White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany says her job has been great for her as a working mother. Former campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson says it was great for her as a working mother. “I am one of the not-moms on the staff,” jokes a childless female employee of the Trump Organization.
It’s not hard to imagine why this film was made or who it’s for: This president is more obsessed lately with “Suburban Housewives” than a Liane Moriarty novel. “They talk about the suburban women, and somebody said, ‘I don’t know if the suburban woman likes you,’ ” Trump fretted from the lectern at a rally last week. “Suburban woman! Will you please like me?!”
In a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, likely female voters preferred Biden to Trump by 23 points. Other recent polls have also shown gaps: In swing state Michigan, working class White women narrowly preferred Biden to Trump, 52 percent to 45 percent, according to an NBC News/Marist poll. In a Pew Research Center poll, Hispanic women nationally preferred Biden over Trump by 44 points; Black women by 85.
The same Pew poll found that suburban women — the object of Trump’s pleading fixation — preferred Biden by 19 points.
After Trump’s first presidential debate, a woman participating in a televised panel for undecided voters was asked by veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz to sum up Trump’s performance. In a clip that went viral, the stunned Pennsylvanian said debating Trump was like trying to win an argument with a “crackhead.”
She is now a Biden voter, too.
If the polls are correct and Trump loses, it will be because of women. Women of color in particular, who have never supported Trump. But also late-to-the-potluck White women. Country-above-party Republican women. Grit-your-teeth former Bernie supporters. Women who knitted their pink hats for the Women’s March held the day after Trump’s inauguration back in 2017, who have cringed and sighed their way through endless indignities, and who have never really stopped being furious.
Four Octobers ago America listened to its future president say that because he was a celebrity he could do as he pleased with female strangers, including, “Grab them by the p—y.” That’s the part of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape that got all the attention, but the seldom-cited first part, in which Trump describes his attempt to court a married woman, is revealing in its own way.
“I moved on her very heavily,” Trump tells Billy Bush. “In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture. I moved on her like a b—-.”
The woman was not receptive. But the story still crystallizes what the president apparently considers a skillful seduction of other people’s wives: shopping, decorating, a nonstop orgy of sofas reflecting Trump’s own tastes and assumptions.
Is this what he thinks women want? Is this what he thinks women care about?
The manner in which Trump now is moving on female voters is needy, sweaty and equally transactional. “I saved your damn neighborhood, okay?” he insisted in his plea to suburban women, a grotesquely hyperbolic allusion to his administration’s decision to end an Obama-era rule aimed at ensuring affordable housing and combating racial discrimination.
The women of Trump’s imagination are persuaded by cheap flattery, furniture for their “suburban beautiful ranch-style houses,” and the ghastly promise of segregated neighborhoods.
There was a time when men counted on their housewives to serve as instruments of their own political preferences. For the first several presidential elections following the passage of the 19th Amendment, newly enfranchised women voted much like their husbands. “How will they vote on Election Day?” the pollster George Gallup said of 1940 women. “Just exactly as they were told the night before.”
The first national election gender gap didn’t arrive until 1980, when the Republican Party’s platform transformed into its antiabortion state, sending women away from Ronald Reagan. Since then, there has been no presidential election in which women did not vote for the Democratic candidate at higher rates — or for the Republican candidate at lower rates — than men.
But Trump’s problem with women — or rather, women’s problem with Trump, seems different. This isn’t 1988, when the gender gap was only seven points, or 1992, when it was four.
This feels more like a revolt.
“Women are sick and tired of feeling powerless and bullied,” said a woman from Iowa when I asked people on social media for theories about the Trump gender gap. “We deal with men who ‘know better’ and talk over us all the time in our actual lives and we’re tired of it from him, too.”
“Trump represents a patriarchy who sees me as a threat to his personal way of life,” a Coloradan suggested. “Biden represents a man willing to wake up and admit he has been wrong and will do different going forward.”
Many woman responded with nuts-and-bolts practicalities: “Toxic masculinity is not attractive and is not getting results that women need,” a woman from California offered. “Access to healthcare, appropriate COVID-19 response, stimulus money to provide shelter and put food on the table.”
Again and again, women brought up the omnishambles that they feel Trump has made of the coronavirus response. As a group, women were more likely to work in industries made dangerous by the coronavirus, such as hospitality and retail, and then more likely to lose employment when those industries faltered.
