WASHINGTON — President Trump has shown delight in talking about women’s bodies, whether it’s their blood, their reproductive organs, or their figures. And he often communicates racial dog whistles to his base of loyal white supporters.
In his latest eruption, at a rally in Montana Thursday night, Trump delivered one highly charged remark from each category, mocking the #MeToo movement while simultaneously demanding that Senator Elizabeth Warren undergo a DNA test to prove her claims to Native American heritage.
It was a double scoop of misogyny and racism in the eyes of his critics, who were once again nauseated, but also convinced that he won’t back off his attacks.
“For those of us who already thought Trump is a crass, unpresidential, morally unfit, infantile, disgusting jerk, it’s hard to muster much more of a reaction,” said Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist and frequent Trump critic. “It just becomes reason 1,583 to affirm that belief.”
Warren could be a formidable threat should she seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump’s expected reelection bid. Her message of combating income inequality tends to appeal to the same working class voters in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin who helped elect Trump in 2016.
At Thursday’s rally Trump escalated his assault on the Massachusetts Democrat by again calling her “Pocahontas” and reminding the crowd of her claims of Native American ancestry, which Warren says are based on family lore but remain unproven.
Trump’s demand for DNA echoed calls that others have made, including Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, a member of Trump’s Mar-a-lago club who credits himself as the first reporter to ask for Warren’s DNA; Shiva Ayyadurai, a Republican-turned-independent who is running a longshot bid against Warren for Senate this year; and the editorial board of the Berkshire Eagle, the local newspaper in Pittsfield.
But it was the first time the president himself made such a request, elevating the demand from the fringes to the national stage. And he did so in his signature colorful style, launching into a fantasy sequence where he’s facing Warren at a presidential debate and tossing her a DNA test kit on live TV.
“Let’s say I’m debating Pocahontas, right? I promise you I’ll do this, you know those little kits they sell on television for $2 — ‘Learn your heritage,’ ” Trump told the Montana crowd.
“We will take that little kit and say — but we have to do it gently, because we’re in the #MeToo generation, so have to be very gentle,” Trump said. “And we will very gently take that kit and we will slowly toss it, hoping it doesn’t hit her and injure her arm, even though it only weighs probably 2 ounces. We will say, ‘I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian.’ ”
The words, particularly “do it gently,” conjured the kinds of images of male domination that have sunk other male candidates going up against women.
Yet so far Trump has proven he can get away with gender-related negative attacks, overcoming a longstanding hesitancy of men to conduct outright negative campaigning against women.
“For me Trump’s monologues are no longer the most frightening aspect of this administration. Instead, it is the fact that one-third of the country is eating it up,” said Jim Margolis, a Democratic strategist who was a senior adviser to both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.
Margolis said there’s little use in trying to change the minds of the people who have an appetite for Trump’s insults.
“His base isn’t likely to move much. Efforts really need to focus on independents, swing voters, and motivating the Democratic base,” Margolis said. “Over the long term we better figure out how to talk to one another again and not let racist rants and unstable leaders play on our worst instincts.”
Warren responded to Trump’s attacks swiftly, pivoting to Trump’s policy, now suspended, of forcibly separating immigrant children from their parents. She noted the difficulty the Trump administration is having reuniting those families.
“While you obsess over my genes, your [Administration] is conducting DNA tests on little kids because you ripped them from their mamas,” Warren posted on Twitter. “You are too incompetent to reunite them in time to meet a court order. Maybe you should focus on fixing the lives you’re destroying.”
She also sent out a fund-raising e-mail on the flap where she labeled Trump’s comments about her as “creepy” and assured her supporters that she can “handle a bully.”
“Donald Trump isn’t just trying to scare me – he’s trying to bully all women and make us all shut up,” Warren wrote. “He still doesn’t think guys like him should be held accountable for what they say or do.”
Asked to respond to the backlash Friday, the White House did not comment. The exchanges were dissected on cable TV, providing the kind of feedback loop that makes it likely Trump will level the attack again.
These attacks, however, offer a double-edged sword for Trump because they also rile up the Democratic base and turn off voters who aren’t affiliated with either party.
“Every time he plays to this stuff he alienates people who will be essential votes in the midterm and the presidential elections,” said Joel Benenson, a Democratic pollster who worked for Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Benenson said Warren has plenty of potential responses — and suggested that she bring up a promise Trump never kept: to release his tax returns. “You don’t want to play his game,” Benenson said. “But that is something that defies common sense.”
Republicans warned that their party’s electorate has shown few signs of wavering in their loyalty to Trump. And insulting Warren, a Democrat many GOP strategists see as polarizing, won’t be the final straw.
“As far as turning off GOP women, come on, now,” said Navarro, the Republican strategist. “His base gave him a pass on sleeping with a stripper and a Playboy bunny while married to and thereby cheating on and humiliating Melania — a woman most GOP women actually like,” referring to allegations made by Stormy Daniels, a porn star, and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy playmate.
Trump has denied having affairs with either woman.Annie Linskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.