It's become something of a tradition in this topsy-turvy GOP primary season: Donald Trump makes a bombastic speech while his onetime rival New Jersey governor Chris Christie stands sullenly behind him at the lectern, resigned to watch this increasingly Trump-ish world spin slowly out of his control.
Is that sadness in his eyes? Regret? Who can say.
When it comes to the windows to the soul, however, Chris' wife Mary Pat may have no such room for ambiguity. Flanking Trump during his victory speech following a five-state sweep in the latest Republican primaries, Mary Pat seems to appear visibly annoyed at the GOP frontrunner's suggestion that Hillary Clinton has been playing "the woman card," and would struggle to break 5% of the vote were she a man.
Trump, for his part, doesn't seem concerned with Mary Pat's apparent disapproval. During rounds on the morning talk shows, he doubled down on his claim, telling CNN Clinton "is playing [the woman card] left and right" adding "she will be called on it." Speaking with Good Morning America, Trump protested charges of sexism on his part by saying "It’s not sexist, it’s true. It’s a very, very true statement. If she were a man, she’d get 5%."
In fact, charges of female candidates playing the so-called "woman card" are not unique to this campaign, or even this century. They arguably stretch back to 1872 when Victoria Woodhull, an activist and suffragette, became the first woman to run for president in the United States. Woodhull's ambitions were cut short after she was arrested on charges of obscenity, stemming from an article she'd published on a high-profile Protestant minister's adulterous affair.
If the charge of playing "the woman card" is meant to conjure an impression of a candidate enjoying broad solidarity from members of their own gender, that was evidently not the case for Woodhull. Explains the LA Times' Ellen Fitzpatrick:
In 1870 a New York journalist insisted, “Women always take the part of each other, and if the women can be allowed to vote Mrs. Woodhull may rely on rolling up the heaviest majority ever polled in this or any other nation.” Woodhull enjoyed no such advantage. Not even suffragists, in the main, supported her quixotic run. Those who were intrigued by Woodhull beat a hasty retreat when she was enveloped by scandal.
It's a trend, says Fitzpatrick, that continued throughout the 20th century in the presidential campaigns of Margaret Chase Smith and Shirley Chisholm.
Nevertheless, allegations of playing "the woman's card" have been a Trump go-to when it comes to attacking the Democratic frontrunner. In late 2015 after Clinton responded to Trump's charges that she'd been "schlonged" in the 2008 election, he told Fox News she was "playing that woman’s card left and right, and women are more upset about it than anybody else, including most men."
That same week, onetime GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina echoed Trump's language, telling Fox and Friends "of course she’s going to play the woman card, that’s what she does. The way to deal with the woman card is to attack her track record." Fiorina later added, "I’m never going to ask for people’s support because I’m a woman, I’m going to ask for their support because I’m the most qualified candidate to beat Hillary Clinton and to do the job."
Clinton, for her part, embraced Trump's latest attack in a victory speech following her latest primary wins. "If fighting for women's health care, and paid family leave, and equal pay is playing the woman's card," she told a cheering crowd, "then deal me in."
While Trump's line may play well with his core supporters, it may not ultimately do him much good should he win his party's nomination. A Washington Post/ABC News poll taken in March shows women with "strongly unfavorable" views of Trump has topped 60%.