“In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly,” wrote feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey in her landmark 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.
Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, subscribes to this phallocentric worldview. To him, women are sexual objects coded for, in Mulvey’s words, “strong visual and erotic impact.” None are spared. As an overseer of beauty pageants, he subjected contestants to a humiliating vetting process dubbed “The Trump Rule”; as a father, he frequently objectified his eldest daughter, Ivanka, and once speculated about the breast size of his other daughter, Tiffany, when she was a mere infant. If, God forbid, women disrupt his gaze by assuming a role other than passive object, Trump lashes out. When Hillary Clinton took a bathroom break during a Democratic debate, he called it “too disgusting” to mention; when a female lawyer requested to pause his 2011 deposition because she needed to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly turned red in the face, got up out of his chair, screamed, “You’re disgusting!” and ran out of the room.
This churlish, troglodytic behavior is said to have followed him all the way to the White House. According to an Axios report, Trump demanded that the women who worked for him during the campaign “dress like women,” and after Melissa McCarthy skewered his press secretary Sean Spicer in a popular Saturday Night Live sketch, the president allegedly recoiled in horror.
“More than being lampooned as a press secretary who makes up facts, it was Spicer’s portrayal by a woman that was most problematic in the president’s eyes, according to sources close to him,” reported Politico, which added that the “unflattering send-up by a female comedian” did not bode well for Spicer’s “longevity in the grueling, high-profile job.”
News that a gender-swapped parody constituted the ultimate insult to Trump prompted comedy fans to reach out to Rosie O’Donnell, the former reality-show host’s archnemesis, about portraying either President Trump or his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, on SNL.
“I am here to serve,” tweeted Rosie. “I would need a few days to prepare—so if called—I will be ready.”
That, naturally, piqued the public’s interest even more.
Though Press Secretary Spicer has criticized Alec Baldwin’s send-up of Trump, believing it to be too “mean”—because really, when it comes to comedy, SNL is so edgy—it is, in reality, flattering to have the greatest and most prolific host in SNL history, and a three-time Golden Globe winner for his role as the Trump-esque Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, spend his weekends lampooning you in front of a live studio audience.
But Rosie O’Donnell as Trump? Now that would be interesting.
Back in January 2015, five months before announcing his presidential candidacy with a xenophobic screed against Mexicans, Trump became, as writer Jen Yamato aptly put it, “The first angry, famous nerd to purse his lips, lift his sausage fingers in the air, and rail publicly—and loudly—against Sony’s female-led Ghostbusters reboot.”
“They’re remaking Indiana Jones without Harrison Ford—you can’t do that!” Trump shouted into the camera, waving his hands in the air like a maniac. “And now they’re making Ghostbusters with only women. What’s going on?!”
The inherent silliness of the president’s past #TrumpVlogs notwithstanding, the real-estate heir’s theatrical objection to an all-women Ghostbusters seemed rooted in latent misogyny: the notion that women shouldn’t do jobs traditionally done by men, whether it be detective work, comedy, ghost-busting, or all of the above. It’s a view shared by Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence, a longtime critic of women serving in the armed forces who once penned an op-ed accusing the Disney animated film Mulan of being pro-women-in-the-military propaganda.
In an ironic twist, Trump was supplanted as ringleader of the anti-Ghostbusters mob by Milo Yiannopoulos—a transphobic, racist, and misogynistic alt-right troll who, along with his troll army, waged a harassment campaign against Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones on Twitter. They barraged her with doctored tweets and racist images, including Photoshopped gorillas (Jones is black). Her personal website was hacked, and covered in naked photos of the actress stolen off her iCloud account. Yiannopoulos was banned for life from Twitter for his actions; last week, President Trump defended him on Twitter.
Trump and Rosie have a bit of history, too.
An eternity ago—August 2015—Fox News hosted the first round of GOP presidential debates. Over 24 million viewers tuned in to see Megyn Kelly grill a dais of 10 poorly dressed men. When Trump’s turn came, Kelly homed in on his sexism: “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals. Your Twitter account has several—”
A smirking Trump interrupted Kelly, replying, “Only Rosie O’Donnell… Rosie O’Donnell, I said very tough things to her and I think everyone would agree that she deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her.”
Trump, of course, has a long history of misogyny. He has spewed vile at half the women in Hollywood, tweeted an unflattering photo of Ted Cruz’s wife, stands accused of sexual assault by a dozen women—including his ex-wife Ivana—and was caught on tape bragging about his ability to “grab [women] by the pussy” due to his fame. But nobody’s been on the receiving end of Trump’s women-bashing quite like Rosie.
Rosie and Trump appeared cordial throughout the ’90s and the early Aughts, with Rosie even attending Trump’s wedding to Marla Maples in 1993. The public drama apparently began in December 2006, when Rosie, then a co-host on The View, took issue with the way Trump had publicly shamed then-Miss USA Tara Conner during a press conference following allegations that she’d done a little cocaine and had sex.
“He annoys me on a multitude of levels,” said Rosie, who uncorked a spot-on Trump impression. “He’s the moral authority? Left the first wife, had an affair, left the second wife, had an affair, had kids both times, but he’s the moral compass for 20-year-olds in America? Donald, sit-and-spin my friend! I don’t enjoy him.”
Then Rosie really went in, branding Trump a “snake-oil salesman” who was only able to keep his business afloat because of a hefty inheritance he received when his father died. “He’s been bankrupt so many times where… people beneath him who he owed money to got shorted out of the money, but he got to again try again. And you know what saved him the second time? After his father died, with that money he paid off all his bankruptcy. This is not a self-made man.” (In an odd twist, the next guest on The View was then-Senator Hillary Clinton.)
Trump released the following retaliatory statement to People magazine: “You can’t make false statements,” said Trump. “Rosie will rue the words she said. I’ll most likely sue her for making those false statements—and it’ll be fun. Rosie’s a loser. A real loser. I look forward to taking lots of money from my nice fat little Rosie.” (He never sued.) Trump then appeared on Entertainment Tonight and unleashed a vicious two-minute, body-shaming rant against Rosie:
“Rosie O’Donnell is disgusting—both inside and out. If you take a look at her, she’s a slob. How does she even get on television?... If I were running The View, I’d fire Rosie. I’d look her right in that fat, ugly face of hers and say, ‘Rosie, you’re fired.’ We’re all a little chubby but Rosie’s just worse than most of us. But it’s not the chubbiness—Rosie is a very unattractive person, both inside and out. Rosie’s a person that’s very lucky to have her girlfriend and better be careful or I’ll send one of my friends over to pick up her girlfriend. Why would she stay with Rosie if she had another choice?”
In a strange bit of foreshadowing, on Jan. 13, 2007, SNL aired a sketch poking fun at Trump’s bizarre obsession with Rosie. During the bit, Darrell Hammond’s Trump is holding a press conference for the new season of his reality series The Apprentice, but twists every reporter’s question into a Rosie insult:
Though Rosie then went relatively silent on Trump, choosing to take the high road, the thin-skinned reality star just wouldn’t let it go. He continued slamming her in the press over the next decade to anyone who would listen. When Rosie announced her engagement to Michelle Rounds in 2011, Trump said he felt “sorry” for the bride-to-be. When Rosie returned to The View in 2014, Trump called her “a mentally sick woman, a bully, a dummy, and above all, a loser.”
Shortly after returning to The View, Rosie opened up about Trump’s fixation on her. “Probably the Trump stuff was the most bullying I ever experienced in my life, including as a child,” she said. “It was national, and it was sanctioned societally. Whether I deserved it is up to your own interpretation.”
Now, Rosie has her chance at revenge. And this time she definitely has the popular vote.