Will Fiorina Fall Into Trump's Trap?

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Well, it’s another day, so it’s time for another mind-blowing Donald Trump poll. The latest comes from CBS News/YouGov, and it gives El Trumpo a whopping 40 percent of likely GOP primary voters in New Hampshire. Trump also leads in Iowa with 29 percent; in South Carolina, he’s at 39 percent.

If you’re a Trump skeptic, like me, at this point you might be tempted to give in, log into Trump’s online store, and buy a camouflage “Make America Great” hat—The Donald sported one during his recent “rock star” Iowa appearance—so that you can stealthily blend into the forest when the inevitable Trump-led apocalypse arrives.

Trump, as most of us know, makes no sense, and he’s remarkably consistent when it comes to his inconsistency. In one hour, he’s telling Bill O’Reilly we have to take Syrian refugees for humanitarian reasons; the next, he’s telling Sean Hannity we can’t possibly do so, because “we have so many problems” of our own. When Trump isn’t stem-winding about his own “terrific” greatness, he’s tossing off quasi-tyrannical policy prescriptions as casually as a late-morning omelet order on the sun-dappled patio of the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat.

Yet, amazingly, here we are, with the glorious Summer of Trump—powered by the whirr of gleaming helicopter blades, the off-gassing of various squints, and a soothing visual carpet made of carefully folded golden locks—marching confidently into fall.

My take on Trump is fairly simple: He’s a visceral response to a feminized culture. Talk to a selection of Trump admirers, and you’ll hear the same line over and over again: “He has balls.” (Or, as one of the less-blunt responders put it, “testicular fortitude.”) This is not a coincidence, nor a meaningless turn of phrase. 

Trump is, in a sense, walking testosterone. He does not care that your women’s studies class says gender is a social construct. He is fearless, and as such, he is the perfect foil for America’s growing victimhood obsession. Show Trump a trigger warning and he’ll give that trigger warning a painful wedgie. In a proverbial sense, Trump himself is a trigger warning, but one that he has easily defeated, then inverted, and then bedazzled with a set of terrific, one-of-a-kind diamond spikes.

For this, to be frank, I give him one and a half—maybe even two—cheers. Sure, Trump acts like a jerk, but I’d rather have dinner with him than with some hyped-up, tortured university administrator insisting that I use “gender-neutral” pronouns like “ze” and “zir.” Like many Americans, I’m weary of the grievance culture, and even wearier of the constant offense parade that swallows up so much of our discourse. Heck, I’m even tired of the word “offended.” Who isn’t offended these days?

Offend though he may, Trump would never set off on an apology tour. As he told Jimmy Fallon on Friday’s “Tonight" show—to the show’s highest ratings in 18 months, of course—“I totally think apologizing’s a great thing, but to apologize, you have to be wrong.” Fallon laughed; the audience ate it up. Does this make Trump presidential material? Of course not—and also, I still can’t quite believe that’s a serious question. But it does explain why Trump’s candidacy has been such quicksand for other candidates.

Commentators have marveled at Trump’s ability to coast on after his “offensive” remarks; when other candidates try to nail him on his transgressions, they only get sucked into the mire. The latest “victim” is Carly Fiorina, a sharp, tough-talking former CEO with a spot on the stage at Wednesday’s CNN debate, and the lone woman in the GOP race. In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Trump was caught, somewhat bizarrely, making fun of Fiorina’s looks: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?” 

Faced with media outrage, Trump, in classic style, told reporters that he was merely discussing Fiorina’s “persona.” For her part, Fiorina’s early response was spot on: “I think those comments speak for themselves,” she told Fox’s Megyn Kelly. “Honestly, Megyn, I’m not going to spend a single cycle wondering what Donald Trump means. But maybe, just maybe, I’m getting under his skin a little bit, because I am climbing in the polls.”

In a few sentences, Fiorina nailed it: She was dismissive, confident, turned the conversation back to her performance, and refused to feed the grievance beast. When dealing with Donald Trump, after all, being “offended” or “horrified” or “disgusted” about his latest “outrage” is the worst thing you can do. This is because it proves, in a sense, his unspoken—and, in many circles, popular—point: “Come on, you weak losers! Get over it, you oversensitive ninnies! Toughen up!" 

Unfortunately, Fiorina has flirted with victimhood before, calling questions about her potential as a future VP candidate “sexist.” This week, she’s also promoting a new video, “Look at This Face,” which plays off of Trump’s remarks with a “rah-rah women” feel—and on Sunday, she told a New Hampshire rally that she would challenge “the entertainer who’s running for office” in Wednesday’s debates.

Let’s hope she does so as an equal, not as a victim. Fiorina knows her policy, and she’s an impressive speaker. She belongs on that stage. If she goes after Trump for sexism, or “offensive” comments—and not things like his magical three-minute Syrian flip-flop—she’ll have lost a golden opportunity. She also might find herself in that infamous Trump quicksand. I hear it’s very, very classy.

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at  http://www.heatherwilhelm.com/ and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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