One of the most consequential moments of the Republican presidential primary happened to come during the first major debate, when Fox News' Megyn Kelly pressed Donald Trump about his history of sexism.
“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” Kelly explained.
The real estate tycoon, who was a newbie to electoral politics but already a potential front-runner, quickly interjected. “Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump joked.
The tone of the campaign had been irrevocably set. In that instance, Trump showed he would run an unapologetically abrasive campaign even when admonished by conservative media's biggest outlet and brightest star. The Republican electorate, meanwhile, had revealed that it was willing to indulge -- hell, even be entertained by -- the sexist behavior and brash remarks.
For Wendy Davis, the feminist icon and onetime Democratic candidate for governor of Texas, the audience’s response to Trump was eye-opening.
As she explained on this week’s episode of "Candidate Confessional," Davis wasn’t surprised by Trump or by the lack of reactions from the other male candidates on stage or the cheers from the men in the audience. After all, she had been labeled “Abortion Barbie” by a conservative male pundit for her famous filibuster over abortion rights. Davis had also received her share of sexist comments while serving in the Texas legislature. What shocked Davis instead was the reaction of the women in the crowd.
“So when Megyn Kelly pointed out [Trump’s] derogatory statements, he doubled down on them,” Davis said. “And when he did, he got great laughter and applause. And if you remember, the camera panned the audience, and what was so disappointing was to see the number of women who were applauding and laughing at those comments.”
The moment reminded Davis of a larger struggle yet to be won. “I really think that is a commentary about where we are in the fight for women’s equality,” she said. “And that unless and until women are demonstrating respect for each other we’re not going to realize the equality that we all deserve.”
Just days before Trump’s defeat in Iowa, there was a chance for a bit of progress on this front. Kelly was once again set to moderate a debate with Republican presidential candidates. But a showdown between Kelly and Trump never happened. He boycotted the debate on grounds that she had treated him unfairly.
Beyond the crowd the night of that first debate, Davis also noticed the reaction online from conservative pundit and radio host Erick Erickson. He rushed to Kelly’s defense and rescinded an invitation he’d extended to Trump to attend a presidential forum. It was a little ironic. Erickson, after all, had been the chief peddler of the “Abortion Barbie” nickname.
“He obviously was trying to capitalize on what he knew would be a negative connotation that would work, and sadly for women, those kinds of labels do work in [politics],” Davis said. Erickson’s campaign had its intended effect. Davis said her followers were deeply hurt by the epithet, with one fundraiser brought nearly to tears after "Abortion Barbie" posters were splattered across Los Angeles.
“For me,” Davis said, “it’s kind of water off a duck’s back, because I’m so accustomed about what it’s like to be a woman in elected office in a state like Texas.”
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Note to our readers: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist,misogynist,