WASHINGTON — In the hours since Sen. 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.”
Race-based 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 racist tropes including “timeshare salesmen” and “payday lenders,” Trump crowed that the American “suburban housewife” — a racist euphemism for white women wary of minorities moving into their neighborhoods — 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 neighborhood,” referring to an Obama-era effort that encouraged diversification of U.S. 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 4% of the U.S. population.
In a more detailed look at the data, the Bureau of Labor reported in 2019 that the labor force participation rate for women with children under the age of 6 was 66%. For mothers with children ages 6 to 17, the labor force participation rate was 77%.
Pollsters, referencing 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 key 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% of suburban women disapproved of the job Trump is doing.
Celinda Lake, a veteran Democratic pollster, said in an interview Wednesday that the picture has darkened even further for the president among white suburban women as the coronavirus pandemic drags 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, “Even the white non-college-educated suburban woman 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 U.S. 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. Sen. 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 the United Kingdom, 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,’” Trump said on Twitter. “Made up by the Fake News Media, and they got caught cold!”
Trump’s attacks on Harris have been mild compared with 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 said on Twitter 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, who is of Jamaican and Indian descent, was Black enough to be addressing issues faced by Black Americans.
He eventually deleted the tweet.