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OpinionColumnistsCathy Young

Donald Trump isn’t a misogynist. He’s a narcissist.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Tucson, Ariz., on March 19, 2016. Credit: AP / Ross D. Franklin

The 2016 campaign has hit a new low with the “war of the wives.” First, an anti-Donald Trump Super-PAC aired an ad in Utah using a provocative photo of Melania Trump from a 2000 nude photo shoot. Then, Trump took to Twitter threatening to “spill the beans” on Sen. Ted Cruz’s wife and retweeted an Internet graphic juxtaposing a glamorous photo of Melania Trump with an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz.

The ugly incident has revived the accusations of misogyny frequently leveled at Trump — something that will undoubtedly come up again, particularly if the race for the White House ultimately pits Trump against Hillary Clinton. But ultimately, the problem with the Republican front-runner is not a gender issue so much as an issue of decency.

Trump has a long history of insulting women who have crossed him, most commonly by attacking their appearance.

But he doesn’t exactly have a history of civility with regard to any of his rivals and critics, regardless of gender. He has disparaged his male political opponents in crass terms that often focus on physical attributes (Marco Rubio’s height, Chris Christie’s weight) and mocked two male journalists’ disabilities. He infamously suggested that former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain was not a war hero but a poor soldier because he had gotten captured.

Writing in Slate last week, Franklin Foer asserts that misogyny is Trump’s “one core belief” which he “hold with sincerity and practices with unwavering fervor” and that woman-hating is at the core of who he is. As evidence, Foer invokes comments which reveal Trump’s tendency to brag about his sexual conquests, including affairs with “important” married women, and to use his sexual prowess to signal his dominance over other men.

This sort of sexual one-upmanship can certainly correlate with treating women as trophies. But does it add up to consistent misogyny? Not necessarily; human beings, even Trump, are complicated animals. Foer quotes him as saying that many of his “best people” in his business operations are women, but points out that Trump tolerates those women only as long as they remain loyal subordinates. Yet the same seems to be true of his attitude toward men. And some of Trump’s female followers, such as former “Apprentice” star Omarosa Manigault, are no meek handmaidens.

Notably, Trump’s daughter Ivanka has a key role in his business empire and is more prominent in his inner circle than his two grown sons — a fact that doesn’t quite fit the stereotype of the dedicated male chauvinist for whom only male children are true heirs. Trump also has expressed admiration for his sister, federal appellate judge Maryanne Trump Barry, whom he has called “brilliant.”

This is not to defend Trump but to put in a plea for a little less obsession with offenses to womanhood. (Personally, I thought Trump’s mockery of McCain’s war record was fouler than his crass remarks about women.) The misogyny card can be played against a lot of people, including Ted Cruz for not denouncing the ad attacking Melania Trump and even Hillary Clinton for colluding in personal attacks on women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct.

If Trump has a core belief or ideology, it was best summed up by Daily Beast writer Michael Daly in a recent article: he’s a “lifelong Trump supremacist.” This narcissistic belief explains both his propensity to treat other people — women or men — as existing primarily in relation to his own ego and his crude, playground-bully attacks on those who threaten that ego. It is also a compelling reason he should not be president.

Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and Real Clear Politics.