Abuse furor risks gender backlash for Trump, GOP
The White House’s stumbling response to domestic abuse allegations against ex-staff secretary Rob Porter risks widening the gender gap already hurting Republicans in this fall’s midterm elections.
Republicans are worried about the developments, while Democrats are salivating over the most recent Trump controversy involving women.
“It’s harder to hold their majority without winning moderate suburban suburbs,” said former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who led the House Democrats’ campaign arm in 2014. “They can’t win those districts by losing women. And they lose women by constantly reaffirming a narrative that they’re on the wrong side of abuse and sexual harassment.”
Trump actually won a majority of the votes from white women in the 2016 election, taking 52 percent of their support according to exit polls.
But just 38 percent of white women approved of Trump’s job performance in a Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday and conducted before the allegations against Porter became public.
Since Porter’s resignation, Trump has praised his former aide and more broadly criticized the “Me Too” movement that has led to allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against powerful men in politics, business and entertainment.
On Saturday, he tweeted a defense of people whose “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” all while making no mention of Porter’s two ex-wives who accused him of physical abuse.
Jennifer Willoughby, one of the ex-wives, said the president’s comments left her “floored.”
White House aides, for their part, have given conflicting accounts of how Trump and his staff handled the allegations, and why other aides initially defended Porter even after a photo surfaced of one ex-wife with a black eye.
It has all worked to extend the Porter story, overshadowing the release of Trump’s budget and infrastructure proposal as well as last week’s budget deal, frustrating Republicans who would like the focus to be on the economy.
It also put the spotlight back on the past conduct of Trump, who was accused of sexual harassment during the 2016 campaign. Trump has rejected the charges and said all the women making allegations against him are lying. He vowed during the presidential campaign to sue women making false claims against him but has not done so.
Democrats have used the Porter saga to refocus attention on the women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct and assault. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) called for hearings in Congress to discuss their accusations.
The White House on Monday insisted that Trump supports victims of domestic violence.
“Above all, the president supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
Sanders was peppered with questions about why Trump has not said that publicly, even amid reports that he was privately “disgusted” by Porter’s alleged conduct.
She replied those words came “directly” from the president and said it is “my job to speak on behalf of the president,” declining to elaborate.
Some Trump allies point to what’s happened in the past to question whether the latest controversy would really damage Trump and Republicans.
Trump won in 2016 despite the emergence of the “Access Hollywood” tapes, in which Trump is heard boasting in 2005 about how he can grope and force himself upon women because of his wealth and fame.
After women came out with accusations of sexual harassment against him, he invited women who had accused former President Clinton of sexual crimes to his presidential debate against Hillary Clinton — a move that fired up the GOP base.
“Some part of that Republican base is always going to stick with him and if he’s good at anything, he’s good at understanding base politics and keep his base energized,” said former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.).
Democrats have also been forced to grapple with sexual misconduct allegations in their own ranks, which could muddy the waters for voters in November.
But they believe the environment will take a bigger toll on Republicans, in large part because Trump is the head of their party and because of the effect the “Me Too” movement has had on the country.
They also note that Trump’s election spurred Women’s Marches across the country, whose participants are now focusing on registering voters for the upcoming midterm elections.
Trump’s own former strategist, Stephen Bannon, told Bloomberg reporter Joshua Green in an interview for the paperback edition of Green’s book “Devil’s Bargain” that the “Me Too” revolution posed a huge threat to Trump.
“Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch,” Bannon said in the book.
Jennifer Lawless, who leads American University’s Women & Politics Institute, predicted this would also hurt GOP congressional candidates this year.
She said women who have been inspired might see the midterm elections as their first chance to hold the Trump administration accountable.
“Every single time Donald Trump does something like how he responded to Rob Porter, it provides more ammunition to these groups,” she said.
Amie Parnes contributed to this story.
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