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Trump Tries to Soothe the Womenfolk

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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In his interview with the Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly on Tuesday night, Donald Trump tried to pull off a win-win straight out of "The Art of the Deal": At once trying to prove that he was a friend of women and that no woman gets the best of him. It's not clear how well he succeeded, but he was able to put an end to his feud with a star newswoman and make nice with a network he will need in the general election.  

The dealmaker was careful to give Kelly something: She got to prove her chops as uber-anchor, hosting her first prime-time special like Barbara Walters lassoing a big player as lead-off batter and peppering him with touchy-feely questions, garnering sky-high ratings.

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Kelly stopped short of asking what kind of tree Trump would choose to be, but she did go beyond his building a wall. Regrets? He has a few but he wouldn’t name them. When asked if he’d been hurt emotionally, he told Kelly he’d have to get back to her. That's not likely, though. He said looking backward was “not healthy.”

The closest he came to ruefulness was when he almost admitted that his campaign had made a mistake by putting out an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz, but then decided it had been fair after all because “she’s in the game.” “Soft” he’s not and if wounded, he will “unwound” himself.

As for his battle with Kelly, he said he’d gone easy on her with the retweeting (which he called “a modern day way of fighting back”), but she took exception to “bimbo.” Grinning like a rogue, he said, “Ooh, OK. Excuse me,” but urged her to acknowledge that it wasn't all that bad as insults go (“Over your life, Megyn, you've been called a lot worse"). When the interview was over, Trump took to Twitter to review his own performance: He had been fantastic and he and Kelly were going to live “happily ever after."

Take that, little lady. He’s a man’s man who dodged opening up, admitting error, giving up fighting, or being presidential -- all in 20 minutes. The interview capped a couple of weeks of Trump laying out a campaign that will expand on his winning strategy of targeting the white male vote. Even with polls showing that 70 percent of women disapprove of him, he claims that in the later primaries he won women who don’t like political correctness or the war against men. He is sending staff to unlikely places such as Minnesota, Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania where he thinks he can win by enlarging his vote among the bros who just aren't going to take it anymore.  

He’s doubled down on his effort to show he’s not the one who treats women badly. Bill Clinton is the “worst abuser of women in history” and that gives Trump the right to throw the woman card right back at the former president's enabling wife. So far, he’s only tested out this approach on the campaign trail but he vowed this week to “throw Bill Clinton’s infidelities in Clinton’s face” during televised debates.

The strategy comes at the potential cost of driving women, including avowed non-feminists, into the arms of Hillary Clinton, who is having a hard time attracting them on her own. But ever the gambler, Trump is going to play out his hand. He may have no choice. He’s won by being the uber-male, knowing little but certain of everything. In these dangerous times, being manly has worked for him. He isn’t just going to kill Islamic State terrorists; he’s going to kill their families.  He may be “macho” as Bill called him but “women love me,” he says at every turn.

The Kelly interview came on the heels of a brutal front-page expose in the New York Times headlined “Crossing the Line” that retailed stories of Trump’s mistreatment of women. The ink was barely dry before he treated it like fish wrap. He had help. The woman whose anecdote was the centerpiece of the article was quick to confirm the details of a day at Mar-a-Lago but denied the conclusion. To dredge up an old saw, she “liked it.” Forget that most women wouldn’t like to be taken to a private room, shown spare bikinis, and asked to undress and put one on. She was all over the Internet and TV saying it was all fine with her. Her pushback -- along with Trump daughter Ivanka saying her father was “not a groper” and promoted women in construction -- all but made the story disappear.

Alpha males, and the women who love them, cheer when Trump eludes another dagger from the “failing New York Times.” They believe masculinity (and Christmas) have been stolen by political correctness and the so-called feminization of America. In their eyes, he always has to win, even when it comes to divorce, which is why he impersonated a p.r. man to tout himself as a good guy who had actresses -- and Madonna!-- beating down the doors of Trump Tower to date him.

Trump is ever the big dog to be admired and envied. His campaign is pitched to tough guys who don't think it’s a problem that he got out of serving in the military but can, nonetheless, insult Senator John McCain for being captured and imprisoned by the North Vietnamese. He felled his girlie men competitors, who sweat under pressure, are little and suffer from low energy.

As for the women in his life, he refused to participate in a debate because of a previous clash with Kelly (who had been irrationally aggressive because she had "blood coming out of her whatever"), and he castigated the mouthy Carly Fiorina for not measuring up, look-wise, to his idea of a Trump girl. She put him down for it but look who dropped out?  When Senator Elizabeth Warren was mentioned as a possible running mate for Clinton, he called her Pocahantas, a reference to her controversial claim of Native American heritage, and his campaign manager said she “hid behind her sex,” whatever that means.

Trump may once again outwit those who think his appeal has a ceiling. He may be counting on voters to forget his treatment of women, not all that bad anyway, as he waves the New York Times and Bill’s past in voters' faces. There are always those who want to go back to an earlier era when men were in the corner office and the little woman knew her place. He can’t play the woman card but he can trump it.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net