Donald Trump’s Female Trouble
In Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary and beyond, expect Donald Trump to have big trouble.
Midway through the primary season, Trump’s difficulty attracting female support is well acknowledged. But while recent polls have shown that nearly three-fourths of registered female voters hold an unfavorable view of the billionaire candidate, Trump’s campaign should be particularly concerned about the potential defection of conservative and independent women voters who might reconsider voting for him following his disastrous week of anti-woman stumbling.
By now, most of the country knows about Trump’s defense of his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who last week was charged with battery for allegedly grabbing a female journalist’s arm hard enough to leave bruises. Then came Trump’s statement that, if abortion became illegal, women undergoing the procedure should be subjected to “some form of punishment.”
But as serious as these lapses were, Trump’s most costly mistake may have been his retweeting of an unflattering photograph of rival Republican candidate Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi, alongside a glamorous picture of Trump’s own wife, Melania, accompanied by the words, “No need to spill the beans.”
Trump’s tacit message — showing off his spouse’s beauty, presumably in comparison to Heidi Cruz — was clear.
The reason that this is the gaffe that could cost Trump the most is because most people vote for president based on likability. Trump hit women where it hurts this past week. And in the privacy of the voting booth, women may well hit him back, hard.
Most American women look a lot more like Heidi Cruz than like Melania Trump. And that is at least partly because they, like Heidi and unlike Melania, bear multiple children, and work for a living.
One surefire way to alienate almost any woman is to compare her unfavorably to another woman, especially in terms of her looks. Publicly comparing a female’s looks to those of a model is an act that any decent, mature man knows not to do.
But the Donald went there.
While this sensitivity about physical appearance and womanly appeal is something many women may not want to acknowledge is important to them, it generally is.
In interviews I conducted with more than a dozen Republican and Independent female registered voters last week, I heard a softening of support among women who said they had previously considered Trump. And while most of the women I interviewed cited various issues including national security as top concerns, every woman whom I asked about Trump’s treatment of Heidi Cruz expressed outrage and disgust.
Racquel Reinstein, 35, a New York City attorney, says she would have been conflicted in a Hillary vs. Donald race — until now.
“I was willing to consider voting for him if it was Trump versus Hillary, but now because of the way things have progressed and he has revealed himself as an authoritarian, I don’t think I could vote for him,” said Reinstein, an independent voter. “All the stuff about women — Corey Lewandowski’s assault of Michelle Fields and the way Trump treated Cruz’s wife, and the remark about abortion really sealed it for me … If it’s Trump versus Hillary in the general election I will vote for Hillary, no question, no doubt.”
Though a few Republican women said they would still consider voting for Trump in a primary or a general election, they expressed discomfort over his attacks on Heidi Cruz in particular.
“Although Heidi Cruz is not a former model, I think she’s a beautiful woman,” said Michele Luellen, 45, a homemaker and mother of four from Gibsonia, Pennsylvania. “She is strong, independent, well educated and successful … Retweeting an unflattering picture of her makes Trump look superficial and pompous … and this isn’t very presidential.”
“I felt sorry for Heidi Cruz,” said Sahar Hekmati, 39, of Stockbridge, Georgia, a business owner and president of Conservative Republican Women, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting women’s participation in politics. “That is wrong to have someone take your unflattering picture and stick it next to a picture of a model and Tweet it all over the place. Come on Donald, that is low, low class.”
Hekmati, a married mother of four, added that, as a Republican activist, she and other Conservative women she knows are acquainted with Heidi Cruz’s work in support of her husband and are impressed by her dedication.
“Heidi Cruz is behind the scenes, she participates in helping her husband fundraise, she makes phone calls for her husband,” said Hekmati. “She’s out there asking, working hard to participate in the process and to me that’s impressive. I hate to say it, but Melania sits pretty and that is not reality for most American women.”
Many Conservative women who will head to the polls in Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary, and later in the general election, pride themselves on being career women, and family women — strong, supportive spouses to their husbands, and active, involved homemakers and mothers — more than being glamorous women of leisure.
In other words, they identify a lot more with Heidi Cruz than with Melania Trump.
Be careful, Donald.
Because to paraphrase Shakespeare, hell hath no fury like women scorned.