Whose penis is big enough to be president? That’s the high-stakes issue animating the Republican primary right now, with former president Donald Trump’s advisers urging him to challenge Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to a literal dick-measuring contest. According to Rolling Stone, they want Trump to call DeSantis “Tiny D” for the clever double entendre of it all: “He’s also short but…yes of course it’s about his penis, that’s why we’re doing it,” one Trump team member said. Trump already previewed this strategy in 2016 against “Little Marco” Rubio, who then zinged Trump’s suspiciously small hands (we all know what that means), prompting him to reassure the public on a national debate stage about the size of his manhood: “I guarantee you, there’s no problem. I guarantee.” It’s been a steady descent for the entire Republican Party ever since.
The thorny question of what manhood means is also the focus of Lucas Kunce’s latest campaign ad against Missouri Senator Josh Hawley. Voiced by Missouri native Jon Hamm, aka Don Draper—whose own penis once brought him unwelcome attention—it opens with a direct refutation of Trumpism: “Manhood. You’d hope that means courage.” Hawley is the author of the book Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs, which urges American men “to become free men, as your fathers and grandfathers were.” You know, before women, immigrants, gays, and Black people ruined this country by demanding rights. Seeing Hawley fist-pump the insurrectionists on January 6 and then flee from them when they breached the Capitol may tell you everything you need to know about his manhood. But Kunce—a working-class kid with degrees from Yale and the University of Missouri School of Law as well as a 13-year stint in the Marines—is running a full-blown campaign that deconstructs all the ways in which Hawley’s politics undermine actual men. It seems like common sense, but Democrats have mostly sidestepped the issue.
“I feel like people shy from responding to that because [Hawley’s obsession] is weird and creepy and we don’t want to talk about gender,” Kunce told me in a recent interview. “But as the dad of three boys, I cannot let that be the only message out there. We have to have an alternative. We have to push back on that.”
Masculinity itself is not toxic—just the Republican version of it—and Kunce is making the rare attack that comes with an affirmative case. Rather than discussing biology or body parts, he talks about the courage to fight back against the corporatization of the body politic that’s stripped American communities for parts. His vision includes union jobs, strengthened collective bargaining laws, more investment in neighborhoods than in foreign wars, the freedom for people to make their own reproductive decisions, and a truly competitive marketplace that serves the public instead of propping up monopolies. A self-described populist, he’s all about empowering people to control their own lives. To be clear, Kunce is not talking about rugged individualism, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, or other personal-responsibility-fetish nonsense. When he was growing up, his family faced bankrupting medical bills and survived thanks to the neighbors who cared for them. “My belief is, if you give everyday people the resources to live their lives, they’re going to make generally good decisions,” Kunce says, “and our communities are going to be stronger…. This is the front line in the fight for a society that is losing its ability to take care of itself.”
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The Kids Are Telling Us Very Clearly That They Are Not Alright
The Kids Are Telling Us Very Clearly That They Are Not Alright
If recent ballot initiatives are any indication, it’s what Missourians want too, as they voted to increase the minimum wage, expand Medicaid, and overturn the state’s “right to work” laws. Abortion will be on the ballot in 2024, after neighboring Kansas overwhelmingly beat back an effort to ban it just last year.
Kunce’s arguments about masculinity are grounded in the reality of what’s good for society, rather than in any abstract notion of manhood. The core of that idea is “doing the right thing when no one is looking and expecting nothing in return,” he says. It’s about being of service to others. In contrast, Hawley’s performance of masculinity for the Fox News audience of aggrieved men is a self-serving distraction in what Kunce calls a fake “culture war” that includes knocking over rainbow T-shirt displays at Target and freaking out about trans people. It’s a reciprocal relationship: The men who are least secure in their own masculinity and fear losing status need to disparage the masculinity of others as a way of fortifying themselves. This turns manhood into something that must be constantly proved and, in turn, validated by external forces. As Kunce puts it, in Hawley’s “creepy” view, “The path to being a man is to be more like him. He’s a man who wants to control everything. He tries to control what it means to be a man with his book.”
Or as Hamm says in the ad, “It’s not sitting on the sidelines while others sacrifice.” (Hawley never served.) “Or denying help to those who did.” (He voted against certain benefits for vets.) “It isn’t putting people down or trying to control them” (like opposing abortion). “Or using your own power for profit or ambition.” (Hawley wrote an amicus brief supporting his wife’s efforts to outlaw Plan B.) The ad ends with a broadside against selfishness: “If you want to be told about manhood, some guy wrote a book about it. But if you want someone to show you courage, send Lucas Kunce to the Senate.” Somehow, the ad—and by extension Kunce’s entire framing—manages to be both completely explicit about and also unimpressed with the whole conceit of masculinity, because it’s beside the point.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is someone else who is less than impressed by the right’s obsession with manhood. Asked at a recent street fair in Brooklyn about what makes a man, Schumer cut to the chase: “Lucas Kunce is a good candidate, and we can beat Josh Hawley.”
At the end of the day, that’s really the only question that matters anyway.