Brown: How do you solve a problem like Trump?

Author: Debbie Brown - July 2, 2016 - Updated: July 2, 2016

Debbie Brown
Debbie Brown

In November of 2012, President Barack Obama won the women’s vote by a 55 percent to 44 percent margin over Mitt Romney. While Romney won men 52 percent to 45 percent in the same election, his inability to overcome an eleven-point gap among women cost him the election and with it the presidency.

Women pick winners. Not only do women comprise a majority of the voting-eligible American electorate, they consistently exercise their right to vote in significantly greater numbers than their male counterparts. Interestingly, Colorado was the only swing state that lacked a significant gender gap among total voters in 2012, but even with that relative parity, women swept President Obama to a 50-45 percent victory in the state.

Put simply, in order to win a presidential election, a candidate must perform strongly with women voters. There’s no way around it.

On a purely superficial level, the dynamics of the 2016 election seem favorable for a Republican victory. Even as President Obama’s approval ratings have ticked upwards in recent months, nearly seven-in-10 Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Couple that with the nation’s tepid economic growth and increasing vulnerability in matters of national security, and it would be hard to argue that a huge swath of American voters are not up for grabs.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s struggles to gain even enthusiastic support from the general public, and even members of her own party, are well documented. Clinton enjoys the lowest favorability ratings of a Democratic Party nominee in the recent history of polling. It has been suggested that in a year like this, the Republican Party could have nominated someone with the name “Generic Republican” and walked to victory in November.

Republican primary voters, of course, had other ideas.

Donald J. Trump, a force of personality never before seen in American politics, steamrolled through 15 well qualified rivals to unofficially secure the Republican nomination last month. His decidedly non-traditional methods of campaigning caught his rivals and the pundits who cover politics off-guard. Objectively speaking, his political success to date is unprecedented and impressive.

But storm clouds are brewing. While Clinton is the least liked Democratic nominee in recent times, Trump has the lowest favorability ratings of any major-party candidate in history. A recent poll by Bloomberg Politics revealed that only 32 percent of Americans view the brash businessman positively.

Among women, it’s even worse. A staggering 77 percent of American women view Trump unfavorably according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Given the undeniable importance of performing well among women voters, it does not require a political scientist’s analysis to surmise that Trump would be in deep trouble if the election were held today.

How did things get so bad for Trump among women? In almost every case, his wounds were self-inflicted. From mocking a disabled reporter, to saying disparaging things about various minorities, to criticizing Sen. John McCain’s military service, to screaming obscenities in front of children at campaign rallies, to attacking a Fox News reporter about her menstrual cycle, Trump’s knack for outlandish behavior has made it increasingly difficult for American voters, and especially women voters, to rally to his cause.

All of these anecdotes add up to a broader problem for Trump: many women simply do not believe him to be “presidential.” In the arena of politics, perception is often reality, whether or not it is fair. As John Fund of the National Review opined, “When you see Trump acting ‘presidential,’ just wait five minutes.”

In sum, Trump has dug himself a deep hole with America’s most crucial voting bloc. The question now is simple: Can he do anything at this point to win back a sufficient share of women voters so as to be competitive this fall?

The answer to that, as with seemingly every big picture political question this year, is “Who knows?” This election cycle has political experts befuddled.

In light of the recent Brexit vote, perhaps we should take a look across the pond as a precursor to November. Polling reportedly got it wrong as Brits who supported an exit from the European Union were perhaps embarrassed by their vote and didn’t want to risk being labeled as bigots. And, yet they voted for change – and in a “huge” way.

In the United States, parallels exist. Faced with a stalemate on meaningful immigration policy, angst about security issues within our own borders, an increasing frustration with politics-as-usual, and a sense of being left behind by the economic recovery, one thing is clear about voters: ‘outsiderism’ is appealing. The notion that Trump will stomp into Washington, D.C. and say “you’re fired” to careerists and political bureaucrats from both parties might draw large appeal, regardless of gender.

Debbie Brown

Debbie Brown

Debbie Brown is a political consultant and director of Colorado Women’s Alliance. www.coloradowomensalliance.org.