Well … reportedly, anyway. This is Rolling Stone, after all — the bastion of journalism that cooked at least one story on “campus rape culture” last December, made Dzokhar Tsarnaev its dreamy cover boy, and which is operating on borrowed time while the UVA lawsuits that could bankrupt it unfold. Could this media outlet bake another story in pursuit of its political objectives? Will the sun rise in the east today?
In this case, however, Donald Trump himself has corroborated Paul Solotaroff’s reporting of these comments in his lengthy profile of Donald Trump, to which we’ll return in a moment. Since this is on the level, it might do some damage:
With his blue tie loosened and slung over his shoulder, Trump sits back to digest his meal and provide a running byplay to the news. Onscreen, they’ve cut away to a spot with Scott Walker, the creaky-robot governor of Wisconsin. Praised by the anchor for his “slow but steady” style, Walker is about to respond when Trump chimes in, “Yeah, he’s slow, all right! That’s what we got already: slowwww.” His staffers at the conference table howl and hoot; their man, though, is just getting warm. When the anchor throws to Carly Fiorina for her reaction to Trump’s momentum, Trump’s expression sours in schoolboy disgust as the camera bores in on Fiorina. “Look at that face!” he cries. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” The laughter grows halting and faint behind him. “I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”
And there, in a nutshell, is Trump’s blessing and his curse: He can’t seem to quit while he’s ahead. The instincts that carried him out to a lead and have kept him far above the captious field are the same ones that landed him in ugly stews with ex-wives, business partners, networks, supermodels and many, many other famous women. At 69, he can still carry on like the teen who was yanked out of prep school and delivered to Col. Dobias, the take-no-shit instructor at the military academy. After I met Ivanka and praised her to her father, he said, “Yeah, she’s really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father . . . ”
Actually, I’m not sure which comment will play worse among women. Trump has hammered Fiorina on her track record at Hewlett Packard (and does so again in this interview), which is completely legitimate and fair game; it’s the platform on which Fiorina built her campaign. Attacking Fiorina on the basis of her looks is not just sexist, it’s a demonstration of arrested development at the middle-school level. Trump can’t even make these cracks coherent, let alone witty, and it’s certainly not a great way for the GOP to debunk the Democrats’ “war on women” meme.
The same is true about his remarks about his own daughter, a compliment that turns into something quite … creepy. Women may end up having more problems with that comment than Trump’s shot at a political rival. Not too many will have heard a father discuss his own daughter in such terms, even though Solotaroff notes that it’s not the first time Trump’s trotted that one out:
He’d made essentially the same crack nine years ago on a talk show while promoting Season Three of The Apprentice — but now he’s running for president, not an Emmy.
The comment on Fiorina’s appearance will get the most attention, though. It made the late cable-news shows last night, and coincidentally Fiorina appeared on Fox News with Megyn Kelly when it did. Kelly was outraged, but Fiorina took it in stride — and suggested that Trump might be panicking:
FIORINA: Well, I think those comments speak for themselves, and all the many, many, many thousands of voters out there that are helping me climb in the polls — yes, they’re very serious.
KELLY: What do you take that to mean — “Look at that face, how can anyone vote for that”?
FIORINA: [Laughing] I have no idea, and you know, honestly Megyn, I’m not going to spend a single cycle wondering what Donald Trump means. But maybe, just maybe, I’m getting under his skin a little bit, because I am climbing in the polls.
In an appearance on CNN’s New Day this morning, Trump tacitly admitted making the comments, but says he wasn’t criticizing Fiorina’s looks:
But Trump said on CNN’s “New Day” Thursday morning that he was talking about Fiorina’s persona, not her physical traits.
“The fact is that Carly Fiorina has had a terrible past,” he said, citing criticisms of her time as a CEO.
“Look at that face!” he cries. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” The laughter grows halting and faint behind him. “I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”
Trump’s response is every bit as honest and forthright as Hillary Clinton’s four-sentences defense of her e-mail server. It’s so blatantly untrue that one has to wonder whether Trump is trolling everyone with the response, too. It demonstrates a contempt for the audience that is very hard to ignore.
This may be trouble for Trump in another way. Thus far, Trump has aimed his combative personality at the kind of establishment figures for which the grassroots already has considerable anger — GOP leadership, the donor class, CNN, and even well-known conservative media figures who may be surprised to find themselves lumped in with the “establishment.” Fiorina is an outsider, not tied to the “establishment” as such in any way except through big business and finance, exactly as Trump himself is. If he starts aiming his middle-school antics at Fiorina, will the anti-establishment forces keep cheering, or start to wonder whether Trump’s temperament is a bigger problem than they want to admit?