On Monday night, while cable news was tuned in to the Democratic National convention’s star-studded lineup of first-night speakers, Donald Trump was holding a rally in Winston-Salem North Carolina. At the DNC in Philadelphia, Trump was the elephant in the room, from Michelle’s coded references to Elizabeth Warren’s speech eviscerating his shady business practices, lack of ideas, and politics of fear. Meanwhile in Winston-Salem, Trump called Warren ugly.
Trotting out some of his favorite lines, Trump called Warren “Pocahontas,” ginning up an old controversy about Warren’s racial background. When running for the Senate in 2012, Warren’s opponent Scott Brown accused her of lying about having Native American ancestry to gain elite jobs, a claim that’s been eagerly seized upon by Trump and his supporters. At Monday’s rally, Trump started by calling Warren Pocahontas and then specifically attacked her for not, in his estimation, having nice enough bone structure.
“She said oh, well, look at my cheekbones,” Trump said, indicating high cheekbones with his gestures. “You find anything nice about her cheekbones? I dunno. So, look at her cheekbones,” he concluded.
The attack on Warren’s appearance happens at 1:23:10:
Donald Trump has a long history of attacking women’s appearances to undercut them. During the GOP primaries, he attacked Carly Fiorina’s face in a Rolling Stone profile. “Look at that face!” Trump is quoted. “Would anyone vote for that?” Later in the campaign, he tweeted a sexist meme comparing his wife Melania and Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi, implying that his wife was hotter and therefore better — shrinking the two women to merely how their appearance reflected on their husbands. Reducing women to their physical appearance is a tactic he’s used for years, from saying that women who succeeded on his reality television show relied on their sex appeal to calling women displease him disgusting, slobs, or ugly.
Privately or publicly, Trump’s comments about women consistently reveal a myopic focus on determining a woman’s worth by skin-deep factors. In this campaign, Warren, has been one of Trump’s most outspoken and dogged critics — and Trump is falling back on old habits of commenting on her appearance to reduce her.
For women in politics, having their appearances raked through a fine-tooth comb is nothing new. While coverage rarely remarks on what men are wearing, or whether they are smiling, for women appearance-based coverage is a problematic journalistic trope that can have real consequences. Research shows that merely mentioning a female politician’s appearance — whether positively, negatively, or neutrally — can negatively impact her electability.
Trump, however, isn’t a journalist casually mentioning a candidate’s colorful pantsuit. He’s the GOP nominee for President — and he’s continuing to make remarkably personal, regressive and sexist attacks on women.