I’ve been hesitant to start writing about Donald Trump. I was worried that if I wrote something that made him mad, he would send out one of his midnight mordant tweets about me, something like “She started as a 3. Now she’s a 1.”
I’d be upset, of course. And relieved that I wasn’t a 0. But I’ve known Trump a long time. That’s how he talks about women. I remember when he sadly broke the news that Heidi Klum was no longer a 10.
He offered this clinical breakdown about Halle Berry to Howard Stern: “From the midsection to the shoulders, she’s a 10. The face is a solid 8. And the legs are maybe a little bit less than that.”
As he once told me: “Certain guys tell me they want women of substance, not beautiful models. It just means they can’t get beautiful models.”
So when Fox News’ Megyn Kelly grilled Trump at the Republican presidential candidate debate, asking him about his sometimes vicious Twitter account and noting, “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” I knew what the glamorous former litigator was up to. It was Tom Cruise taunting Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men.” Kelly was trying to get Trump to lash out in a misogynist way.
But he restrained himself, staying away from the slob-to-supermodel rating system he likes to use. He showed his irritation later, tweeting that the anchor “bombed” and was “totally overrated” and “angry,” and he retweeted a post calling her “bimbo.”
There was something amusing about Fox News, which is a daily Miss Universe pageant, chockablock with glossy beauties as anchors, reporters and even “experts,” giving The Donald a hard time about focusing on women’s looks.
I came away from the debate thinking three things:
▪ Roger Ailes is a television genius. It’s no coincidence that he presided over the ninth-most-viewed show ever on cable TV, after college football, with the extra kick of eclipsing nemesis Jon Stewart’s big finale.
▪ Kelly has a lot of Tim Russert in her: She knows how to set up mesmerizing gunfights at the OK Corral, loaded for a follow-up after every salvo.
▪ And Trump is, as always, the gleefully offensive and immensely entertaining high-chair king in the Great American Food Fight. He is, as Kurt Andersen wrote in 2006, “our 21st-century reincarnation of P.T. Barnum and Diamond Jim Brady, John Gotti minus the criminal organization, the only white New Yorker who lives as large as the blingiest, dissiest rapper — de trop personified.”
Novelist Walter Kirn tweeted post-debate, “Trump is simply channeling the bruised petty enraged narcissism that is the natural condition of Selfie Nation.”
After all, as James Gleick has tweeted, “running for president is the new selfie.”
I enjoy Trump’s hyperbolic, un-PC flights because there are too few operatic characters in the world. I think of him as a Toon. He’s just drawn that way. And his Frank Sinatra lingo about women aside, he always treated me courteously and professionally.
Back in 1999, when he was flirting with a presidential run, I asked the ladies man how he would do with the women’s vote.
“I might do badly,” he said with a smile. “They know me better than anybody else. Women are much tougher and more calculating than men. I relate better to women.”
This campaign is more raw and rude than usual, reflecting the off-with-their-heads Twitter sensibility. But it cannot only be wickedly fun but wildly useful to have an id agitating amid the superegos.
After covering nine presidential races, I have concluded that it is really hard to know who you’re electing — even after attenuated campaigns with an absurd amount of exposure for candidates. That’s because you can’t foresee what crises will crop up, or what gremlins of insecurity and perversity the White House will inevitably elicit in presidential psyches.
You can have a candidate like W., after sincerely telling us he will have a “humble” foreign policy, proceed to stumble jejunely into decades-long wars in the Middle East. You can have a charming newcomer like Barack Obama, ascending like a political Pegasus, who loses altitude because it turns out he disdains politics.
It’s always a pig in a poke. So why not a pig who pokes? It will cause winces and grimaces at times, and Trump can go badly astray, as he did with the president’s birth certificate. His jibes at women may hurt the Republican Party with some women.
His policy ideas are ripped from the gut instead of the head. Still, he can be a catalyst, challenging his rivals where they need to be challenged and smoking them out, ripping off the facades they’ve constructed with their larcenous image makers. Trump can pierce the trompe l’oeil illusions, starting with Jeb’s defense of his brother’s smashing the family station wagon into the globe.
Consider how Trump yanked back the curtain Thursday explaining how financial quid pro quos warp the political system.
“Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said, ‘Be at my wedding,’ and she came to my wedding,” he said. “You know why? She had no choice, because I gave. I gave to a foundation that — frankly, that foundation is supposed to do good. I didn’t know her money would be used on private jets going all over the world.”
Sometimes you need a showman in the show.
Maureen Dowd writes for The New York Times.