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Trump faces buzzsaw in ‘year of the woman’
President Trump's attitude toward women - and toward the "Me Too" movement - is getting new attention as members of both parties focus on the importance of female voters in an election dubbed by many as the "year of the woman."
Trump's standing with female voters, who typically make up a majority of all voters, will be critical to the GOP's efforts to maintain control of Congress in November's elections.
"It's everything," Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said of the role that female voters will play in the midterms.
Women, she added, "are the most unhappy with Republicans, the most unhappy with President Trump. If women turn out, Democrats will win."
Signs for the GOP are not good: A new Quinnipiac poll released Monday showed only 34 percent of women approving of Trump's job performance. An ABC News/Washington Post poll published last week put that number even lower, at 30 percent.
That would represent a fall for Trump, who in 2016, even after the "Access Hollywood" controversy, received the support of 41 percent of female voters, according to exit polls.
Headlines from Bob Woodward's new book, set to be published Tuesday, have not been helpful.
In "Fear: Trump in the White House," Woodward casts the president as advising an unnamed friend to never admit to any wrongdoing with women.
"You've got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women. If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you're dead," Woodward characterizes Trump as saying. "You've got to deny anything that's said about you. Never admit."
The White House has pushed back aggressively at the Watergate journalist, with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders calling the book "fiction."
On Monday, she doubled down with attacks on Woodward's credibility, noting that a number of people in the book have said the famed reporter never reached out to them.
"When no effort was made it seems like a very careless and reckless way to write a book," she said.
White women were a strength for Trump in 2016.
He won 52 percent of their vote according to exit polling, compared to 43 percent for Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton - the first female nominee of a major party.
The new Quinnipiac poll, by contrast, shows Trump getting the thumbs-up for his job performance from only 41 percent of white women.
And the numbers among minority women are much worse.
Some Republicans acknowledge that the party has a problem with female voters - and some trace it directly to the president.
Michael Steele, a former head of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and a frequent Trump critic, said that the comparatively strong standing the president and his party enjoyed with women in 2016 had "waned considerably."
Steele attributed much of the change to "style rather than substance," suggesting that some of Trump's policies, especially on the economy, enjoyed reasonable popularity but that this was undercut by the president's tone and behavior, including his propensity for incendiary tweets.
After former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman published a critical book about her time in the White House, for example, Trump referred to her as "that dog" on Twitter.
For all that, however, the dynamics around Trump's standing with female voters are complex.
His decent showing with women in 2016 came despite the enormous firestorm ignited by the "Access Hollywood" tape in which he was heard boasting about grabbing women by the genitals. Prominent Republicans abandoned Trump after the tape emerged, only to have to make their peace with him after he won.
Republican pollster David Winston told The Hill that polling data he had seen suggested that male voters were roughly evenly split, or leaning slightly toward Republicans, on the generic ballot question in November's midterms, whereas women favored Democrats by margins in the high single digits.
"That's not a particularly ahistorical margin in terms of the gap between men and women," Winston said.
Other Republicans suggested that, for all the sound and fury around Trump, the electorate is so polarized that there are unlikely to be huge movements one way or another, especially given that women are obviously a far from monolithic bloc.
"This is a base election once again and his base of support is at an all-time high," said one Republican strategist with ties to the White House. "I don't have [data on] female voters right in front of me but, generally if you like Donald Trump you love him, and if you don't like him you hate him."
The stakes in November are very high for Trump, especially as "Me Too" continues to be central to the national conversation. He has been accused by several women of inappropriate behavior, including assault.
Trump has denied all wrongdoing and the allegations against him have not gotten the same traction as similar charges against other public figures - including CBS head Les Moonves, who is resigning after being accused of sexual harassment by a dozen women.
But that could change if Democrats were to win control of the House of Representatives and invite Trump's accusers to offer testimony on Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile, the stories of adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal continue to reverberate. Both women say they had consensual sexual encounters with Trump more than a decade ago, and were paid for their silence in deals facilitated by the president's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
Steele, the former RNC head, suggested that all those stories could have some effect in November, and on Trump's fortunes more generally.
In 2016, he said, "what was called Trump's 'bad behavior' was discounted by voters. But there is a lessening of that discounting. People don't want to see a country and its leaders move away from what they consider fundamental principles about how you treat one another.'
Karine Jean-Pierre, senior adviser and national spokeswoman for progressive group MoveOn, noted that "women, and in particular women of color, have been leading the Resistance, from the Women's March right after the inauguration through almost everything else."
She was adamant that women could power a blue wave for Democrats come Nov. 6.
"They want to stop this runaway train," she said, referring to Trump. "They want to change Congress."
But Winston, the Republican pollster, was not so sure.
He accepted that independent women in the suburbs were "the holy grail" of the midterms, but he suggested that the economy could trump all else.
"What is their final assessment of the economic environment as it is impacting them personally and their family personally?," he wondered. "It's only once we know where they stand there that we will know what they are carrying into the voting booth."
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump's presidency.