There are numerous articles I’ve seen this morning talking about the emerging “gender war” in the 2016 general election, which now seems officially underway. ‘Trump’s ‘woman’s card’ comment escalates the campaign’s gender wars‘, ‘Trump escalates his gender war‘ are just a couple examples. There’s plenty of misogyny in our society and our politics. Women face various campaign or perception hurdles men do not. Is this female candidate tough enough to be president? Is she too tough (“angry”, “abrasive”) and therefore not likable? Etc etc. But the simple fact is that if you are explicitly fighting a ‘gender war’ with a female candidate, you’re already losing and probably losing badly, as Tierney Sneed’s article this morning confirms in the polling numbers.
It comes down to a simple issue of the 19th Amendment: women can vote! And in addition to being able to vote, there are slightly more women than men and they actually vote a bit more. But it really comes down to: women can vote!
In electoral terms, the dynamics of gender and race are different in various ways. But they’re pretty similar in this way. If you are thematically invoking racial or gender stereotypes without doing so openly or explicitly you can mobilize societal prejudice in your favor – what we sometimes generically call ‘dog-whistling’. But if you’re attacking your opponent as a women – and yes, attacking her as only doing well because she’s a woman or ‘playing the woman card’ – that’s not a gender war. It’s a gender massacre and you’re the one being massacred.
What’s more, it’s contagious. Trump’s rhetoric is normalizing the public invocation of increasingly vulgar and rancid attacks on Clinton. A top Republican official in Florida is quoted in the Post this morning confidently predicting that “I think when Donald Trump debates Hillary Clinton she’s going to go down like Monica Lewinsky.”
I don’t want to be Pollyannaish about this. This is ugly stuff and it’s going to bring a lot of ugliness to the surface, just as Trump’s playing to white identity politics has in the primaries. But the numbers tell the story pretty clearly. If you are planning to fight a campaign explicitly on gender divisiveness, in this day and age and as long as the 19th Amendment isn’t repealed this summer (Republican Congress, who knows?) you’re toast.