When the United States lost to Sweden in the Women’s World Cup on Sunday, many American viewers saw it as a painful collapse on the grandest stage — the sort of agonizing moment that happens in sports.
For former President Donald J. Trump, it was a sign of national decline.
The loss was “fully emblematic of what is happening to the our once great Nation under Crooked Joe Biden,” Mr. Trump wrote on his social media platform.
“Many of our players were openly hostile to America — No other country behaved in such a manner, or even close,” he added. “WOKE EQUALS FAILURE. Nice shot Megan, the USA is going to Hell!!! MAGA.”
The taunt was an extension of a longstanding feud between Mr. Trump and Megan Rapinoe, the retiring soccer star who once refused to visit the Trump White House, and whose missed penalty kick contributed to the team’s loss. (After the game, Ms. Rapinoe summed up the miss as a sort of “sick joke.”)
But it was also a striking example of the unforgiving moment in right-wing politics, when a former president will taunt an American team competing on the national stage and relish the agony of its defeat.
President Biden congratulated the team on Twitter: “I’m looking forward to seeing how you continue to inspire Americans with your grit and determination — on and off the field.”
“Your unwavering support means a lot to us,” the team said to its fans on Sunday. “Our goal remains the same, to win.”
Criticism of the team was common in the online right-wing ecosystem even before its loss.
Megyn Kelly, the podcast host, said that Ms. Rapinoe had “poisoned the entire team against the country for which they play” ahead of the game.
The right-wing activist Brigitte Gabriel wrote late last month, “I love America and that’s why I am rooting against the woke U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team this year.”
Richard Lapchick, the president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice, drew a parallel between Mr. Trump’s attack on Ms. Rapinoe and his attacks in 2017 on N.F.L. players who, inspired by Colin Kaepernick, knelt for the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality.
After Mr. Trump’s criticism six years ago, “what was seemingly a dimming protest movement in the N.F.L. was suddenly reignited so that they had even owners and coaches” expressing support, Dr. Lapchick said.
“I think that his doing this again this week will reinforce the base of athlete activism that I think has grown significantly stronger in the last couple of years,” he said.
The conservative criticism has been focused on both Ms. Rapinoe’s political statements — including her support of gay and transgender rights, which Mr. Trump has attacked — and the women’s national team’s fight for pay equity. Mr. Trump and others disparage these stances as “woke,” the right’s catchall shorthand for progressive views on gender, race and other issues.
A recent article in The Washington Examiner, a conservative publication, accused the women’s national soccer team of appearing “far more concerned pushing a woke agenda regarding equal pay for female athletes and the rights of L.G.B.T. citizens than they have been with winning games.”
Ms. Rapinoe has been a target of the right since at least 2019, when she refused to visit the White House after the United States won the last Women’s World Cup. Mr. Trump criticized her at the time. She has long been outspoken, and she is among the athletes who have knelt for the national anthem.
While “anti-woke” attacks have reliably stirred the right-wing base, a recent New York Times/Siena College poll indicates that they don’t reflect most voters’ priorities.
A minority of the presidential candidates, including former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and former Representative Will Hurd of Texas, have urged Republicans to focus on concrete matters like inflation.
Then again, so has Mr. Trump — to a point.
“I don’t like the term ‘woke,’” he said in Iowa in June, adding, “It’s just a term they use — half the people can’t even define it, they don’t know what it is.”
Mary Jo Kane, a professor emerita and founder of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, suggested that the mere existence of Mr. Trump’s latest attack was “a reflection of the growth and the power and the significance of a cultural moment of women’s sports.”
“The fact that the former president of the United States is commenting on women’s sports — nobody used to comment on women’s sports,” she said. “The fact that this has become yet another arena that is culturally contested and commented on is, ironically and unwittingly, a demonstration of the role of women’s sports in our society.”