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JOAN VENNOCHI

If Clinton is playing the woman card, Trump is playing the man card

KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump is playing the man card.

You know, the one that stirs doubt about a woman’s physical and mental toughness, suggests a female candidate has no credible appeal beyond estrogen, and then plays to the stereotype of women not liking each other enough to have each other’s backs.

“Well, I think the only card she has is a woman’s card,” Trump said about Hillary Clinton — a former secretary of state, US senator, and graduate of Wellesley College and Yale Law School. “She’s got nothing else going on. And frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the women’s vote. And the beautiful thing is women don’t like her, OK?”

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When the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee made that insulting declaration, did Mary Pat Christie, wife of Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, roll her eyes? If so, women across America share her disdain for such a chauvinistic case against an opponent. Are there enough of them to send Clinton to the White House? We’ll see.

Trump also said Clinton doesn’t have the “strength” or “stamina” to be president. Really?

This is a woman who famously testified for 11 hours before the House Benghazi committee. As secretary of state, Clinton traveled 956,733 miles and visited 112 countries. Like it or not, resilience — the ability to get up after every conceivable knockdown — is part of the Hillary Clinton story. The picture of weakness that Trump is attempting to paint also runs up against her previous image as an ever-plotting Lady Macbeth. In this election cycle, however, Clinton’s detractors are trying to make an issue of coughs and hoarseness, as if they signify health concerns beyond the normal exhaustion of presidential campaigning.

According to a recent Gallup poll, Trump is viewed favorably by only 34 percent of women. Clinton also has her own problems with women: There is her trust deficit, plus a generational divide between younger women who back Bernie Sanders and older women who see a chance to finally break the ultimate glass ceiling with Clinton.

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Still, Trump knows he has to bring women to his side. The question is how. Clinton has well-known vulnerabilities. Her judgment and policies are legitimate grounds for debate. But Trump is going to have to figure out how to do it without sounding like a jerk — for him, a tough challenge.

His base thrills to the “Crooked Hillary” name-calling. But he needs more than his base to win the White House. He’s counting on the man card because, in American politics, it usually works.

Female candidates are routinely marginalized as too old or too young; too tough or too soft; too ugly or too sexy; too reliant on a spouse’s success or too independent; too battle-scarred or too inexperienced; too conniving or too naïve.

Under this formula, the 69-year-old Trump will be able to paint the 68-year-old Clinton as an over-the-hill hag. Her hairstyle and wardrobe will generate more scathing reviews than his paunch and orange comb-over. Trump’s infidelity doesn’t matter. Clinton’s loyalty to an unfaithful husband is a crippling character flaw. His ill-informed bluster will be more exciting than her dry wonkiness. Her evolution on trade will be worse than his flip-flop on abortion.

Clinton rightly has to answer for her e-mail server and multiple decades of political controversies pegged as scandals. But don’t forget, Trump was an alleged peddler of fraud at Trump University, and his portfolio includes a trail of failed business ventures.

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Trump thinks his vulnerabilities don’t matter, because, in the end, the man card is a winner. It’s up to voters — men and women — to turn his hand into the Joker.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.