The worst part of Donald Trump's comments to Fox News host and debate moderator Megyn Kelly — first dismissing her question about his long history of sexist remarks, then attacking her for asking it, and later calling up CNN to say there had been "blood coming out of her wherever" — was not actually the comments themselves.
Rather, it was that Donald Trump's comments, and the overt hatred of women he conveyed, appear to have a real political constituency in America. Looking just at the immediate reaction, despite the backlash among the GOP establishment, his comments have inspired what appears to be an overwhelming wave of online hatred not against Trump but against Kelly.
Take, for example, this chart from Topsy, put together by web developer Izzy Galvez. It shows, over time, the number of tweets across the internet that mention both Megyn Kelly's name and the word "cunt," "whore," "bitch," or "slut." What you are seeing here is an explosion of sexist hatred against Kelly that begins precisely at the moment of the GOP debate, when she dared to ask Trump about his record of sexism:
Here is a representative slice of those tweets:
Megyn Kelly is a rabid cunt. Trump is the only one who understood the importance of putting her in her place.— Brannon La (@Brannon1066) August 7, 2015
The British have a great word for how @megynkelly acted tonight toward Donald Trump... CUNT. I'd upper-decker a toilet in her house, easily— Paul Kersey (@sbpdl) August 7, 2015
If you're gonna cry about Trump putting Megyn Kelly in her place, where the cunt should be...learn how to spell her name. #MeganKelly— Kenny5Alive (@kenny5alive) August 8, 2015
It's worth pausing to note that Galvez, who put together the Topsy chart showing that these are not a few isolated tweets but rather part of a larger and organic response, is no stranger to sexist hate campaigns himself. When he criticized the sexism of the Gamergate movement, which opposes gender equality in technology, members of that movement harassed him extensively, including calling in a fake police report that got a SWAT team sent to his home.
Gamergate and Donald Trump might not seem obviously connected, but they are: Both are expressions of a disturbingly prevalent belief in the United States that not only is it right and good to hate women, but that hating women is so right and good that anyone who tells you not to hate women is a threat to core American values. Some believe it is such a threat that it is appropriate to punish them by, say, blanketing them in online harassment or calling a SWAT team to their house.
Trump, in response to the controversy over his comments, a backlash that has included condemnations from many in the GOP establishment, has not backed down one iota. Rather, he has encouraged the wave of online sexist hatred against Kelly, for example by retweeting this seemingly random Twitter user who calls Kelly a "bimbo":
And, after all, this line of attack seems to be working for him. It seems to be, among some certain slice of America, quite popular. This all goes to show the degree to which the real problem here, in which a major political candidate can attract lots of support by openly hating and disparaging women, goes a lot deeper than just one Donald Trump.