The tagline for the 2016 GOP race might as well be, "Make America Misogynist Again."
On Wednesday night, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz got into a Twitter spat. After a conservative anti-Trump SuperPAC ran a gross, slut-shaming ad which used a half-naked photograph of Trump's wife Melania, Trump threatened to "spill the beans" on Cruz's wife, Heidi, presumably because he thought Cruz was behind the ad. (The SuperPAC is not affiliated with the Cruz campaign, though it is backing Cruz against Trump.)
Trump then retweeted the below image, which compares a model shot of Melania with an unflattering photograph of Heidi. "These images are worth a thousand words," reads the meme, implying that when it comes to the position of First Lady, all that matters is a woman's hotness.
To Cruz's credit -- and I truly can't believe I'm giving a man who has compared abortion to slavery credit for anything that has to do with women -- Cruz didn't take Trump's bait. Instead he responded with this tweet:
The exchange was gross and depressing, in the midst of an election cycle full of a whole lot of gross and depressing. But seeing Trump treat Melania and Heidi as props isn't the least bit surprising. It's simply a reflection of the way he speaks about women in general.
As far as Trump is concerned, women are objects -- the shinier the better. He has said that it doesn't matter what the media says about you "as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass." He has spoken explicitly about how beautiful his daughter is and how she has "the best body," even going so far as to suggest that if she wasn't related to him, he would date her. He has implied that female journalists' success hinges on their attractiveness, and called a member of The Washington Post's editorial board "beautiful" just this week.
And as much joy as Trump seems to take in linking women's success and worth to their good looks, he has been equally, if not more, gleeful in his "take down" of women whose looks he doesn't consider worthy of his approval.
According to Trump, Rosie O'Donnell has a "fat, ugly face." Bette Middler has an "ugly face and body." Hillary Clinton couldn't keep her husband "satisfied." Megyn Kelly is a "bimbo" who objectifies herself because she once posed for GQ. Carly Fiorina could never win an election, because of her face. And now, as his Twitter feed implies, all America needs to know about Heidi Cruz and Melania Trump is that one of them is younger and hotter according to some men on Twitter.
For Trump, and the GOP candidates writ large, the 2016 election has come down to a pathetic (and terrifying) rallying cry for traditional masculinity. There have been comments about hand size and comments about dick size and comments about Marco Rubio's "high-heeled booties." Trump has indirectly called Cruz a "pussy" and a "soft, weak little baby," and said that Romney would have "dropped to his knees" for a 2012 endorsement. As The Guardian's Jessica Valenti put it, Trump and Cruz have officially "gone full cavemen." We are seeing the #MasculinitySoFragile hashtag play out in real time.
As women -- or any group of people who aren't straight, white men -- continue to demand their voices be heard, and that policy change accordingly, we will see a backlash from those traditional arbiters of power. The 2016 GOP race has become their vicious last stand.