Sexism Is Out In The Open In The 2016 Race. That May Have Been Inevitable With Hillary Clinton, the first woman to head a major party ticket on the ballot, it was always likely there'd be undercurrents of sexism. What surprising is just how out in the open it has been.
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Sexism Is Out In The Open In The 2016 Campaign. That May Have Been Inevitable

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Sexism Is Out In The Open In The 2016 Campaign. That May Have Been Inevitable

Sexism Is Out In The Open In The 2016 Campaign. That May Have Been Inevitable

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Maybe it was inevitable that with the first female nominee of a major political party, there would be undercurrents of sexism in the race for president. What was not inevitable is just how out in the open it's been. NPR's Tamara Keith has been exploring the dynamic of gender and sexism in the campaign.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The men parked their white work van on a patch of dirt down the road from the college where Hillary Clinton was set to give a major speech. Then they attached a banner. It was almost as long as the van, with bold red and black vinyl lettering, Trump that Bitch. They waved and smiled as people walked by. The message wasn't subtle. It also wasn't an outlier. It's a slogan found on T-shirts at most every Trump rally.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Lock her up.

KEITH: It is nearly impossible to separate out everything underlying this moment in history. Would this type of vitriol be directed at any woman trying to reach the highest office in the land? Or is there something unique about Clinton, who's been on the political stage, disrupting norms and drawing ire from Republicans for decades? And what about her opponent? If Clinton were running against someone else, would this still be happening?

KATIE PACKER: I don't think that Jeb would have allowed that - or any of the other candidates.

KEITH: Katie Packer was deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney in 2012. Steve Schmidt, who was a senior adviser to John McCain, also points to Trump's role.

STEVE SCHMIDT: He's created a permissible environment for this.

KEITH: Schmidt and Packer are not fans of Trump. But they also speak from the experience of being part of campaigns that ran against another candidate whose very presence on the ballot challenged a historical norm, Barack Obama. Schmidt remembers a moment from 2008.

SCHMIDT: There was anger, and there was angst. And as Senator Obama was moving towards election to the presidency, you know, the crowds became angrier, frankly, at the end of the campaign. And very famously, you know a woman stood up, and, you know, with great anger and vitriol said...

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I can't trust Obama. I have read about him, and he's not - he's an Arab. He is not...

SCHMIDT: John McCain stepped forward towards her. He said, no, ma'am...

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JOHN MCCAIN: No ma'am, no ma'am. He's a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that's what this campaign is all about. He's not...

KEITH: This time around, there's been no moment like that, though there's been plenty of opportunity. Packer points to pictures of parents standing with their children at rallies with a variety of shirts and signs describing Clinton in crude sexual terms.

PACKER: Is this what we're teaching our little boys? Is this what we're teaching these kids is an appropriate way to treat women that you don't agree with? And there hasn't been a peep from the campaign about this stuff being offensive. And so by not addressing it, they have encouraged it.

KEITH: Those shirts aren't sold by the campaign. And the lowest common denominator has a way of thriving on the periphery of all campaigns. But Packer and Schmidt argue with Trump's own words, he has fostered the sexism rather than tamping it down.

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DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think the only card she has is the woman's card.

She doesn't have the look. She doesn't have the stamina.

She walks in front of me, you know? And when she walked in front of me, believe me, I wasn't impressed.

KEITH: Clinton occasionally nods to her potential at making history. But she studiously avoids talking about the sexism directed at her. Packer, who's made a specialty of helping Republicans better communicate with female voters, says women do notice Trump's language, and recognize it.

PACKER: The kinds of women that Trump would need to win a general election really recoil at that. And it's the kind of thing that causes them to want to defend Hillary.

KEITH: In 2008, when Clinton ran in the primary, there were certainly signs of sexism. But this time, as she gets closer to that highest, hardest glass ceiling, it's even more out in the open, says Debbie Walsh, who heads the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.

DEBBIE WALSH: It is ironic in so many ways that the person that this woman is running against is kind of almost a caricature of this uber-masculine guy with just tremendous bravado.

KEITH: So maybe it was fitting that in the waning minutes of the final debate, as Clinton was answering a question about Social Security and getting a dig in at her opponent, Trump would interrupt to say this...

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HILLARY CLINTON: What we want to do is to replenish the Social Security trust fund...

TRUMP: Such a nasty woman.

SCHMIDT: Many female voters, especially millennials, scoff at the idea of supporting Clinton just because she's a woman. But moments like that have experts predicting 2016 could have a historically large gender gap, with women overwhelmingly supporting Clinton. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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