Donald Trump moves to hurt Clinton’s support among women

It is a risky strategy for the New York billionaire, given his low standing among women

Supporters hold signs, hours before Donald Trump’s campaign rally at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds in Lynden, Washington, last weekend: the businessman has a massive negative rating among women. Photograph: David Ryder/The New York Times

Supporters hold signs, hours before Donald Trump’s campaign rally at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds in Lynden, Washington, last weekend: the businessman has a massive negative rating among women. Photograph: David Ryder/The New York Times

 

Businessman Donald Trump’s olive-branch meeting with speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders on Capitol Hill on Thursday was aimed at trying to unite a party split by the bombastic billionaire’s ascent to the party’s presumptive nominee in November’s presidential election.

Ryan’s stunning refusal to support the party’s probable standard-bearer with the support of 11 million primary voters stems from Trump’s vicious rhetoric and campaign of insults, not least his misogynistic remarks on women.

Any attempt to push the property tycoon to tone down his rhetoric on gender issues is complicated by the fact that Trump has Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, in his sights and his ferocious attacks on the former first lady since his apparent victory in the Republican primary have been aimed at her playing “the woman’s card”.

During a rally in Oregon last Friday night, Trump unleashed a verbal assault on Clinton for standing by her husband during Bill Clinton’s infidelities.

“She’s been the total enabler. She would go after these women and destroy their lives. She was an unbelievably, nasty, mean enabler and what she did to a lot of those women is disgraceful,” he told his supporters in the town of Eugene.

Trump’s allegations have, unusually, some basis in fact. Clinton took a proactive role in undermining the credibility of the women who claimed to have had extra-marital relations with her husband. This has damaged her standing among many young women and pushed younger women towards her rival, Bernie Sanders.

Clinton’s allies have responded in kind to Trump’s line of attack to take women voters from her. A super political action committee aligned with her, Correct the Record, released a devastating television ad this week, rubbishing his claim that “nobody respects women more than Donald Trump” by running a carefully edited collection of his sexist remarks about women.

“She came to my wedding, she ate like a pig. Seriously, the wedding cake was like missing in action,” the businessman says in a clip of an old interview. “Did she have a good body? No. Did she have a fat ass? Absolutely,” he says in another.

The ad includes one of Trump’s most offensive comments from the election campaign when he said Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” during the first Republican presidential debate, suggesting that she had targeted him with hard questions because she was menstruating.

His strategy against Clinton, if it amounts to one, is risky given his poor standing with female voters. Women with a negative impression of him rank from 67 per cent in a recent Fox News poll to 74 per cent in a Washington Post/ABC News poll. He could lose women to Clinton by at least 25 points in November, polls show.

“He clearly has a problem with women and he is going to have to address that as the campaign goes forward and the reason is that woman are going to be half of all voters in November. They will probably be 53 to 54 per cent of all voters,” says Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

By attacking Clinton on playing the gender card, Trump might be following a strategy George W Bush used against John Kerry in 2004 when he questioned his war hero status in the “Swift Boat” campaign that claimed the Democratic nominee had inflated his Vietnam war record, according to Katherine Jellison, a professor of history at Ohio University who studies gender issues.

“If Trump is following a thought-out strategy, he is taking a page from the playbook that some other Republican candidates have in the past which is to take what seems like on the surface appears to be your opponent candidate’s strong point and somehow try to turn it into a weakness,” says Jellison.

Democratic candidates have traditionally enjoyed a big advantage among women – the so-called gender gap – helped by the party’s massive advantage among minority women. Trump’s massive negative rating among minority voters means he would have to outperform Mitt Romney’s support among white women in the 2012 election or, should Clinton secure even half of white women in November, win an even larger majority of white men – a problem demographic for Clinton – than Romney did four years ago to beat the likely Democratic nominee.

Jellison says Trump has turned the gender gap that Republicans have suffered from since the 1980s and “made it a cavern” based on current polling data. His gender-card attacks on Clinton may erode her support among women but he has much work to do to “make a serious dent” in that support, she says.

“The demographics are against him,” says the Ohio professor. “Based on that, it would be impossible for him to get elected but this is such a crazy year, I just don’t want to lay money on that.”

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