Let me begin with a confession: You’d be hard-pressed to find a person more excited for Hillary Clinton to be our next president than me. Yes, a big part of this feeling is because she’s a woman. But another major part is that there’s hardly ever been someone more experienced and qualified to hold the highest office in the land. Yes, she has a vagina—but more importantly, she has a brain.
After Melania Trump, wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, gave her speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on Monday evening, a narrative quickly emerged: Parts of Melania’s remarks appeared to have been lifted directly from Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech. Within minutes, social media and cable news were skewering the political spouse and her team with side-by-side videos of the speeches, wondering how this could have possibly happened. And who did the Trump campaign decide to blame for this (seemingly deserved) backlash? Why, Hillary Clinton, of course.
In a press conference live from the RNC on Tuesday morning, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort seemed irate while fielding questions from reporters about Melania’s speech and the suggestion that it was plagiarized. “There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech. These were common words and values, that she cares about her family, things like that,” Manafort confidently declared. “I mean, she was speaking in front of 35 million people last night. She knew that. To think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama’s words is crazy.”
But the real “crazy” part came next from Manafort himself. The campaign manager went on to argue that “This is once again an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down.” Later in the day, he doubled down on this out-of-left-field opinion on CNN.
The only problem—well, one of many problems, but let’s start here—with Manafort’s assertion that Clinton is to blame for the plagiarism story spinning out of control is that she has yet to comment on Melania’s speech. Take a look at Clinton's Twitter feed from the last day, and there are no tweets, nay a trace of shade, directed toward Trump’s wife. But in Manafort’s words, we do see a trace of how Trump is still using the fact that Clinton is a woman against her, tapping into damaging stereotypes about female cattiness to imply that his opponent does not, in fact, support other women but seeks to take them down.
Jennifer Palmieri, communications director for Clinton’s campaign, is the only member of the democratic candidate’s team to directly respond to the Trump camp’s wild reaction, taking to Twitter to assure Manafort he was wrong.
Manafort's claims are an attempt at the time-honored tradition of pitting women against each other to distract from the real enemy—men. While Melania is a fierce advocate for her husband, and Clinton is his fierce political rival, neither woman has gone on record as saying anything specifically nasty about the other. Perhaps there’s more mutual respect there than we’re giving them credit for.
The Trump campaign, meanwhile, has shown little respect for women throughout this bitter election season. A constant theme they've invoked is that Clinton is playing the “woman card,” or using her female existence to somehow trick voters into seeing past her faults. The ironic part is, however, that even though they claim Clinton has decks full of this card, Trump and his surrogates are the only ones dealing it.
In one of his primary victory speeches, Trump told the rapt crowd, “If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5% of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card.” (Clinton fired back with a faux “woman card” distributed online, which resulted in a monster $2.4 million bump in donations to her campaign.)
Now Trump, via his campaign manager Manafort, is somehow drawing a straight line from Clinton to the media firestorm his wife finds herself in and showing they can play yet another side to this so-called woman card. In this version, Clinton hates other women, and hopes to reign supreme as Woman-in-Chief. Try getting that theory by Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of Clinton's most vocal advocates.
But really, the one responsible for this "Poor Melania" narrative is Trump, and not Clinton, as the male overlords of the campaign would like us to believe. “She’s beautiful, she’s intelligent, she’s submissive to her husband,” Carol Thomas of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was quoted on Politico as saying after hearing Melania’s convention speech. In lieu of having anything substantive to add to the campaign, this is the image the Trump campaign has so carefully cultivated for the would-be first lady.
It’s easy to blame Clinton for Melania’s gaffe (putting facts and logic aside). But identifying the real root of the problem would require introspection by the Trump team—but that’s just not what they do when they feel threatened.
Marisa Kabas is a Sex + Life reporter based in New York City. She loves baseball, bunnies and bagels.