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2016's Presidential Campaign Has Turned Into A Gender War


Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is attacking a former Miss Universe for yet another day. Alicia Machado is the pageant winner Trump once shamed for gaining weight. Hillary Clinton brought her up in a debate on Monday, and Trump has been talking about her all week, including this morning on Twitter. He called her, quote, "disgusting," says Machado was his worst Miss Universe, says that in raising her name, quote, "Hillary was set up by a con." Trump goes on to ask, without any evidence, if Clinton helped Machado attain her U.S. citizenship as part of a plot to get Trump.

It's the latest battle in what has become a gender war. Here's NPR's Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The fall campaign started with a kinder, gentler Donald Trump. Under the guidance of his new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, an expert in helping Republicans connect with female voters, Trump rolled out policies on family and medical leave. But then in Monday night's debate, he was asked why he said Clinton doesn't have the presidential look.


DONALD TRUMP: She doesn't have the look. She doesn't have the stamina. I said she doesn't have the stamina. And I don't believe she does have the stamina. To be president of this country, you need tremendous stamina.

LIASSON: The former secretary of state had a comeback planned.


HILLARY CLINTON: Well, as soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release of dissidents and opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina.

LIASSON: And she kept going, pointing out that Trump had called women pigs, slobs and dogs.


CLINTON: And one of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest. He loves beauty contests - supporting them and hanging around them. And he called this woman Miss Piggy. Then he called her Miss Housekeeping because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name.

TRUMP: Where did you find this?

CLINTON: Her name is Alicia Machado...

TRUMP: Where did you find this?

CLINTON: ...And she has become a U.S. citizen. And you can bet...

TRUMP: Oh, really?

CLINTON: ...She's going to vote this November.

TRUMP: OK, good. Let me just tell you...

LIASSON: If debates are defined by moments, that was one of them. And it was just the latest example of how gender has colored the 2016 campaign. Clinton is often told to smile more, or smile less. Trump was criticized for mansplaining on Monday night, and for interrupting Clinton dozens of times. Trump has run a campaign full of testosterone. His persona is built around toughness. He dismisses his opponents as weaklings. In interview after interview, his running mate Mike Pence refers to one particular part of Trump's anatomy. No, not that one.


MIKE PENCE: Donald Trump is a man with broad shoulders.

...To see that broad-shouldered, clear-eyed strong leadership.

Who never backs down, who has a heart and a mind and the broad shoulders to make America great again.

LIASSON: Trump never quits and he never backs down. He certainly didn't after Monday's debate. Trump kept talking about Alicia Machado and how fat she was. Democrats couldn't believe their good fortune. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake says the debate came just in time.

CELINDA LAKE: The whole Miss Universe controversy has the great ability to both persuade women who have been somewhat reticent, and also to mobilize - particularly women and Latinos. If he doesn't respect Miss Universe, good Lord, and calls Miss Universe Miss Piggy, what is he going to think of you?

LIASSON: Machado went on to become a successful Spanish-language actress. She's not without controversy. As she puts it, I'm no saint girl. But still, Democratic strategist Maria Cardona says for Latinas, calling Alicia Machado Miss Housekeeping was insulting.

MARIA CARDONA: Alicia is also a very popular figure among the Latino community. As you know, she's a telenovela star. Hearing the story about how she was bullied and fat-shamed by her very powerful boss in a very public way is going to, I think, add to that anger and that frustration that the Latino community already feels against Donald Trump.

LIASSON: Hillary Clinton has been struggling to reassemble the Obama coalition - young voters, Hispanics, African-Americans and single women. Democrats think Trump's treatment of Machado could energize a cross-section of this coalition in key battleground states like Florida, where the Clinton campaign has been unable to overcome Trump's strong appeal in his second home.

The Democrats also face trouble in Nevada, energizing their natural constituents among the huge numbers of service industry workers. But Nevada is also filled with people willing to take a chance on change, even a risky chance. After all, says Celinda Lake, so many Nevadans did that themselves when they moved from other parts of the country.

LAKE: So they are gamblers. They are - let's vote for change and see what happens. They did that with their lives. They voted for change to see what happens. And sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn't.

I think this is where the Miss Universe controversy really helps because it will really energize. And if you ever want a place where the comment Miss Housekeeper is raw and salient, it's going to be Nevada.

LIASSON: It takes a lot of hard work and planning to be lucky, and that's how Democrats are feeling right now. After a rocky couple of weeks, Hillary Clinton did her homework and was ready to take advantage of an opportunity delivered by Donald Trump, who always speaks his mind, for better or for worse.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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