It has been a year and a half since Donald Trump was elected president. His administration has been the most contentious, unorthodox, and outspoken in living memory, and we have yet to get over his outrageousness. The news media is obsessed with him, and coverage of him—whether it be his policy or his personal affairs—is constant. This is not surprising given that Trump gives them so much material: since his inauguration, he has tweeted 6,695 times. And yet there are still many questions to be asked about this presidency.
The primary one is this: how is he doing as president? When this question is put to voters, they give a telling answer. As of November 1, Trump has a only a 37 percent approval rating with a 59 percent disapproval rating, setting him at a historic low for a first-term president. As of May 14, 2018, his approval rating has improved only slightly to 42 percent, with a 53 percent disapproval rating. His ratings were not always this poor, however: prior to his inauguration, he had a 61 percent approval rating.
So who is it that is dragging Trump’s ratings down? Women. As of January, he has a 58 percent disapproval rating with women (compared to 46 percent disapproval rating with men.) This is not surprising given that Trump never polled well with women. The demographic we need to focus on, however, is white women, because they were a key piece in the shocking results of the 2016 election. However, they are the demographic that is deserting him now. 52 percent of white women gave him their votes, but they seem to have changed their tune. As of April 2018, his approval rating amongst women had fallen to 35%.
This raises a difficult question: what changed? What makes Trump less appealing to women now than he was before the campaign? He does appear to be attempting to fulfill his campaign promises. For example, he has signed an order to keep Guantanamo Bay open, slashed federal regulations and imposed an (almost) 10 percent repatriation tax on companies keeping their income overseas. If we put aside the question of whether or not these are good things for the country, it is fair to say that he was, in fact, sincere about these promises.
If his policies are not the issue, why are women specifically jumping off the Trump train? For that, we need to look to incidents and issues that women would be particularly sensitive to. There was, of course, the moment where Trump appeared to be hitting on Brigitte Macron or when he told the Irish prime minister about Irish reporter Catriona Perry’s “nice smile” over the phone. But evidence of Trump’s blatant sexism is nothing new. The Billy Bush tape and fifteen sexual assault allegations made against him made it quite clear prior to the election that Trump has a major misogyny issue.
This is where I get stuck: not only can I not understand why women who support Trump supported him in the first place, I can’t understand why they are changing their minds about them. Why would women continue to support a misogynist? The only thing to do was to ask them.
In order to find these women, I went onto Twitter and looked up the hashtag “#womenwhovotetrump.”I reached out to over a hundred women for interviews over the course of several months. Approximately twenty replied but only three actually performed the interview. Given that 64 percent of Americans believe that the media favors the Democrats, and that only 11 percent of Republicans trust national news organizations, it is understandable that conservative women would be hesitant to answer questions from a reporter about their politics. However, discourse is the only way in which we can bring our country back to a healthy level of partisanship, so I have the utmost respect and admiration for the three women who spoke with me. Each woman gave thoughtful answers and, despite the fact that we were on opposite ends of the political spectrum, all the women were extremely supportive of this article and, by extension, of me as a young, female journalist.
The first woman I spoke to was Katie Zakrzewski, a student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She supported Trump in 2016 as a businessman who would shake up the establishment and continues to support him as he has delivered on his promises. She cites that “he’s added trillions back to the net worth of the American economy, has declared war on human trafficking, has begun plans for building the border wall, has created 1.2 million new jobs, and under Trump, we’ve seen the Dow reach several historic highs. If it weren’t for Democratic obstruction (and sometimes Republican obstruction) there’s no telling just how much more Trump would have accomplished.” When I asked her about Trump’s comments on women, she admitted that they worried her. “I saw President Trump’s comments about women to be very problematic, and I was swayed by them,” she said. “But after hearing Trump’s very sincere apology, as well as how he has changed his views and how he plans to make things better going forward, I accepted Trump’s apology and supported him heartily once more . . . In my opinion, Trump has empowered many women, such as Kellyanne Conway, and his daughter Ivanka. Regardless, Trump apologized for his shortcomings earnestly. I don’t want a perfect President. I want a President who can acknowledge his shortcomings and grow from them—and I believe President Trump has done just that.”
The second woman I spoke to was Lea Luckner, who is part of an Air Force family and has a nephew who died in combat with the Taliban under the Obama administration. In her words, “I’m about safety.” She attributes the death of her nephew to the fact that President Obama was not sending enough soldiers to the Middle East and that he was too sympathetic to Middle Easterners to the detriment of his own citizens’ safety, particularly in opening up American borders to refugees. In this election, Trump was the obvious choice for her. “I wanted someone who was going to keep our country safe,” she said. “People say he’s going to take us to war—well, we’ve been at war forever.” She also noted that she voted for Obama in 2008 and in 2012 and was let down both times. About America’s military presence in the Middle East, she said, “If you’re against it, go to the Middle East and see.” Luckner also believes that “Obamacare screwed military families.”
