Why Trump Attacked Marie Yovanovitch

He can’t help but go after women, even when doing so hurts his cause.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testifies before the House Intelligence Committee.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch (Andrew Harnik / AP)

Updated at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, November 17, 2019

On the second day of the impeachment proceedings, President Donald Trump couldn’t control himself on Twitter: He lashed out at Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine who was subjected to a smear campaign, and who testified to that effect before the House Intelligence Committee. Trump’s lack of control, in itself, was not unusual. But, for some reason, Trump showed more restraint 48 hours earlier, when William Taylor and George Kent went before the Committee.* It was almost as if the president found himself triggered by Yovanovitch, the 61-year-old career diplomat. But why was the president’s response so different to witnesses who were roughly saying the same thing? What was the big difference between Kent and Taylor and Yovanovitch? All three are career diplomats, all three are Ivy League graduates, all three have worked in the State Department, all three are experts in Ukraine. But only one of them is a woman. Could that be why the president singled out Yovanovitch? It is almost as if the president is unable to control his rage against women. It is almost as if the president thinks he can bully women and silence them.

Calm and organized, emotional but not angry, Yovanovitch projected a kind of steady professionalism that silenced the room. It was too much for the leader of the free world to take. “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” he said on Twitter. “She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” He was defending what he called his “absolute right” to fire ambassadors, but he was also intimidating a witness—as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, duly noted. Even Fox News’s Bret Baier tweeted, “She was already a sympathetic witness & the president’s tweet ripping her allowed Schiff to point it out real time, characterizing it as witness tampering or intimidation—adding an article of impeachment real-time.”

The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, herself a longtime Trump target, said, “He made a mistake. I think part of it is his own insecurity as an impostor … he knows full well he’s in that office way over his head. And so, he has to diminish everyone else.” Trump has a history of diminishing women, of taking them down when he feels challenged by them.

In the very first presidential debate, Fox News’s Megyn Kelly dared to note, “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.” Trump seemed shocked and, from that moment on, Kelly told The New York Times, “The relentless campaign that Trump unleashed on me and Fox News to try to get coverage the way he liked it was unprecedented and potentially very dangerous.” He attacked Kelly on Twitter, his preferred rage medium, and told an interviewer that Kelly “had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her, wherever.” The presidential candidate called her a bimbo, a lightweight, a liar, crazy, and sick. Kelly had to hire a bodyguard.

Trump tends to get particularly stuck on women he feels threatened by. He once tweeted (and then deleted) this rhetorical question about Hillary Clinton: “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?” Here’s a very incomplete list of women Trump has disparaged: Mika Brzezinski (low-I.Q. Crazy Mika), Rosie O’Donnell (disgusting, both inside and out), Elizabeth Warren (Goofy, Pocahontas), and Katy Tur (a third-rate journalist). He said of four congresswomen: “The ‘Squad’ is a very Racist group of troublemakers who are young, inexperienced, and not very smart.” Often he feels the need to claim that his female opponents are stupid.

Yes, he attacks men too, sometimes viciously. But the first two days of impeachment testimony provided something like a controlled experiment, where the only difference between the two trials, the only variable, was gender. When Taylor and Kent testified, the worst they got was a tweet about how they “stared straight ahead with a blank look on their face.” Mostly, Trump retweeted his supporters’ favorable analysis. Yovanovitch, however, got the tweet implying she’s responsible for conditions in Somalia; she got the rage.

“Now the president, in real time, is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses’ willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?” Schiff asked. Yovanovitch replied, “It’s very intimidating.” And so Trump made his supporters’ case just a little harder. The president is first and foremost, at his core, a bully who uses intimidation to get what he wants, and what he wants is to silence all those uppity women. Even when he must know, on some level, that the attacks are damaging, he can’t help himself.

* This piece originally misstated the period of time between the impeachment hearings.