Donald Trump’s “misogynist” comments about women continue to make headlines. First the current 2016 GOP presidential front-runner took heat for remarks made in conjunction with his reality show The Apprentice where he made inappropriate comments about women”. Then, he famously took heat again during the August 6 Republican debate when Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly asked him tough questions about these comments including those specific to comedian Rosie O’Donnell. Trump’s exchange with Kelly reached a critical boil after the debate when Trump told CNN that Kelly came at him during the debate with “blood coming out of her eyes” and “blood coming out of her wherever”. After the Trump-Kelly war of the words had simmered down, Trump found himself having yet again more “female trouble”.
This time the subject of his attack was none other than fellow GOP candidate Carly Fiorina. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Trump said of Fiorina “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” Trump tried to walk back this barb by saying that he was not criticizing Ms. Fiorina’s appearance. Rather he was calling out her lackluster performance as CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
However, the damage was done. The media and the other candidates went ballistic saying that Trump’s criticism of Fiorina’s personal appearance was inappropriate and mean spirited. Fiorina, for her part, took the jabs in her stride. She attributed Trump’s attack as indicative that due to her rise in the polls, “she was getting under his skin”. Then the only woman in the GOP race one-upped Trump by tweeting, “I think I know when someone’s flirting with me.”
Interestingly enough Trump’s stock among female voters continues to grow. Trump’s support among female voters in the GOP is currently 33% , 13 points above last month. What is it about Trump? Why are women so interested in his campaign? Why are they willing to give him a pass for his past behavior? Perhaps, the intelligent woman focuses on Trump’s past business accomplishments and his perceived ability to bring new solutions and brain-trust talent to the administration. Furthermore, his out of the box ideas such as building a wall to keep out illegal immigrants are really resonating with women. Women like the fact that he says what he thinks and lets the chips fall where they may. And while this brusque approach may not necessarily make for polite cocktail party chatter, it certainly makes headlines. And frankly, all Donald Trump cares about is making headlines and engaging potential voters.
By contrast, Carly Fiorina is not gaining much traction among GOP women. She is only carrying 3% of the female vote. Why aren’t women going for Carly in droves? After all, she is accomplished, having proven her metal in the board room. She is also very articulate on the talk show and stump speech circuits. What ingredient is missing? Fiorina’s biggest problem may be that Republican women are not focused on identity politics. They want results. And women and men alike are questioning Carly’s performance as CEO at HP. Many say that she was a dreadful CEO who caused the company’s share value to plummet. She is also accused of making numerous misguided decisions about line of business purchases, and of course no one liked the fact that she handed out 30,000 pink slips during her tenure.
Republican women are very practical. They tend to be more about facts and figures than emotion. While women may think it appalling that Donald Trump made an offensive comment about Carly Fiorina’s appearance and denigrated John McCain’s war hero status, they are going to look past these comments if they perceive Trump as having the intelligence, the negotiating skills and the bravado to lead the country.
As far as Fiorina goes, the same rules apply. Women will look at her extremely objectively. And while we may love her moxie, we aren’t going to vote for her just because she is a woman. We will vote for the candidate whom we perceive to be best equipped to lead the country on day one in the Oval Office. Right now according to the polls that person appears to be Donald Trump.
But Carly Fiorina has demonstrated incredible resilience on the campaign trail. She won the respect of many voters when she successfully fought back against CNN’s published qualification rules for the September 16 debate which would have excluded her from the main stage. Fiorina’s latest come back to Trump clearly shows that she is one tough cookie. And if she hits another home run at the Debate, she should experience another jump in the polls including a rise among women voters. But again, it is all about persuasion and perception. Carly needs to convince women and men that she has the “right stuff” to be President. The ball is in her court.