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Ciao, Bella: Trump, Italian Piazzas And Carly Fiorina's 'Face'

Donald Trump, seen sitting with his wife, Melania, at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. He landed in controversy again after he was quoted by Rolling Stone mocking Carly Fiorina and her "face."
Jason DeCrow
Donald Trump, seen sitting with his wife, Melania, at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. He landed in controversy again after he was quoted by Rolling Stone mocking Carly Fiorina and her "face."

Che faccia brutta!

Between catcalls and "Ciao, Bellas," it's a refrain heard in Italian piazzas in hushed, and sometimes not so hushed, side conversations between men scoping out women.

It's usually coupled with Shakespearean dramatization with one guy putting his hand to his stomach while he's bending over like he's going to vomit.

Che faccia brutta!

Rough translation: What an ugly face.

It's not often heard in presidential campaigns, but Donald Trump came pretty close in an interview with Rolling Stone (bolding is ours):

"With his blue tie loosened and slung over his shoulder, Trump sits back to digest his meal and provide a running byplay to the news. Onscreen, they've cut away to a spot with Scott Walker, the creaky-robot governor of Wisconsin. Praised by the anchor for his 'slow but steady' style, Walker is about to respond when Trump chimes in, 'Yeah, he's slow, all right! That's what we got already: slowwww.' His staffers at the conference table howl and hoot; their man, though, is just getting warm. When the anchor throws to Carly Fiorina for her reaction to Trump's momentum, Trump's expression sours in schoolboy disgust as the camera bores in on Fiorina. 'Look at that face!' he cries. 'Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!' The laughter grows halting and faint behind him. 'I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not s'posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?'

"And there, in a nutshell, is Trump's blessing and his curse: He can't seem to quit while he's ahead. The instincts that carried him out to a lead and have kept him far above the captious field are the same ones that landed him in ugly stews with ex-wives, business partners, networks, supermodels and many, many other famous women."

It's hard not to hear echoes of the piazza there. Trump, of course, insists everyone is misinterpreting what he said. When he says, "face," he means "persona."

"I'm talking about persona. I'm not talking about look," he told Fox News.

Fox, by the way, is the network of Megyn Kelly, who moderated the first presidential debate. Trump clashed with her during the debate and later infamously said she had "blood coming out of her wherever."

Trump had a similar response for the droves of critics after that comment — get your minds out of the gutter!

Speaking of Kelly, Fiorina responded to Trump's comments on Kelly's show Wednesday night. "Maybe, just maybe, I'm getting under his skin a little bit because I am climbing in the polls," she said.

Of course, Trump continues to lead in the polls — and by a lot in the Republican primary. See a CNN poll out Thursday morning showing him getting support from more than 30 percent of Republican voters, a remarkable feat in a field this large.

CNN is going to announce Thursday night the lineup for its debate next Wednesday. Trump and Fiorina are likely both going to be on the main stage — and this brouhaha may well make for a moment.

Trump will have to be ready with an answer. He usually is.

He also told Fox what said he said about Fiorina was in a "jocular manner." That reminds of another custom in some paternal Italian families — to say, "Solo scherzando."

Translation: Just joking

A lot of what's been fueling Trump's rise is something of a comedic routine, mocking fellow Republicans like "low energy" Jeb Bush. Or flashing Lindsey Graham's cellphone number and encouraging people to call him.

Primary audiences so far have been eating it up. But in the debate, Trump probably can't dismiss his comments as "just a joke."

And, as the actual primaries get closer, he's going to have to show he can move beyond the comedy.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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