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Abcarian: GOP women compete to see who’s the most macho

Abcarian: GOP women compete to see who’s the most macho

Slaughtering wolves from helicopters?

Castrating hogs?

Shooting up Priuses with assault weapons?

Murdering misbehaving puppies?

Is this what it takes for a Republican woman to be a credible candidate for higher office?

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin started this bizarre trend back in 2008, when she was Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s running mate. Palin leaned heavily on her Alaska outdoorswoman bona fides to prove she weren’t no sissy.

There is no evidence that Palin ever clubbed a baby seal, but she definitely endorsed what many consider to be the inhumane practice of shooting wolves from the sky as a way to keep a wild population in check. She often called herself a “mama grizzly” and liked to joke that the difference between a hockey mom (herself) and a pit bull was “lipstick.”

A few years later, when Iowa Republican Joni Ernst ran to succeed Iowa Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin in 2014, she cut a memorable — if repulsive — campaign spot in which she touted her experience castrating hogs on her family farm. It was meant to be funny, because of course cutting off the testicles of young hogs usually without anesthetic is a real hoot.

“So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork,” Ernst said with a big smile. “Washington’s full of big spenders. Let’s make ’em squeal.”

In 2022, Marjorie Taylor Greene incinerated a Prius to show how she would “blow away the Democrats’ socialist agenda.”

Doubling down

And now, of course, comes Gov. Puppy Slayer herself, Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who has boasted in her upcoming campaign memoir that she killed her 14-month-old wirehaired pointer Cricket because the dog was a failure at hunting.

“I hated that dog,” writes Noem, according to the Guardian, which obtained a copy of the book, “No Going Back.” Cricket, claimed Noem, was “untrainable,” attacked a neighbor’s chickens and was “dangerous to anyone she came in contact with.” She was “less than worthless as a hunting dog.”

What choice did she have but to put a bullet in Cricket’s head?

I mean, you know, besides more training of a still-young dog? Or accepting that perhaps Cricket shouldn’t be a working animal or — just spitballing here — giving Cricket away?

“It was not a pleasant job,” Noem writes, per the Guardian, “but it had to be done. And after it was over, I realized another unpleasant job needed to be done.”

She then shot a family goat that was “nasty and mean.”

The backlash has been bipartisan, prompting Noem to issue a couple of statements defending her decision as simply part of rural life.

“We love animals,” she posted on X, “but tough decisions like this happen all the time on a farm. Sadly, we just had to put down 3 horses a few weeks ago that had been in our family for 2 years.” If I were one of her cats, I’d be cowering in the barn right about now.

Beauty and machismo

I notice two common strands with many of today’s Republican women who aspire to national office.

First, they want to prove how tough they are by shooting guns, preferably at animals, though occasionally at cars that Democrats drive. And second, they aspire to beauty standards set by Fox News anchors. Dental veneers. Cheek and lip fillers. Botox. Hair extensions.

Performative cruelty and pouty lips are what it takes to succeed as a woman in the party of Trump.

“Remember Sarah Huckabee Sanders?” asked Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “They had to do a makeover on her, or felt they did, to make her fit that part.”

But I digress.

I recently called Walsh to ask her why so many Republican women think they need to prove their machismo.

“The reality is that women who run for high-level positions, particularly executive positions and the Senate, do still have to prove they are tough enough and strong enough to make the hard decisions,” she told me. “But there is a difference between being tough and being cruel.” In Noem’s case, she suggested, “This is clearly a line that has been crossed. And the fact that she is doubling down on it is a problem.”

Did Noem tell this story because she is trying to impress the former president as he chooses a running mate? If so, the cultural consensus is that she blew it.

“Given the various people he has to choose from who are willing to serve as his vice president, he doesn’t need to go to somebody who creates as much as chaos as he does,” said Walsh.

Voters don’t pick a president based on the running mate, she added. “But they do want to know that the person who would be a heartbeat away is somebody with good judgment. That Kristi Noem thought this was going to be an asset shows a lack of judgment.”

Think of that as Cricket’s revenge.

Robin Abcarian is a Los Angeles Times columnist. ©2024 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.


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