When the pandemic dragged on — becoming a hellscape of not only sickness and death but also home schooling, child care, domestic chaos — women, as America’s default caregivers, were the ones more often asked to put their success on hold to duct-tape their families together. In September, 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study, compared with only 216,000 men.
And there are other datapoints:
The dozen-plus women who have accused the president of sexual misconduct.
The way Trump’s descriptions of women sometimes seem like he thinks of them as cartoon caricatures rather than fellow humans. Stormy Daniels? “Horseface.” Kamala Harris? “Monster.” Nancy Pelosi? “Crazy.”
The rollbacks of reproductive freedom, the rise of the #MeToo movement, the Brett Kavanaugh of it all. The “Lock her up” and “Send her back” and the uncomfortable realization that in Trump’s rally chants, it’s so often a “her” who needs to be punished.
The generalized squickiness. The way Trump’s behaviors simply cannot be squared with the “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” lessons of kindness and empathy that mothers are trying to teach their children at home.
I saved your damn neighborhood, okay?
Women are tired of absorbing the brunt of his failures, as a man and as a president.
They see someone who stokes rancor, who vowed to appoint antiabortion judges, who tried to eliminate equal-pay legislation, whose Cabinet contains only four women to its 19 men, and they hear this president asking: “Suburban woman! Will you please like me?!”
Not all women! There are those who love the man, who see him as a tough protector, or who have convinced themselves that he is a man (or, at least, a tool) of God, or who feel like his latest Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett, is the conservative female role model they’ve waited their whole lives for, or who have fallen for the delusion that Trump is waging a secret war on a sinister cabal of child traffickers.
But it takes two to forge a historic gender gap. For a certain kind of man, Trumpism represents another kind of revolt.
The president’s unfettered macho-ness appeals to some conservative men, who feel slighted by cultural shifts of the past several decades. As my colleague Jenna Johnson put it in her study of White male Trump supporters: “His enemies are their enemies, his grievances are their grievances. They live by the rules he lives by: that concepts such as White-male privilege or structural racism and sexism are to be scoffed at, that the working class, Christians and Trump supporters have been victimized.” And while Trump is definitively less popular among Black men, they also approve of him at higher rates — eight points higher, according to a recent Gallup poll — than Black women do. Trump also tends to poll better among Latino men than women.
Through four years of Trump’s boasting, snarling, lying and refusing to apologize to anyone he’s offended, the men have stuck by their man. The same Washington Post-ABC News poll that found women supporting Biden by 23 points found men supporting both candidates equally, 48 to 48.
“Women are just smarter,” more than one liberal man has suggested to me by way of explanation. But I don’t think that’s it.
Maybe women simply are choosing to look out for their own interests, the way they feel men already do.
As a red-state woman, how long is it sustainable to listen to male relatives protest, “But he’s great on the economy; just ignore the other stuff,” and wonder how it got to the point where your own inherent worth was just other stuff to be ignored?
As a working mom, how long is it sustainable to be told by your president to not let the coronavirus “dominate your life,” while knowing that if things go south, it is exactly your life and livelihood that will be dominated?
Maybe women can tell when they’re being looked out for, and when they’re being moved on by a man who’s looking out for himself.
The gender gap in polls is not just a concept for CNN to mess around with on its Magic Wall on election night. It is indicative of an experience gap in person: Women continue to live very different lives than men, and are seeking politicians who understand that.
In the very end of “The Trump I Know,” Trump himself makes an appearance. He credits himself for presiding over the country’s greatest year ever “other than the plague coming in from China.” He is gently nudged by daughter-in-law Lara to turn the focus to women: how he supports them and what he means for them.
“I’ve always felt a great affection and respect for women,” the president replies. “It’s always been there from Day One. I don’t know, I guess you can develop that, maybe you can’t, but with me it was always there. Whether it was in business or in politics, women have played a very, very big role.”
That last part feels true, though probably not in the way he meant it. For all of the ways Trump has deepened divides or illuminated divides in this country — on race, on religion, on what it means to be a patriot — gender is among the most profound. It’s a major story of the election, a major story of the country, a major story of the society we live in and build every day.
The president’s problem is not that women haven’t been properly introduced to him by Lara Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle in a glossy documentary about the Trump they know.
The problem is that women feel they know him already.
Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit wapo.st/hesse.