One of the more memorable moments of the Republican presidential campaign was the days-long exchange between Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and now-presumptive-nominee Donald Trump over whether the billionaire’s supposedly small hands signaled that he is also undersized in other areas as well. The challenge to the size of his manhood appeared to sting Trump, who brought it up himself in a nationally televised debate.
Speaking of Rubio, he said, “He referred to my hands: If they're small, something else is small. I guarantee you there is no problem.”
Another candidate would have refused to be lured into referring to the size of his own genitals on national television, but Trump appears constitutionally incapable of rising above slights, real or imagined, as his attack on New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez this week demonstrated. If he’s attacked, he must lash out, even if doing so makes him look -- ahem -- small.
As we head toward a general election in which Trump will almost certainly be carrying the banner of the Republican Party, you can bet that more attacks on Trump’s self-image are coming. In fact, Democrats appear to be coalescing around a strategy that relies more on goading Trump into reacting to attacks on his self-image than on his constantly shifting policy positions.
Tellingly, many of those attacks will be coming from the Democratic Party’s highest- profile women, and that’s not by accident. Trump has taken to attacking Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton by saying she is “not equipped” to be president -- something more than a few commentators have read as a barely-veiled claim that a woman shouldn’t occupy the Oval Office.
In a much publicized speech this week, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has shown a particular talent for getting under Trump’s skin, ripped into the billionaire for comments he made in 2007, predicting that he’d make a lot of money if the housing market crashed, which it did, causing a massive recession and forcing millions out of their homes.
“Donald Trump was drooling over the idea of a housing meltdown because it meant he could buy up more property on the cheap,” she said. “What kind of a man does that? What kind of a man roots for people to get thrown out of their house?”
Warren used the “what kind of man?” formulation multiple times, hammering home the unstated assertion that, in her view, Trump isn’t much of a man at all. She capped it with her own estimation of the kind of man the Republican frontrunner is: “A small [!], insecure money grubber who doesn’t care who gets hurt, so long as he makes a profit off it.”
Likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has got to be a bit more cautious in her assaults on Trump, but it’s pretty plain that Clinton has also decided that the best avenue of assault on Trump is not a policy-based argument in which the target is constantly moving, but to keep shooting at his explosive-gas-filled ego. She has recently gone after him for the same comments about the housing market that Warren hit, as well as his controversial Trump University system, which is currently being sued for fraud by multiple former students.
Trump’s story that he’s a wildly successful businessman who built his empire on brains and know-how will also come under attack from less-restrained Hillary supporters.
Clinton supporter and Democratic attack-dog David Brock told The Washington Post in a story published Wednesday, “What we’re doing amounts to a deconstruction of Trump’s phony story about himself to show the seedy, sleazy underside of his business record.”
It may or may not work, but Democrats -- particularly female Democrats -- belittling Trump has two potential benefits. The first is obvious -- sowing the seeds for an over-reactive implosion. The second is more subtle. Much of Trump’s appeal to his base of support seems to hinge on the idea that the former reality television star is a “real man,” unlike the empty suits walking the halls of power in DC.
But Trump seems uniquely sensitive to being attacked by women, and doesn’t always look good when he lashes out at them. In an election where he begins at a massive popularity deficit with the female half of the electorate, Clinton and her fellow Democrats will be more than happy to keep supplying the rope with which they hope Trump will hang himself.