“The Emperor Has No Balls”: Virility, Masculinity, and the American Presidency

By Meredith Conroy and Caroline Heldman

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Two weeks ago, the guerilla art collective Indecline unveiled a series of statues featuring a naked Donald Trump in New York City, Cleveland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Indecline entitled the installation “The Emperor Has No Balls” in reference to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Andersen’s parable is about a vain emperor who is duped into parading around naked by two weavers who convince the leader his suit is only invisible to those who are incompetent or unfit for their positions. No one dares to call out the naked emperor until a child cries out that he has no clothes.

A multitude of meanings could be drawn from the statue, and many have already criticized the Indecline installation for being fat shaming and transphobic. Our critique lies in the most obvious of Indecline’s statements—an assault on Trump’s masculinity. The artist created statues with no balls and a very small penis; a trimming of Trump’s “manhood.”

The problem with this seemingly radical installation is the underlying theme that feminized men are less fit to lead. That Trump is without his balls unwittingly elevates masculinity in the presidential contest at the expense of femininity. This is certainly not the first time this message has circulated in presidential politics, and these messages incentivize both men and women to take on more masculine behaviors and positions, which limit political diversity and representation.

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Why the Veepstakes matters less than you are told and more than you realize

By Heath Brown

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It is Veepstakes time again and all eyes are on the choices Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are making. Much media attention has been drawn to the possibility that the vice presidential picks will help win a key swing state in November, serve as an “attack dog” on the campaign trail, or sparkle in a future debate. While this is all possible, and negative media coverage may deter some candidates, especially women, from seeking the post, there seems to be little evidence that it ultimately matters that much for the election. (See Kyle Kopko and Christopher Devine’s Politico piece from April on this, and also Boris Heersink and Brenton Peterson’s Monkey Cage blog piece that suggests small VP effects).

Probably of more importance, Dave Hopkins argues convincingly on his blog, is that VP choices matter because of “the window that they provide into the presidential candidates who select them.” Donald Trump’s much anticipated, but ultimately delayed VP announcement, probably says something about his style of deliberation over difficult decisions.

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‘Toughness,’ Pull-ups, and the Race for the Presidency

By Meredith Conroy

Ann Telnaes, editorial cartoonist, Washington Post

On Friday, The Week published an opinion piece entitled, “American presidential elections used to be ‘manliness’ competitions. What happened?” by journalist Paul Waldman. This piece was inspired by remarks from Donald Trump to the Daily Mail.com about Texas Governor and Presidential candidate, Rick Perry. Trump has been insulting his way through the Republican presidential field, as the media has been rabidly covering; of Rick Perry, Trump remarked, “I think that he’s trying so hard, but it’s not about trying. It’s about energy, it’s about brainpower, it’s about toughness.” A few hours later, Perry chose to respond to that which he is most likely to have an edge (toughness), and challenged Trump to a pull-up contest: “Let’s get a pull-up bar out there and see who can do more pull-ups.” While its unlikely that a pull-up contest will result from this verbal tiff between Trump and Perry, as spectators of presidential politics we should expect to see many more attempts by the candidates to assert their manliness. Because unlike the assumed premise of Waldman’s article, manliness is now, as it has always been, inextricably linked to campaigning for, and media coverage of, presidential elections. Here, I review some of the political science scholarship on the topic, present original insight from a larger project of my own, and discuss consequences of this routine political certainty.

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The GOP’s empathy deficit and when it matters

By Meredith Conroy

This week at The Fix, Chris Cillizza’s Washington Post blog, reporter Aaron Blake published “Hilary Clinton’s problem is honesty. The GOP’s is empathy.” Blake reports that a recent Washington Post-ABC poll finds respondents to be untrusting of the former New York Senator, and Secretary of State; just 41 percent think Clinton is honest. Compared to Jeb Bush, The Post shows Clinton to have a considerable honesty perception deficit. Yet in terms of perception of empathy (“Clinton/Bush understands the problems of people like you”), Bush trails Clinton by quite a large margin.

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Did Mitt Romney just lose a presidential campaign? Yes and no

By David A. Hopkins, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Boston College 

If you’re a strong believer in the idea that presidential nominations are determined by the coordination of party elites during the invisible primary period, with the choice of “the Party” merely ratified by the voters once the actual state primaries and caucuses begin, then Mitt Romney’s announcement on Friday that he will not seek the 2016 Republican nomination, after a month-long period in which Romney was very obviously measuring support for another bid for the presidency, should be interpreted in the following manner: Romney did in fact run for president in 2016–and he lost badly. His publicly-revealed decision not to embark upon another “presidential campaign” occurred after he in fact actively ran another campaign, dropping out of the race after discovering that he stood almost no chance of winning the nomination, just as he would have if he had placed seventh in the Iowa caucus a year from now.

While I agree that (1) candidates seek elite support because it helps them win votes, and (2) Romney decided to remove himself from consideration after concluding that he wouldn’t have as much of that support as he wanted, I still believe that it’s useful to continue drawing a distinction between the testing-the-waters phase and the active-campaign phase of the nomination process. In Romney’s case, there’s plenty of reason to believe that he would judge his chances of winning the nomination in 2016 as significantly greater than zero. Putting aside the fact that most politicians are more likely to overstate than understate their own appeal, Romney would have some evidence on his side for this view. His standing in the national polls is very strong (often placing first by a wide margin in surveys testing the Republican presidential field); he has plenty of money and access to much more; he has a natural advantage in the influential New Hampshire primary; and he already proved the ability to win the nomination in 2012. According to the Washington Post, Romney advisors had collected polling data showing that he indeed retained “broad and deep” support among Republican primary voters, suggesting that he indeed viewed his chances as far from remote. However, whatever probability of success Romney thinks he would have had must be weighed against the cost of failure—and for Romney, more than most potential candidates, that cost would have been high. To lose a third presidential campaign would be something of a humiliation, and to lose in the primaries after having won them last time around would be especially so. If it’s an honor just to be nominated…well, he’s already had that honor.

So even if Romney thought he had at least a legitimate shot to win, once it became clear to him that most party elites were not spontaneously exploding with joy about the prospects of another campaign, that he would have to really fight hard to hold off Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, and that his chances of victory, even if well above zero, were probably below 50%, the idea of slogging it out on the campaign trail once again probably lost most of its appeal. Whereas another candidate, differently situated, might take similar odds as sufficiently encouraging to jump in the race. Certainly Barack Obama must have concluded that he would likely lose to Hillary Clinton in 2008, but the cost of running anyway and hoping for some lucky breaks (which, in the end, he got) was much lower for a young, first-time candidate taking on the party favorite than it would be for Romney today. Other candidates take the plunge in other years—and no doubt many will in 2016 as well—despite what they themselves must view, and certainly other party elites with whom they converse view, as fairly long odds of success. Once a candidate formally joins the race, however, the calculation changes. If you’re already openly running, there’s usually no reason not to keep going until your chances of winning truly dwindle to effectively zero. After all, you’ve already taken the step of publicly presenting yourself to the electorate for their approval, so there’s no reason not to try to collect on that risk until it’s no longer possible to do so. By bowing out gracefully before he officially jumped in, Romney manages to avoid the danger of being openly rejected by the voters who embraced him in 2012, in exchange for trading his presidential ambitions for the role of an elder statesman in the GOP.