Two things we learned during the first ten minutes of last night’s Republican primary debate:
- Marco Rubio is short, small and light.
- Donald Trump is big, strong and definitely has a large penis.
Last night’s opening was an inevitable point for a campaign in which displays of alpha male dominance have come to replace actual issue positions. Ever since the previous debate, in which Rubio discovered that the only way to do any real damage to Trump was to play his own game and tear him down as a person, not a politician, he’s been repeating the charge that Donald Trump has small hands (if you know what he means). The insult dates back to the early ’90s, when Graydon Carter referred to Trump as a “short-fingered vulgarian” in Spy magazine. As Carter explained in Vanity Fair last year, this got way under Trump’s skin:
To this day, I receive the occasional envelope from Trump. There is always a photo of him—generally a tear sheet from a magazine. On all of them he has circled his hand in gold Sharpie in a valiant effort to highlight the length of his fingers. I almost feel sorry for the poor fellow because, to me, the fingers still look abnormally stubby. The most recent offering arrived earlier this year, before his decision to go after the Republican presidential nomination. Like the other packages, this one included a circled hand and the words, also written in gold Sharpie: “See, not so short!”
This matters, amazingly, because last night Donald Trump was asked to respond to Rubio’s ongoing roasts. And not only did Trump brazenly lie about his hands, he took the opportunity to turn the Republican debate into a literal dick measuring contest:
I have to say this. He hit my hands. Nobody has ever hit my hands. I have never heard of this. Look at those hands. Are they small hands?
And he referred to my hands, if they are small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee.
The really amazing thing about the exchange is not that it happened, but that it mattered. Trump has put himself in a position where a certain subset of his voters really do respond to the notion that he is well-endowed biologically as well as financially. In fact, much of Trump’s appeal turns on the claim that he is the manliest, alpha-est, most dominant candidate in the race. It’s one of the reasons people on the “alt-right” — the people who think that calling someone a “cuck” is the most brutal of online owns — are so excited about his candidacy.
Trump obsesses over poll numbers and election results, repeating over and over again how he’s defeating all challengers. He brags about his massive fortune and is currently on his third trophy wife. He is fascinated by his own genes. When he isn’t talking about himself, his attacks on his opponents are often based not on their platforms, but on either their biology (Jeb Bush is “low-energy;” Marco Rubio is “little,” “lightweight” and “sweaty;” Carly Fiorina has an ugly face; and so on) or their actual sexual history.
Even Trump’s actual issue positions, if you could call them that, hinge on the suggestion that he wakes up the morning and pisses testosterone. Last night, he promised to order generals to commit war crimes, insisting that they would obey his illegal commands simply because he’d tell them to. He talks about the need to get “tough,” and how he’ll make us “win again” by nature of his unique ability to power through and obliterate all challengers.
This is the bluster of someone who is clearly compensating for something, which makes it even more crucial for Trump to insist that he doesn’t have anything for which to compensate. Hyper-masculinity is central to everything about Trump. If it turned out that he was less than well-hung, it would put his shows of dominance in a much different context.
Regardless as to whether the polls shift over the weekend, Sigmund Freud won last night’s debate.