There is a big obstacle between Trump and winning reelection in 2020: women.
Trump eked out a victory in 2016, despite losing the popular vote by 3 million votes, with support from just 41% of women. Things have not improved. A POLITICO poll conducted earlier this month found just 37% of women approve — and 59% disapprove — of Trump's performance as president.
A recent ABC poll found that Trump lags far behind the four leading Democratic presidential candidates among women, trailing Biden (-20), Harris (-15), Sanders (-13), and Warren (-11).
It's not hard to understand why Trump is particularly unpopular with members of the opposite sex. Trump has been accused of sexually assaulting more than a dozen women, and others continue to come forward. Last week, the writer E. Jean Carroll alleged Trump raped her in 1996. As president, he has launched a full-scale assault on women's reproductive rights. Currently, just three women serve in Trump's cabinet — a low last reached three decades ago in the George H.W. Bush administration.
So the Trump campaign has launched a pink and purple counter-offensive. Last week it launched a "Women for Trump" initiative to court the female vote.
What's the Trump administration's pitch? The public website has little information. But Popular Information has uncovered targeted Facebook ads that lay out the Trump campaign's case to women in detail. In many cases, it's a drastically different message than Trump conveys to the general public.
Trump as a champion of gun control
In an April 2019 speech to the NRA, Trump presented himself as an uncompromising defender of gun rights. He said that the way to make America safer is to give more people access to guns.
Every day, citizens across America exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves, their families, and their communities. That's a constitutional right. They want to take it away from you. They will take it away. You let these maniacs get into office, they will take that right away...We know that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Trump's record on guns matches this rhetoric.
Federal law bans anyone who is a "fugitive from justice" from owning a firearm. For years, this meant that anyone with an outstanding arrest warrant was not legally allowed to possess a gun. Trump narrowed the definition of "fugitive from justice" to people who: "(1) fled a state, and (2) did so with the purpose of avoiding prosecution, and (3) were subject to imminent criminal prosecution."
Trump purged 500,000 records from the federal background check system concerning individuals considered "fugitives from justice." Only about 2300 have been restored.
Trump rolled back an Obama-era rule that would have made it more difficult for people with severe mental illness to purchase guns.
Trump threatened to veto legislation that would have expanded background checks to "all sales and transfers of firearms" and extended the background check review "from three to 10 days."
"Women for Trump," however, don't hear about any of this. Instead, they are presented with ads claiming that Trump enacted policies to "improve the federal background check system and keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals."
The ad refers to legislation that was tacked onto a March 2018 spending bill. It encouraged state governments to upload records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System more consistently. The bill sets aside a modest amount of funding ($125 million) to encourage states to do so.
But the legislation does not fix the fundamental problems with the background check system and is dwarfed by the regulatory steps Trump has taken that make it easier for criminals to obtain guns.
Trump as a supporter of patient protections established by Obamacare
In March, the Trump administration signed onto a lawsuit, initially filed by Republican state attorneys general, that seeks to invalidate Obamacare in its entirety. The lawsuit is based on an absurd legal theory but, so far, is advancing through the court system.
If the lawsuit is successful, it would completely undo Obamacare, including the law's protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Trump has also supported legislation that would have the same effect — repealing Obamacare with no replacement.
"Women for Trump," however, are told the exact opposite. A Facebook ad claims, "President Trump supports protecting patients with pre-existing conditions."
It's unclear what Trump means by "increasing health care choice for individuals," but he has supported efforts to allow insurance companies to offer "junk plans" that provide insufficient coverage to people who get sick.
Trump's plan for "paid" family leave
Other Facebook ads targeting women claim that Trump has a "plan" to give new parents "6-weeks of paid leave to care for their newborn child." Sounds great, right?
When most people think about "paid" parental leave, they think of leave that is paid either by their employer or the government. That is not what Trump is proposing.
Trump's proposal, which has been spearheaded by his daughter Ivanka and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), is to allow parents to pay for their own leave by reducing their Social Security benefits. The presumption is that people have excess retirement resources which they can shift earlier into life. But people are already struggling to make ends meet in retirement.
Worse, the proposal is the first step in transforming Social Security into "a private account that can be borrowed against rather than what it actually is, a social insurance program to protect against risks that can befall all workers – aging, disability, or death."
Trump's economic message for women
Other Trump Facebook ads targeting women tout the strength of the job market, noting that there are 75.3 million women in the workforce, and unemployment is at an all-time low. This is the strongest argument in his arsenal and something the eventual Democratic nominee will have to address.
How much credit Trump should get for these aggregate indicators is up for debate.
While employment has increased for women since Trump became president, the gains are extensions of trends that started long before Trump assumed office.
While job growth during the Trump administration has been strong, it represents a slowdown from the Obama administration. During the first 29 months of the Trump administration, 5.613 million were added jobs added to the economy. Over the last 29 months on the Obama administration, 6.423 million jobs were added, about 810,000 more.
The first rule of the "Women for Trump" club
The first rule of the "Women for Trump" club: Never talk about Trump's tweets. Or anything else he says.
In a Fox News interview promoting "Women for Trump," Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, blamed the media for focusing on the things Trump tweets and says. "[T]he thing that’s disconcerting about the media [is] they want to focus on the tweeting and the rhetoric," McDaniel said.
Lara Trump, the president's daughter-in-law and campaign adviser, also encouraged female voters to forget about what Trump says on Twitter and elsewhere. "You don’t have to agree with everything that Donald Trump tweets. You don’t have to agree with the way that he delivers every single message. But you sure as heck are going to like the fact that you have a bit of a better life now thanks to this president," Lara Trump told a crowd at a "Women for Trump" event.
Since he announced his candidacy, Trump has tweeted that Megyn Kelly is a "bimbo," that Mika Brzezinski has a "low I.Q." and that he once saw her "bleeding badly from a face-lift," that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand came to his office and said she would "do anything" for a campaign donation, and that Stormy Daniels, the adult film star he paid $130,000 to deny she had an affair with him, had a "horseface."
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