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.”
Strength through force is not the only way that these candidates have sought to prove they are “man enough” for the job. Donald Trump implied President Obama’s emotion and compassion (in his remarks over gun deaths) was a sign of weakness, telling Jimmy Fallon that the last time he cried was when he was one year old. Showing emotion is often associated with femininity, which remains – for some – a perceived liability in appearing stable, strong, and presidential.
In addition to tying weakness to emotion, compassion, or compromise, the current presidential candidates have also infantilized opponents to paint them as too weak for the Oval Office. In Thursday’s debate, Chris Christie called President Obama a “petulant child” and Ted Cruz argued, “China is running over President Obama like he is a child,” adding, “President Obama is not protecting American workers and we are getting hammered.” Ahead of the debate, Cruz also told supporters that he would “spank” Hillary Clinton for not telling the truth about Benghazi, just as he does his 5-year old daughter. In both cases, these Republican candidates paint Democrats as children in need of punishment, and position themselves as the tough-talking adults, or even father figures, who will keep them in line.
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