The Memo: Women could cost Trump reelection

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President Trump’s weak ratings with women may cost him another four years in the White House.

Trump’s standing with women is poor and has eroded since 2016, according to numerous opinion polls. 

Even Republicans are wary of a repeat — or even an acceleration — of the trend that was seen in the 2018 midterms, when suburban female voters turned against the GOP in large numbers and delivered a stinging defeat.

The president has appealed in increasingly plaintive terms for women to back him in his bid for a second term over Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

“Can I ask you to do me a favor, suburban women?” he said at a rally in Johnstown, Pa., earlier this month. “Will you please like me? Please.”

But those kinds of appeals — as well as suggestions from his campaign that his focus on the economy and “law and order” would improve his standing with suburban women —  appear to have fallen flat.

The problem afflicts Trump just as badly in the battleground states as well as nationwide. And there has been no sign of that changing.

On Monday, for example, a University of Wisconsin-Madison poll of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — all key states in determining the election’s outcome — delivered stark results.

The poll showed Trump losing all three states by margins of between 8 and 10 percentage points. In aggregate across the three states, women backed Biden over Trump by 20 points, 58 percent to 38 percent. The deficit was virtually identical to a poll from the same source in August, which found Trump lagging by 19 points among women.

Trump’s edge among men in the latest poll — just 3 points — was not nearly big enough to close the gap.

The president has defied expectations before, of course. Trump’s 2016 campaign for the presidency appeared to come off the rails when the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape emerged in which he was heard boasting of grabbing women by the genitals.

The 2016 campaign experienced several other furors revolving around gender, including Trump’s reference to debate moderator Megyn Kelly having “blood coming out of her  … wherever” and an allegation from a former Miss Universe that Trump had, in the 1990s, humiliated her over her weight. 

Trump was also running against the first female presidential nominee of a major party, Hillary Clinton.

Despite all that, Trump won white women by 9 points in 2016, according to exit polls, even as he lost women overall by 13 points. 

There are clear signs that he will find that kind of performance difficult to replicate this year. In a Quinnipiac University Poll survey released last week, he was losing women to Biden by 26 points.

The president’s critics contend that the fact that Trump can now be judged on political deeds, not just words, makes all the difference.

“In 2016, Donald Trump didn’t have a record. In 2020, now, he does,” said Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist and a senior adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. “That record is one that is really quite offensive, I think, to many Americans male and female, but especially women. And he leans into it.”

Del Percio noted Trump’s rhetoric about protests, which she said had been “pouring fuel on the fire” of racial discord, as well as his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

When it comes to even basic matters like regularly wearing a mask, she said, “women want to see a good role model for their children. … Even putting aside some of the outlandish stuff he has said, in his actions he has failed miserably when it comes to delivering responsible leadership.”

Trump, naturally, sees things differently.

At a rally in Michigan on Tuesday, Trump told women, “Your husbands, they want to get back to work, right? They want to get back to work. We’re getting your husbands back to work.”

His phrasing caused a predictable mini-furor, much as happened when he tweeted back in July about “suburban housewives.”

As NPR noted, the share of mothers who stay at home has fallen by half — from roughly 50 percent to roughly 25 percent — since the late 1960s when the president was a young man.

Trump’s “housewives” tweet sought to make the argument that Biden would “destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream.”

There is not much evidence in polling that he has got traction with that argument, but it has an appeal to some.

In an op-ed in USA Today on Tuesday, Lauren DeBellis Appell, a former communications aide to then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), wrote that she “took a chance and cautiously voted” for Trump in 2016. 

She said that she would be “proudly voting” for him this year, citing his support for law enforcement, a commitment to “protect religious freedom” and his nomination of newly-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whom she described as “an inspiration and role model for young girls everywhere.”

Those kinds of views are a reminder not to oversimplify the female vote. More votes are typically cast in American elections by women than men, and Trump is assured of receiving many millions of them this year.

But if his deficit with women is even close to the 20-point range — while he breaks male support roughly evenly with Biden — the math simply doesn’t work for him.

“Women have been fighting for generations not to be treated the way Donald Trump treats women,” said Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky. “He is condescending, he ‘mansplains,’ he is dismissive of women, he talks about grabbing them, he objectifies them.”

Even Roginsky added a caveat to the idea of Trump’s certain defeat, however.

“If those votes are all counted and those women all have access to the ballot — which is not assured — he will not win. But he has decided to seat a Supreme Court justice before the election in the hope that we have an abrogated count,” she said. 

“But if everybody has equal access to the ballot, there is simply no way he could win, with those numbers with women,” she continued.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.

Tags 2020 2020 campaign 2020 election Amy Coney Barrett Donald Trump Female voters Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Michigan Pennsylvania suburban women Wisconsin women voters
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