When I questioned her about Trump’s comments about women, she stated that she believed all powerful men, including Obama, participated in “locker room talk” and that it was unfair to villainize Trump and not the others. When I asked her about the pending sexual harassment lawsuits, she said, “If he raped anyone, he should be in jail,” but that should only occur if there were credible evidence. In wrapping up her interview, she told me that the one takeaway she wanted me to have was that I should not believe the polls as she believed they did not accurately represent the opinions of Republicans in this country.
The third woman I spoke to goes by Ollie Renee. She voted for Trump because “he is sincere and he loves his country—he always has.” She believes that he has fulfilled his promises as much as he could. When I asked her if Trump’s comments on women were problematic and had changed her opinion of him, she said “no, it didn't and it wouldn't change my mind anyway because he's employed more women in key office positions than any other president. It also wouldn't affect his ability to govern.”
I was interested to know how these women reacted to Trump’s disrespect towards women, because, to me, that immediately made him unsupportable. Time and time again, Trump has made it clear that to him, women are worth little more than the way they look; we are not people to him in the way that men are. Every college boy who drugs a girl at a party, every boss who takes advantage of his power over a female co-worker, every sexual harasser, molester, or rapist finds implicit justification in Trump, who is living proof that it’s fine to partake in rape culture so long as you have other things going for you. Most Trump supporters would claim to oppose rape culture, but there seems to be cognitive dissonance between their beliefs and the way they cast their ballots. So many people who are proud to have Trump as president would be ashamed to have him as a son.
I would never tell a woman to vote for a woman on the sole basis of her gender. I would, however, tell a woman that because she is a woman, she should not vote for any person that disrespects women. If someone were trying to tear down your house with his bare hands, you wouldn’t hand him a sledgehammer. I find this lack of respect for women present in Trump’s pro-life stance as well. Our bodies are our most basic form of property; it is an intimate part of the self. So when men like Trump dictate what women can and cannot do with their bodies, especially when it comes to something as life-altering as having a child, the root of this is that men do not think women should have the power to make such a significant choice. It comes from the same vein of logic that denied women the right to vote, property rights, etc. for centuries. It is about men believing that ultimately, women are theirs to control. That is as wrong now as it was then -- our President just doesn’t seem to understand that. And he is not alone. Trump has made his sexism clear in his comments and actions. But pro-life politicians who do have filters—and all wombless men who presume to understand the choices a woman may make—evince the same disrespect. My hope as 2020 approaches is that women will support a candidate that respects them.
I wanted to get my interviewees’ take on this issue; I was curious if reproductive rights were as fundamental to them as they are to me and to see how Trump’s stance on reproductive rights might have influenced how they voted. Katie Zakrzewski told me, “As a devout Roman Catholic and a moderate Conservative, I am very pro-life.” She cited her belief that life begins at conception as a justification for her view that abortion is morally wrong. She also noted, “If we want more people to be pro-life, we need to amend the adoption system and the foster care program in this country—those systems are absolutely broken, and none of the people who claim to be pro-life seem to be trying to fix them.” Ollie Renee acknowledges that she was, at one point, pro-choice, but now, due to moral, emotional and spiritual reasons, is pro-life.
Pro-choice, to me, means that we can all stick to our beliefs. Women who believe it is immoral or sacrilegious to abort a fetus need never choose to undergo the procedure. The operative piece of the pro-choice argument is the choice: a woman can always choose what she does or does not do with her body but she can never mandate what another woman does. Thus, while I respect these women and am grateful to them for debating me, I believe that the pro-choice world is the only one in which women get the bodily autonomy, rights and respect that any person deserves.
I believe there is a direct and undeniable connection between Trump’s treatment of women and the GOP’s decades-long war against reproductive rights. Whether it be grabbing a woman by her genitals or telling her what she can and can’t do with her womb, there is a common thread of men feeling entitled to control a woman’s body. This archaic attitude has plagued women and modern politics prove it is very much alive in America.
Initially, when I set out to find women who—I thought—were deserting Trump, I wanted to ask if they had come to the same conclusion or, at least, saw merit in my argument. Instead, I found women who still staunchly support Trump, although it is entirely despite his attitude towards women. In fact, they were very much for the empowerment of women; for the most part, they either did not believe the allegations against Trump or outweighed them with what they believed he could do for this country. But as the 2018 congressional elections and the 2020 presidential election approach, I hope that American women -- Republican, Democrat or Independent alike -- can bear this in mind: Ladies, we deserve to be respected, supported, protected and promoted by our government and by our president—in other words, we deserve so much better.* While comprehensive data is scarce, reportedly, almost all late-term abortions happen because of severe or fatal fetal abnormalities or because the mother’s life is in peril.
Lucy Ritzmann is a first year prospective Political Science major interested in political media and law. Last summer, she interned at the Manhattan Borough President's Office. For winter quarter, she is a Fellow's Ambassador at the IOP. In her free time, she enjoys being with her friends and zumba.