Donald Trump has a problem with women and it isn’t the fact that he’s creepy around young, attractive ones. Guess what? A lot of men are creepy around young, attractive women. One of them was elected president in 1992 and left office with sky-high approval ratings.
Trump’s real problem with women, especially the suburban women he’ll need in November, is his temperament and the very real concern among some that he could start a nuclear war. It sounds like an overstatement, but I hear it come up again and again in conversations with female voters and see it in recent polls and focus groups.
“I don’t like Hillary Clinton, but at least I know there would be another four years of Hillary Clinton,” a Republican woman said to me last week. Did she mean Hillary would get re-elected? “No, I mean the world would still exist after four years of Hillary Clinton. Can we say that about Donald Trump?”
This Fox News-watching, Christian conservative disliked Hillary Clinton enormously, but she couldn’t imagine putting Trump in the White House. Trump just felt unsafe.
Here are other bits of my conversations with women on front porches, in carpool lines, and in worried texts about the election in Red State America: “He has no self control. Is he really going to get the bomb?” “Does he have Tourette’s or just not care what people think of him?” “As a Christian mom, I am horrified by what Trump says and does.” “If he’ll fight with the Pope, what about Putin?”
These women have little to no affection for Hillary Clinton. They don’t trust her. Several called her a liar and said they’d pick Trump over Clinton if it meant keeping the Clintons out of the White House for another term. But many feel fundamentally unsettled by the idea of Donald Trump as president. In any other year, most would rather vote for a Republican. This year, they’re not so sure.
A recent NBC News focus group with Republican women in Pennsylvania picked up on the same theme. “As a woman, I don’t think [Hillary Clinton] represents my interests,” a young woman told Kasie Hunt. “But as somebody leading this country, I do think she is safe. Donald Trump to me is very unpredictable.”
The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll confirms Clinton’s relative advantage over Trump among the same type of voters, namely suburban women who typically break for Republicans in presidential elections. The poll showed Clinton winning the group by 10 points, while Mitt Romney won them by 14 points in 2012. These women weren’t wild about Clinton — she had a 50 percent unfavorable rating among them, but 67 percent also disapproved of Trump.
Democrats are well aware of the opportunity they have in a dynamic where independent and suburban women are torn between picking a woman they don’t trust and a man whose presidency they could eventually fear. Democratic campaign spokespeople have begun dropping buzzwords like “risky” and “dangerous” to describe Trump. New ads drive home the idea that Trump would be an unstable commander-in-chief.
The issues I rarely hear from women deciding between Trump and Clinton are the gender-oriented themes that Clinton seems to return to again and again — the “woman card,” the wage gap, her speech in Beijing about women’s rights, and the fact that Clinton would be the first woman ever elected to the presidency. Also, while I hear deep worry over Trump’s insults toward immigrants, the disabled and even his own Republican rivals, I hardly ever hear concern about about whether or not Trump is misogynist or philanderer.
The Trump-as-womanizer idea is already baked into the cake with him. Instead, they are evaluating Trump for his leadership, his trustworthiness, and whether their future and their children’s future will be better or worse, more secure or less secure, in Trump’s America. The long-promised “more presidential” Donald Trump could go a long way toward making these women side with him.
But every time he mocks a rival like John Kasich for the way he eats, tweets that an evangelical leader is “a nasty guy with no heart” because he won’t support Trump, or predicts he can’t work with British Prime Minister David Cameron because Cameron criticized him in an interview, Trump reinforces doubts among a crucial portion of the electorate that is trying to tell him something he clearly doesn’t want to hear — that they don’t want a leader, or a commander-in-chief, who conducts himself the way Donald Trump has so far this election cycle.
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.
Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.