Washington: In the hours since Senator Kamala Harris joined the Democratic presidential ticket, President Donald Trump has responded by sorting women into two categories: The good “suburban housewife” he believes will vote for him, and nasty women who have not shown him or his political allies a sufficient amount of respect.
After Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, announced Tuesday that Harris would be his running mate, Trump wasted no time sorting her into the “nasty” camp, a category occupied by the last woman to run against him on a Democratic ticket.
“She was extraordinarily nasty to Brett Kavanaugh — Judge Kavanaugh then, now Justice Kavanaugh,” Trump said of Harris, using “nasty” or some version of the word no fewer than four times as he referred to Senate confirmation hearings held in 2018. At the time, Kavanaugh, angrily seeking to rebut emotional testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, a professor who accused him of sexually assaulting her at a party in 1982, found himself on the receiving end of questions from Harris, a former prosecutor.
At one point, Harris asked the Supreme Court nominee whether he could think of any existing laws that govern the male body. Kavanaugh could not.
“She was nasty to a level that was just a horrible thing,” Trump said Tuesday. “And I won’t forget that soon.”
Attacks soon followed. On Wednesday morning, after his allies on Fox News had spent the evening comparing Harris, who is of Jamaican and Indian descent, to unethical “timeshare salesmen” and “payday lenders,” Trump crowed that the American “suburban housewife” — a label used by the president to play into white racist fears about neighbourhood integration efforts — would be on his side in November.
“They want safety,” Trump wrote on Twitter, adding that they “are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighbourhood,” referring to a Barack Obama-era effort that encouraged diversification of US communities.
On matters of race and gender, Trump has always believed that indulging his instincts has elevated his political brand. But just as public attitudes on racism have shifted, threatening to turn Trump and his embrace of the Confederacy into a living relic, his views on American women — particularly the suburban ones — are similarly anachronistic.
According to data compiled by Lyman Stone, a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies who studies population, suburban stay-at-home wives make up only about four percent of the US population.
In a more detailed look at the data, the Bureau of Labour reported in 2019 that the labour force participation rate for women with children under the age of six was 66 percent. For mothers with children ages six to 17, the labour force participation rate was 77 percent.
Pollsters, referring to the president’s problem with alienating some supporters with his comments on race and gender, have long said that Trump can’t afford to lose the crucial group of largely White and largely suburban women who helped him win the presidency in 2016. But in June, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll showed that 66 percent of suburban women disapproved of the job Trump was doing.
Celinda Lake, a veteran Democratic pollster, said in an interview Wednesday that the picture had darkened even further for the president among white suburban women as the coronavirus pandemic dragged on, throwing more of them into uncertainty over the economy and forcing them to choose between sending children back to school or keeping them home.
“If he’s relying on that group to save him, he better get a life jacket,” Lake said of white suburban women. “They like safety, they like security, but they think that Trump’s lack of a plan, poor leadership, of not listening to experts have made things more dangerous for their families.”
She added that “even the White non-college-educated suburban women are turning against him, and these are some of the women who are put under the most pressure when it comes to his mishandling” of the coronavirus response.
As Trump insulted Harris on Tuesday, he peppered his usual misogynistic “nasty” trope with more name-calling, referring to her as the “meanest, most horrible, most disrespectful” member of the US Senate.
With that, Harris joins a group of women Trump feels have not been adequately compliant.
He used the “nasty” insult most infamously with his former Democratic rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton: “Such a nasty woman,” he muttered from across the stage as the two were engaged in a presidential debate in 2016. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a former Democratic presidential hopeful and vocal critic, was deemed to have a “nasty mouth.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi? “She’s a nasty, vindictive, horrible person.”
Even Meghan Markle, the American-born Duchess of Sussex, was deemed “nasty” for not supporting his 2016 candidacy.
“What can I say?” Trump told a British tabloid last year, just before a visit to England, where he was hosted by the royal family. “I didn’t know that she was nasty.”
That time, in an Orwellian twist, Trump tried to walk back those comments, which were caught on tape, by telling the public not to believe what they had just heard.
“I never called Meghan Markle ‘nasty,’” the president tweeted. “Made up by the Fake News Media, and they got caught cold!”
Trump’s attacks on Harris have been mild compared with the name-calling and insults he has used against other opponents, including Clinton and Warren. Trump has instead at times treated the junior senator as a newcomer, even praising Harris’ ability to draw large crowds.
“Too bad. We will miss you Kamala!” Trump tweeted in December after she ended her own presidential campaign.
“Don’t worry, Mr President, I’ll see you at your trial,” Harris retorted.
When Harris’ role was announced Tuesday, both the president and his campaign seemed uncoordinated and unclear about how best to attack her record effectively. But uglier insults made by Trump’s closest allies may foreshadow what is to come: Last year, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr questioned on Twitter whether Harris was Black enough to be addressing issues faced by Black Americans. He eventually deleted the tweet.
On Wednesday in Delaware, as Biden held his first joint event with Harris, Biden referred to the nature of racist and sexist attacks he said would be headed for his vice-presidential choice as the campaign progressed. But he also seemed to chuckle to himself as he recounted the president calling Harris “nasty” and “mean” to Trump’s nominees.
“Whining is what Donald Trump does best,” Biden said. “Is anyone surprised that Donald Trump has a problem with a strong woman, or strong women across the board?”
Harris, for her part, did not address the insults, using her time to target the president for his handling of the pandemic and the economy instead.
“Like everything else he inherited,” Harris said, “he ran it straight into the ground.”
Later at the White House, Trump claimed to not have watched much of Harris’ appearance but then gave a monologue about her bluntly critical handling of Biden during the Democratic presidential primary debates, calling her “angry” and “insulting” to the former vice-president.
“She said horrible things, horrible things,” Trump said. “And she mocked him — openly mocked him. That’s why I thought that was a very risky pick because I’m sure that’ll be played back — not necessarily by me, but others. It’ll be played back.