Donald Trump argues that his decision to sit out of Fox’s Republican debate is based on his perception that moderator Megyn Kelly is biased against him. In an Instagram video posted yesterday, he asked, “Do you really think she can be fair at a debate?” His skepticism is rooted in frustration over a question Kelly posed in an August GOP debate:
Sarah Palin’s high-profile endorsement of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Iowa last week continues to dominate the news cycle. Many view Palin’s motives for endorsing Trump as sheer opportunism, while some conservatives, even Palin’s own Facebook followers, feel betrayed by her decision to back Trump given his uneven (at best) record on many conservative issues. Taken at face value, however, Palin’s decision to endorse Trump may best be viewed as an utter rejection of the GOP establishment.
In the 2008 presidential election, Hillary Clinton pollster and strategist Mark Penn argued that the country was not ready for a first mama president, but might be “open to the first father being a woman.” Penn’s perception, and the strategy resulting from it, is rooted in expectations that the president is not simply the head of the country’s household, so to speak, but is the paternal protector of the nation. More than that, he is the model of ideal masculinity: tough, strong, and – according to Kathleen Parker’s latest column – authoritarian.
If you were following last night’s Democratic debate on Twitter, you may have noticed the attention to the candidates’ volume. Search Twitter for “Bernie” and “yelling” and your feed will be full. Clinton, too, was not immune from critiques of her volume and tone, but the attention to Sanders’ style was consistent throughout the night. While some find Sanders’ gruffness endearing, others feel personally attacked (“Why is Bernie yelling at me?”). But would we respond differently to Sanders’ style if Bernie were Bonnie? Even more, does our own gender influence how we react to Sanders’ “shouting?”
In previous posts, we have elaborated on the research that shows persistent gender disparities in coverage of candidate appearance. Women candidates frequently face greater attention to their hair and hemlines than do their male opponents, and the negative implications of that coverage on voter perceptions of candidate qualifications for office are real. That coverage is – most often implicitly – tied to stereotypical expectations of sexuality; do women candidates meet traditional standards of feminine beauty and do male candidates display traditional indicators of masculinity in physical strength or stature?
The Republican candidates in Thursday’s debate sought to establish their strength credentials by contrasting them with the weakness of the current Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama. Ahead of the debate, Marco Rubio accused Obama of “coddling” Iran “in a away that makes us weaker.” During the debate, Jeb Bush claimed, “I can see why people are angry and scared, because this president has created a condition where our national security has weakened dramatically.” Ted Cruz and others repeated their promise to restore American strength by “utterly destroying ISIS.”
In adhering to traditional expectations of gender and the presidency, we still often characterize America’s chief executive as head of the nation’s household and protector-in-chief. In Thursday’s GOP debate, the candidates repeatedly vowed to protect the American people, considered to be among the most important responsibilities of a president. Included in those discussions were multiple references to the debate over admitting Syrian refugees into the United States.
On last week’s episode of The Good Wife (CBS), Alicia Florrick – the show’s main character and wife of now-presidential candidate Peter Florrick – was confronted with the traditional gender role expectations that continue to shape presidential politics; despite her own exceptional credentials and accomplishments, her primary role on the campaign trail was to present herself as the supportive spouse and stereotypical wife and mother. Being “the good wife” in presidential campaigns has long been expected of male candidates’ spouses; whether “softening” their husbands’ personas, standing alongside them, and/or reflecting their masculinity, candidates’ wives are often expected to demonstrate their capacity to fit the idealized role of first lady. A recent post on a conservative news site added another credential necessary of candidate’s wives: “unapologetically pro-life views” that, they argue, will inevitably influence the policies of their presidential candidate husbands.
In Thursday night’s undercard debate, Carly Fiorina took an unexpected – and perhaps out-of-place – jab at Hillary Clinton’s marriage, telling the crowd in her opening remarks, “Unlike another woman in this race. I actually love spending time with my husband.” She reprised the attack in her closing, where she also referred to her husband Frank as “eye candy.” Arguably, Fiorina was attempting to capitalize upon the recent focus on Bill Clinton’s infidelity, albeit indirectly. However, in emphasizing her wifely credentials, Fiorina raised an electoral hurdle that presents distinct challenges for women candidates. Especially in running to be the sole leader of the nation – and thus, the de facto head of the “first household,” presidential contenders are often expected to prove they are both strong, capable leaders and ideal types of dominant, protective fathers and husbands. But what happens when that husband is a wife? As women navigate the gender expectations of executive office, how do they address the stereotypical expectations of the ideal spouse, whereby the wife is still tasked with reflecting and bolstering the power of a male partner instead of fully embracing or expressing her own, while still proving she is ready to be Commander in Chief?