Historically, the almost-exclusively male GOP presidential candidates have not had very nice things to say about their wives. Most of them characterize their spouses by making them seem like nags, whiners, or people who are generally confused about how the country works. On one hand, the jokes these candidates make about their wives are amusing to a lot of people—it’s the sort of seemingly mild, water-cooler humor people enjoy. But these jokes actually matter: if the GOP candidates are making sexist jokes at their wives’ expense, what do they think about American women at large?
Recently, Mike Huckabee got himself into a sticky spot when fielding a debate question about whether, if elected president, he would keep Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen in the position. “Well, my wife’s name is Janet,” Huckabee said. “And when you say Janet yellin’, I’m very familiar with what you mean.” Huckabee has made other jokes about his wife, responding to a question about his weaknesses with a comment about how his wife should have been asked instead. “She can give you more than you’ll ever be able to take care of,” Huckabee said.
Of course, Huckabee isn’t alone in the sad-joke universe. Marco Rubio joked that he “tried explaining to [his] wife why someone named Sallie Mae was taking $1,000 out of our bank account every month.” It’s worth noting that the wife in question, Jeanette, once worked as a bank teller, and that she advised Norman Braman, Rubio’s top donor, about his philanthropic giving in 2013.
It isn’t just their wives the candidates are talking about, either. When asked to name iconic American women, most of them brought up non-American women and their own relatives; less than forty-five percent of the names mentioned were historically important female Americans. When CNN’s Jake Tapper asked the candidates which woman they would put on the $10 bill, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump both said Rosa Parks; Rand Paul chose Susan B. Anthony; and John Kasich and Jeb Bush both chose foreign women: Mother Theresa and Margaret Thatcher, respectively.
Huckabee, Carson, and Trump all chose members of their families.
The fact that most of the candidates appeared to be unable to name important American women or talk about their wives as if they were real humans is concerning. Especially as the vast majority of Republican candidates seek to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization Carson refers to as “abortionists,” the candidates’ commentary leaves American women feeling neglected, highly undervalued, and barely acknowledged as human.