Republicans have used the GOP convention this week to appeal directly to female voters, seeking to present President Trump as an advocate for women as he faces a significant gender gap in his battle for reelection against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
The convention has featured a parade of female GOP speakers who have sought to paint a softer portrait of Trump as a president who empowers and supports the women in his own life. A video displayed during Wednesday’s convention championed the women’s suffrage movement and highlighted Trump’s offer of a posthumous pardon last week to women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony in marking the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
The party has sought out suburban women voters in particular, preaching a message of law and order amid protests and riots taking place in Kenosha, Wis., after the police shooting of a Black man named Jacob Blake, while warning of a dystopian alternative should the Democratic ticket prevail.
Vice President Pence warned ominously during his keynote speech Wednesday that Americans “won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America” and called for “law and order” on the streets of American cities.
On Monday, the convention featured remarks from Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a St. Louis couple who went viral after brandishing guns in front of Black Lives Matter protesters, who echoed Trump in offering the extreme prediction that Democrats would “abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family home zoning.”
“It may be dark to some people, but this is a fact of a situation that occurred with the McCloskeys,” said former Florida lieutenant governor and Maggie’s List spokeswoman Jennifer Carroll.
“Although we look at it from a distance that these uprisings and riots and looting and damage to government and private property and businesses are just in the city, these things are going to be migrating into the suburban sectors if it’s not stopped at its core,” she said.
Still, there is much skepticism among GOP strategists that Trump’s effort to paint the suburbs as under threat from Democrats will stick with women. Trump has referred to suburban women as “housewives” and specifically highlighted his decision to revoke an Obama-era fair housing rule that aimed to end racial discrimination in housing.
“Trump thinks that his best way to win suburban voters is to argue that a Biden victory would ruin suburban life as we know it. I am skeptical that that message will resonate, in part because the suburbs are much more diverse than they were a generation ago,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked as communications director on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign.
Republican strategists also point to the generational change, which could pose an uphill climb for Trump, with a new wave of young families moving to the neighborhoods.
“The word ‘law and order’ does not have the negative connotation it might have to a younger generation, or to a suburbanite family who may have a young kid,” said one Republican strategist, referring to the generational divide that exists in attitudes toward policing.
It’s no secret that Trump has faced headwinds with women since 2016, when his campaign was roiled in the eleventh hour with the release of a tape of the now-president bragging to an “Access Hollywood” host in 2005 about grabbing women’s genitals. Trump has gone on to engage in demeaning and misogynistic personal attacks against women throughout his time in office.
A slew of female speakers this week have tried to counter the image of Trump displayed in the media.
First lady Melania Trump painted her husband as an “authentic person who loves this country” and wants to keep Americans safe. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany spoke about how Trump was one of the people to call her and offer support after she underwent a double mastectomy.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, due to leave her position in the coming days, discussed how Trump has elevated women to positions of power in his business and in government, including giving her the title of campaign manager in 2016.
“He confides in and consults us, respects our opinions, and insists that we are on equal footing with the men,” Conway said.
Those tracking the polls say that a key part of Trump’s strategy to win over women needs to be improving the perception of his handling of the coronavirus, of which wide swaths of Americans currently disapprove. Women have viewed the government’s handling of the pandemic more negatively than men, and they are more concerned about its impact, said Daniel Cox, a research fellow in polling and public opinion at the American Enterprise Institute.
“If women voters view Trump as not being able to handle it or that he’s totally botched the response, I don’t see them supporting him,” said Cox.
Cox noted that there are also significant variations in how Trump fares with different groups of women. He trails Biden by 29 points among unmarried women, according to a recent Pew Research Center Survey, but has a slight 2-point lead among married women, a group that Republicans usually win by a significant margin.
“It’s not a great place for a Republican incumbent to be at this stage of the game,” Cox said.
There is also skepticism about the impact Trump will have down the ballot. Republicans will need a net gain of 20 seats to win back the majority in the House, and if 2018 is any indicator, they will likely face an uphill climb with white, suburban women voters in particular.
Forty-nine percent of white women voted for Democrats in House races in 2018, up from 43 percent in 2016. On top of that, the number of Republican women serving in the House declined in 2018, while Democrats saw a groundswell of women from their ranks sworn into Congress.
Republicans appear to be making progress on that front. Data released in May by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University showed 195 Republican women running in House races this year. That's up from a previous record of 133 during the Tea Party wave in 2010.
The party highlighted these efforts by having rising star Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who has worked to recruit Republican women to run for office, address the convention on Wednesday evening.
"Our support for President Trump is stronger than ever before," Stefanik said in her convention speech. "We know what’s at stake in this historic election. Americans from all walks of life are unified in support of our president. It's why more Republican women than ever are running for office this year."
"We understand that this election is a choice between the far-left democratic socialist agenda versus protecting and preserving the American dream," she added.
But polling paints a different picture. An NPR-PBS Newshour-Marist poll released last month showed Trump’s disapproval rating among suburban women at 66 percent, with 58 percent saying they “strongly” disapproved of the job he’s doing.
Rep. Tom Emmer (Minn.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told The Hill’s Bob Cusack earlier this week that the polls are not accurately portraying the situation on the ground in the suburbs.
Emmer cited Republican Mike Garcia’s victory in California’s 25th District earlier this year, marking the first time in over 20 years that Republicans reclaimed a Democratic-held House seat in California. Former Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) won the district in 2018 as a part of the wave of freshman female lawmakers coming to Capitol Hill.
“We have now 43 Democrats sitting in seats that are actually positioned better for our Republican candidates than that one in California-25, and we only need 17 to flip the House, so I’m still very bullish on it,” he said.
Source: Julia Manchester