Milbank: Playing the woman card, the wrong way
Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, orchestrated the presidential election of a man who:
● Boasted on videotape, in vulgar terms, about assaulting women.
● Called women bimbos, pigs, slobs, dogs and hookers, publicly rated their breasts and buttocks and boasted during the campaign about his penis size.
● Won the election with the largest gender gap ever recorded: Not only did he lose women by a dozen points but he won men — many of them motivated by gender resentment toward Hillary Clinton — by a dozen points, too.
And now, a month after her candidate defeated the first woman ever to be a major-party presidential nominee — Trump called Clinton “shrill” and said her only asset was “the woman card” — Conway is playing the woman card herself.
“It’s a great time to be a woman in America,” Conway exulted last week at the Women Rule Summit, a girl-power event in Washington hosted by designer Tory Burch’s foundation, Google and Politico. “We’re a product of our choices, not just our circumstances. We’re independent thinkers. And it’s just a very special time.”
Her message to the audience, many of them young women: Women should “go for it” and “ask for what we think we deserve.”
What Conway is asking for now, after Trump’s win, is to return to a traditional gender role. She doesn’t want a job in the administration, because she wants to have time with her four kids, to help with homework and make meals. “My children are 12, 12, 8 and 7, which is bad idea, bad idea, bad idea, bad idea for mom going inside.”
But fathers of young children? That’s a different matter, she explained. When male colleagues suggested she could have a White House job, “I did politely mention to them that the question isn’t, would you take the job? ... The real question is, what would your wife do? And would you want the mother of your children to do it?” When she puts it that way, she said, they replied that “they wouldn’t want their wife to take that job.”
Conway endorsed the aspiration that “I could maybe help America’s women in terms of feeling less guilty about balancing life and career.”
But she seemed to lack self-awareness about the choice she made to help elect Trump. She spoke about how she didn’t like the way Clinton and Sarah Palin were treated in the 2008 campaign. “I left the 2008 campaign feeling really icky,” she said. “I had two daughters at the time, now three, and we just can’t feel good about that. It’s great to ask how we’re making opportunities for women, but do we even have each other’s support, frankly, on our way there?”
She expressed no such misgivings about Trump’s 2016 run, in which he disparaged Carly Fiorina’s face, said both Clinton and Fiorina gave him headaches, used a vulgar word for female genitalia on the stump and suggested Megyn Kelly’s menstruation played a role in the Fox News personality’s tough questioning of him. He had previously fantasized publicly about a woman giving oral sex, fat-shamed a Miss Universe and spoke of the importance of having “a young, beautiful piece of ass.”
Politico’s Anna Palmer, as moderator, was gentle in questioning Conway, waiting a half-hour before mentioning the “Access Hollywood” video in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by the crotch. Conway assured everybody that Trump’s apology was “heartfelt,” then went on to say he was faced with a “false accuser” and that Conway “did not think about quitting, for a number of reasons I’ll keep private.” She said Trump is “a gentleman.”
Outside the room at the Park Hyatt where Conway spoke, a photo booth for the Women Rule conference urged attendees to “tell us what empowers you.” What empowered Conway on Wednesday was disparaging Trump’s former opponents (Clinton’s “scandalabra” and Tim Kaine’s paltry crowds) and the media for errant predictions of a Clinton victory. By contrast, Conway, like her boss, betrayed a fondness for self-praise. She described her management style as patient, methodical, “tough and firm but gentle at the same time,” honest, candid, “very deferential and respectful,” and “with a big smile.”
But after this ugly campaign, Conway and her boss will need more than a big smile. “I was always raised to respect the office of the presidency and its current occupant,” said the woman whose boss led the campaign questioning the current president’s legitimacy as a native-born American.
Americans respect the presidency, but Trump will have to earn respect. And you don’t earn that by running a campaign that stirred up misogyny and gender-role resentment — and then proclaiming it a victory for women.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post.