOP’s march to Gilead.
Because, it increasingly seems clear that Trump’s hostility to women’s reproductive rights isn’t simply the result of political calculus or the influence of his vice-president. His infidelities do not, by definition, render his view of sex—or women—progressive. This is a man who complained about wives working, who walked in on naked teenage beauty contestants, who bragged about sexually assaulting women.
In retrospect, it should have been no surprise that a self-styled Casanova would harbor deeply retrograde views about women. Women are objects for Donald Trump, not people born with basic human rights. Sex, for him, is conquest—and women are worthy insofar as they are desirable.
Trump has always been ambivalent about a woman’s right to do with her body anything that does not directly benefit him. This is why he sees no contradiction in (allegedly) paying hush money for his affairs—perhaps even, as some have theorized, to keep a mistress quiet about terminating a pregnancy—while also preventing access to contraception and abortion.
“Trump thinks women are bitches and bimbos,” wrote Katha Pollit. “Pence thinks they’re fetal vessels. It’s two kinds of misogyny on a single ticket.”
It’s also two avenues that lead to the same logical conclusion—control women’s bodies.
After the Access Hollywood tape came out, Pence supposedly agonized about his position on the Republican ticket. But Trump’s language about grabbing women was merely an offshoot of the same perverted logic that Pence uses to justify avoiding spending time with women alone. Women are literally sex objects – whether that sex be recreational (Trump) or procreative (Pence). Women cannot be trusted with this power; sex must be controlled by men, who are entitled to it in whatever way they want. The Pence rule is essentially an admission: Don’t let me be alone with a woman—I might just act like Donald Trump.
There is little Democrats can do now to prevent Trump from appointing a Justice who will vote to overturn Roe v Wade, though that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Sixty-seven percent of voters—and 43 percent of Republicans—want Roe to remain the law of the land. But even as we launch this campaign we should be clear-eyed about why it is necessary: Trump isn’t an aberration from the ideology that has come to dominate the GOP platform. A misogynist who sees women as his property is, in fact, its purest distillation.