The Republican race for the presidency, already a literal dick-measuring contest, sank even lower this week when frontrunner Donald Trump retweeted a side-by-side photo with the implication that his wife is hotter than Cruz’s.
Late Wednesday night, Trump retweeted a meme featuring photos of Melania Trump and Heidi Cruz next to each other. The text reads, “No need to ‘spill the beans’… The images are worth a thousand words.”
Candidates’ wives and families are traditionally considered off limits in attacks. But this latest shot is escalating a sexist back and forth between Trump and a pro-Cruz super PAC that has played on tropes about women’s appearances. The Super PAC Make America Awesome launched attack ads early this week by using an old nude photo of Melania with the caption “Meet Melania Trump. Your Next First Lady.” Trump responded by threatening to “spill the beans” about Cruz’s wife. Thursday morning, Cruz tried to take the high road by tweeting, “Donald, real men don’t attack women. Your wife is lovely, and Heidi is the love of my life.”
Lyin' Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin' Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2016
Lost in all of this is the fact that Heidi Cruz and Melania Trump aren’t just trophies reflecting the worth of their respective husbands. Both women have successful careers of their own. Trump was a world-famous model, appeared in major TV ads, and in recent years has been recognized by a number of organization for her charitable work. Cruz worked for the George W. Bush presidential campaign, then started working for the federal government as director of the Western Hemisphere on the National Security Council while Bush was president. Cruz is currently on leave from her job as managing director of Goldman Sachs’ Houston wealth management unit while her husband campaigns. To reduce either woman to their physical appearance is to treat them as objects who only have worth insofar as they look nice to men.
Perhaps this latest episode should come as no surprise. Instead of talking about issues like the fact women don’t make as much as men even when they have the same job titles, the Republican candidates have been busy vilifying Planned Parenthood, discussing how to roll back women’s right to choose, and making oblique references to the size of each other’s genitalia.
Trump has repeatedly made headlines for sexist comments focused on women’s looks. When he was confronted with some examples by Fox News host Megyn Kelly during the first Republican presidential debate, Trump joked that the only woman he’d call a “slob” or “disgusting animal” is Rosie O’Donnell. During a CNN interview the next night, Trump suggested Kelly asked him “ridiculous questions” because she was on her period — he said Kelly had “blood coming out of her whatever.”
On Thursday, Kelly retweeted the Melania-Heidi meme with the comment, “Seriously?”
In a September Rolling Stone profile, Trump mocked Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the Republican presidential race at the time, by saying, “Look at that face!… Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
In December, Trump discussed Hillary Clinton’s 2008 loss to Barack Obama in similarly offensive terms. “She was favored to win and she got schlonged,” he said.
Recently, a Trump spokeswoman tried to explain away Trump’s history of sexism by arguing that he was just playing a character on TV. But that doesn’t explain all the sexist comments he’s made since launching his presidential campaign last summer.
A recent poll showed that half of American women have a “very unfavorable” opinion of Trump. Trump’s insults and super PAC-sponsored slut shaming might be winning strategies in the how-low-can-you-go GOP primary, but the evidence suggests women will be a big problem for Trump — or whoever the Republican nominee ends up being — in the general contest.
During a Thursday morning appearance on Today, failed presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) denounced the attacks on Melania Trump and Heidi Cruz by imploring the candidates to “man up.”
“The bottom line is, when you think it can’t get worse… hey guys, knock it off. The world is falling apart. Man up. You’ve got great wives and great families,” Graham said.