Next month’s mid-term elections will decide the fate of the president. And it is America’s women who look like they will have the final say. PAUL CONNEW reports
Donald Trump has a serious problem with women.
Next month’s mid-term elections are being played out as America’s gender wars reach a crescendo. And while the president may have triumphed over a female candidate in 2016, this time around his party seems destined to come unstuck.
Trump’s escalating unpopularity among female voters is causing mounting alarm among Republican strategists, who calculate that it is this demographic which will consign the party to devastating defeat in the battle for the House of Representatives. Worse, their private polling suggests that the Senate – previously seen as safe – could now be vulnerable because of the female backlash.
The election campaign is being fought against a backdrop of not just the melodrama surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination but also the continuing #MeToo movement, not to mention the string of sex scandal allegations and pay-offs involving the president himself. And in this climate, the Republicans are clearly suffering.
The movement ‘against Trump’ – and, by extension, the Republicans – is most pronounced among those college-educated, white women who helped install him in the White House in 2016. Yet it goes further, albeit at a slower rate, extending into the ranks of blue-collar, non-college educated white women, even in some of the big Midwestern battleground states – such as Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – that effectively decided the result two years ago. Some of the secret polling for the Republicans suggests that the party could lose up to half of its female voters in these areas.
The picture gets worse for the GOP election machine, with all indications being that Trump’s misogynistic and racist image looks guaranteed to mobilise record levels of voter turnout among female Democrats, and persuade black and Hispanic women, who often shun the mid-terms, to cast their vote this time on the basis of their instinctive revulsion over the president’s personality and behaviour.
Recent mainstream polls have been indicating that around 60% of women now plan to vote Democrat in November, with the potential to swing many urban and suburban white collar districts away from the Republicans. Sources suggest GOP private polling puts it closer to 70%.
Current polling also reveals a higher percentage of women than men determined to vote next month. Yet even among men, signs are emerging of a slight, but significant, shift against the GOP among moderate, college-educated, urban Republican male voters. The party’s researchers are worried that, in some urban areas, there is evidence that women are encouraging the men in their lives, who favoured Trump in 2016, to vote Democrat this time, or at least stay at home.
Other numbers don’t look good for the Republicans either: Just 15% of their candidates up for election are women, compared with close to 40% for the Democrats. Across the US, there is a growing perception that the ‘gender wars’ could really stack up as a decisive factor in the mid-terms and beyond, in the 2020 presidential election.
Certainly GOP election analysts are quietly stepping up their own assessments of how much the horrifically-compelling, televised Capitol Hill hearing involving Kavanaugh and his high school sexual assault accuser, Professor Christine Blasey Ford, has had an impact on women voters in particular.
Early polls have indicated that a majority of Americans found her account more credible than his. After initially hailing Kavanaugh’s performance before the Senate judicial panel as ‘showing America exactly why I nominated him’, even Trump himself is reputedly getting nervous. Partly, it’s suggested, because influential ‘First Daughter’ Ivanka has privately come out against Kavanaugh to her father.
The White House jitters, with the mid-term ballot in mind, increased when a distinguished professor, who studied with Kavanaugh at Yale, told the FBI the judge had ‘blatantly’ lied under oath to the Senate panel when he denied being a heavy drinker. Professor Charles Ludington, a senior academic at North Carolina State University, also told investigators Kavanaugh was often ‘belligerent and aggressive’ in drink and could black out with little recall of his behaviour afterwards. It was a depiction of the Supreme Court nominee’s character far closer to that of Ford’s, and the two other women accusing Kavanaugh of serious historical sex abuse, than the judge’s own version of his personality and his past.
Ultimately, Kavanaugh’s fate – and with it Trump’s pledge to leave a legacy of loading the Supreme Court with a conservative majority – probably hangs on the courage of the half-dozen GOP senators harbouring serious misgivings over the nomination. They include Jeff Flake, whose last-minute intervention forced a probe into the issue by the FBI, and two pro-abortion senators, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. Will any of them pluck up the courage to defy partisan party politics and vote down Kavanaugh’s nomination when it comes before the full Senate for confirmation?
But while the doubts have grown inside the White House, the nightmare for the president and the GOP hierarchy is that it’s now too late to try and replace Kavanaugh with a new nominee before the mid-term elections – and a Capitol Hill controlled by the Democrats would hardly confirm any conservative candidate put forward by Trump.
Losing Congress would also make it difficult for Trump to push through much of his flagship domestic agenda and fulfil his divisive campaign boasts. Losing the Senate would effectively render him a lame-duck president – not an easy position for a fragile ego to be in.
A heavy Republican defeat would also, inevitably, increase the odds on the Democrats moving to impeach the president and protect the probe being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller, into alleged Russian meddling in the US election. It would require a two-thirds majority to sanction impeachment, but if Mueller’s report does prove damning it would create immense pressure on moderate, Trump-sceptic Republican senators to ally with Democrats to bring down their president, in a replay of Nixon and the Watergate scandal.
It is a big if, however. But there are growing rumours on Capitol Hill that there is fresh women trouble looming for Trump on this front. The president’s former personal lawyer and ‘fixer’ Michael Cohen – who has pleaded guilty to violating finance laws during the 2016 election – has quietly flipped fully and is apparently telling Mueller’s team about sex scandal hush money pay-offs to several women, over and above the well-publicised ones featuring porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Meanwhile Cohen is also believed to be co-operating with Mueller over details of alleged dealings between the Trump family business empire and Russian financial figures close to the Kremlin, spanning several years prior to his run for the White House.
To add to Trump’s woes is the new threat posed by another woman, Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former contestant on The Apprentice he appointed the most senior black woman in his administration but with whom – in a familiar pattern for this administration – he has since fallen out. Although Omarosa is a self-obsessed drama queen with a reputation for lying to rival that of the president himself, Trump’s tweeted dismissal of her as a ‘dog’ not only outraged millions of women but rattled GOP election strategists aware of the growing power of the #MeToo movement and its ability to influence the female vote. But it’s the racist ‘N-word’, on top of the gender issue, that has GOP chiefs in a blue funk behind the election scenes. Despite White House denials, word has reached the Republican hierarchy from independent sources that Omarosa’s claims in her book, Unhinged – that a tape in which Trump several times used the N-word during filming of the reality show – really does exist.
And they have been warned that it’s in the possession of anti-Trump elements who plan to strategically release it – like a political neutron bomb – to devastating effect either on the eve of the November mid-term vote or, perhaps more likely, ahead of Trump making a re-election run in 2020.