Clinton allies see double standard and sexism in debate

Clinton allies see double standard and sexism in debate
© Getty Images

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonProgressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC Hillary Clinton backs Manhattan DA candidate in first endorsement of year NSA leaker Reality Winner released from federal prison MORE supporters see a double standard when it comes to Monday's presidential debate, which for the first time will feature a woman debating a man. 

Throughout the campaign, Clinton has faced questions and criticisms that would not be asked or made to a male candidate, her allies say.


The jabs have come even Clinton surrogates such as former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who this week said he'd like to see Clinton “smile more” in the debate.

The comment left ClintonWorld shaking its collective head. 

“She can’t win, even with her own,” one Clinton confidant grumbled. 

“Is there a double standard? One hundred percent times 100 percent,” said Tracy Sefl, a Democratic consultant and Clinton surrogate. “And God forbid if she coughs.” 

Rendell’s comments were just the latest frustration for Clinton and her campaign, which believes she is being measured and criticized unfairly ahead of the debate at Hofstra Univerity in New York. 

They say their candidate will be criticized for smiling too much or too little, for cracking too many jokes or not enough. She’s criticized when she talks too much about policy, and she’s criticized if she relies on too many zingers.

The tone of Clinton’s voice is repeatedly analyzed, as is her wardrobe. Clinton allies note that graphics have been made about the former New York senator’s pantsuits, while stories have been written about her wearing a scrunchie.

Some of the complaints could be meant to set expectations for Monday night, something typical ahead of a presidential debate.

Clinton will enter with clear advantages over Trump, who has never taken part in a one-on-one debate before, and Team Trump is clearly seeking to lower expectations for their candidate.

Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKushner lands book deal, slated for release in 2022 Biden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Progressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC MORE is new to the format,” Sean Spicer, the communications director for the Republican National Committee, wrote in a memo on Thursday. “Trump’s lack of formal, political, one-on-one debate experience gives Clinton a significant edge.”

Yet the charges of a double-standard and sexism from the Clinton campaign are deeply felt.

“With two guys in a scrum, they can do anything but kill each other and the guy that wins wins,” the Clinton confidant said. “I’m not sure she can win the debate. I think she can prosecute it to a draw. It’s just not set up that way this cycle.”

To be sure, there is some danger for Trump in debating a woman.

In 2000, Republican Rick Lazio was accused of invading Clinton’s bubble as he walked to her side of the stage during the debate.

He later said the charges of sexism lobbed his way were unfair, and that it was Clinton who benefitted from sexism.

“You can’t make a point forcefully if you’re a man and the person you are making a point with is a woman,” he said at the time, according to the New York Times. “I just think that that’s sexist.” 

Trump stumbled during the GOP primary when he took on rival candidate Carly Fiorina and made a negative remark about her looks in an interview with Rolling Stone.

“Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?” Trump said.  

Critics called him sexist and days later, Fiorina had the last word on the matter: “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” she said at a GOP debate.

Observers say Trump may have to tread carefully with his remarks and body language on Monday.

“[It’s] going to be hard for Trump to not come across as condescending to a female candidate,” said Katherine Jellison, a professor at Ohio University who specializes in women’s history.  “I bet his team is really warning him about that.” 

Political observers and even Clinton allies acknowledge that while Clinton is seen differently because she’s a woman, she’s also being judged on her own merits.

“She’s being judged because she’s a woman but also because she’s Hillary Clinton,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor in the college of communication. “For Hillary, being Hillary is a blessing and a curse. She’s a candidate dragging 25 years of baggage onto the stage, some of which the conservative media promoted and some of it was her own doing. 

In an episode of the Funny or Die web series “Between Two Ferns,” comedian Zach Galifianakis asked what Clinton was planning to wear to the debate, spoofing the current chatter around the Democratic nominee. 

“There’s this thing called the double standard and so I think about ‘Well, what should the first woman nominee of one of our two major parties wear to the debate?’ and I have no idea so if you’ve got suggestions I’m open to them,” she said.