Way back in May, when I first tried to diagnose the archetype of a “Wife Guy,” I had no idea how far this concept would carry. As soon as the term existed, we saw these men everywhere — defending their wives, praising their wives, blocking their wives on social media or continuing to pine after ex-wives there. Wife Guys drew coverage in the New York Times, the New Yorker and then, more unexpectedly still, in USA Today. It was a meme that broke into the mainstream.
I’ll briefly recap, but let’s start by saying that the term “Wife Guy” has the emblematic power it does because it’s self-explanatory. If you had never heard of such a character, and tried to imagine one, you’d do a fairly accurate job. In a way, he grew out of — and in opposition to — the Deadbeat Divorced Dad figure who rose to prominence in the early 2010s’ Weird Twitter scene. Whereas that guy was a lonely dumbass barely surviving on a diet of lite beer, the Wife Guy presented himself as a domestic success as defined by the mantra “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” He loves his wife; she is gorgeous; he would do anything for her. He is a planet, and she is the star he orbits. Without the vaunted wife, it’s unclear whether the guy can actually exist.
Wife Guys are obnoxious in many ways that converge on a single theme: Typically, as in the case of Curvy Wife Guy or Cliff Wife Guy, they’re trying to steer marriage into a lucrative online brand, with an overbearing focus on how the wife looks, what she says and does or the privileged dynamic of their partnership. (Polyamory, anyone?) And, with respect to Elf Wife Guy, who really crystallized this trend, I can think of no one who so thoroughly embodies the clichés of a Wife Guy as Ben Domenech, best known for being married to The View’s Meghan McCain.
In my original piece, I mentioned how Domenech tweeted an angry, homophobic response to Late Night host Seth Meyers’ pointed questioning of McCain in an interview that spring. That rant, and the phoned-in, wife-loving “apology” that followed, were beautifully illustrative of the Wife Guy mentality, which counts the slightest challenge to one’s wife as the ultimate crime. In retrospect, however, I had undersold Domenech as a Wife Guy. To begin with, he had undergone a simply incredible conversion to the role, with just five years transpiring between a tweet where he seemed revolted at the idea of dating Meghan McCain — “DO NOT WANT,” he wrote — and his announcement of their engagement, in which he cringingly referred to McCain as “bae.” It’s a level of dramatic irony you don’t often find outside the myths of classical antiquity.
It’s hard to see Domenech’s courtship of McCain, daughter of the storied Sen. John McCain, as anything but opportunist — which greatly intensifies his Wife Guy aura. He was upgrading from plain old “Failson,” while she remained a staunch Dad Girl, both of them ready to bumble through a few decades of asinine punditry on the fumes of her father’s well-known name. It so happens that Domenech already had a fine résumé of fuckups in his chosen field of media, from losing a brand-new Washington Post job in 2006 over previous plagiarism to attempting to out Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan as gay.
In 2013, the year after Domenech expressed his strong desire not to pursue a romance with McCain, he faced criticism and the removal of columns for accepting $36,000 from a foreign agent to publish propaganda favorable to the government of Malaysia (and against a pro-democracy opposition leader). Six months later, he launched the far-right website the Federalist with Sean Davis, a partner in hackery. Since then, the publication has pushed or laundered racist, anti-LGBT ideology while occasionally arguing in favor of pedophilia. In all that time, the founders have declined to say who is funding this shit.
Oh, and the only time Domenech doesn’t go out of his way to mention who his wife is? When the Federalist runs an article about her. A Wife Guy cares not for dusty things like journalistic ethics.
On top of everything, as a Wife Guy, Domenech enjoys the “proximity to power” he craves with few consequences, either for his professional malpractice or tweets calling the victims of a school shooting “idiots.” It is McCain, outnumbered on The View and prone to viral eruptions of rage, who bears the greatest scrutiny, while Domenech slimes his way into TV guest appearances and continues to peddle reactionary hate on his blog. In his spare hours, he can baselessly argue that his not-Jewish wife is the victim of “anti-Semitism,” block anyone who tags her on Twitter, compare her to Dolly Parton and act as though the status she afforded him is in any way indicative of high “standards” at his intellectually bankrupt fascist rag. McCain will whine that the media is “obsessed” with their marriage, but for Domenech the Wife Guy, it’s all upside, baby.
So congratulations to Domenech, a pioneer and exemplar of the Wife Guy persona, certain to take it to strange and disturbing new places in 2020 and beyond. Let nobody say you don’t live up to the grotesque potential of marriage as a contract binding people too desperate to keep up appearances. And please, the next time you have a chance, tell your wife to unblock me.