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Steve and Cokie Roberts: The real Women’s March

Cokie and Steve Roberts • Updated Feb 20, 2018 at 4:00 PM

Tamika Mallory, an African-American who leads the national Women’s March, declared at a rally in Las Vegas last month: “Stand up for me, white women ... You say you want to be my friend? I don’t want to hear it from your mouth. I want to see it when you go to the polls at the midterm elections.”

Mallory was identifying a key question for those midterms next November: How many white women who supported President Trump in 2016 will abandon him this year and back Democratic congressional candidates? The answer could well determine who controls Capitol Hill for the rest of Trump’s term.

The early signs are encouraging for Democrats, who need a net gain of 24 House seats and two Senate seats to win majorities in those chambers. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll asked voters which party’s candidate they’re likely to support in the fall, and Democrats held a 12-point edge. Some surveys show the race tighter than that, but the trend along gender lines is clear.

Women favored Democrats by 26 points in the poll, 57 to 31 -- exactly double the margin Hillary Clinton ran up among female voters in 2016. The shift is fueled almost entirely by white women, who backed Trump by 9 points, 52 to 43, but now favor Democrats by 12 points. 

Another measure of female disillusionment with Trump and the Republicans: Gallup reports that in all of its 2017 polls combined, only 33 percent of women viewed the president favorably, compared to 45 percent of men.

“Trump’s first-year overall job approval rating was the lowest of any U.S. president in Gallup’s polling history, and his support among women was particularly low,” writes Gallup’s Megan Brenan. “During his first year in office, Trump did little to help himself with women.”

That’s not entirely true. Women vote on many different issues, and good economic news will certainly help Team Trump. But doubts about the president’s character and temperament, which dogged him during the election campaign, have not gone away. And those doubts are exemplified by the president’s demeaning attitude toward women.

As Brenan writes, “Allegations of past sexual misconduct, including a videotape in which he spoke of women in vulgar terms that erupted in the final weeks of the campaign, continued to follow him.” 

Trump aggravated his problem by sympathizing with a long string of powerful men who were also accused of “sexual misconduct,” from conservative media stars Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly to Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama. Now his defense of staff secretary Rob Porter, accused of domestic violence by two ex-wives, has highlighted the issue -- and his woeful lack of judgment.

Republican strategist Katie Packer Beeson tells Time that Trump’s actions and statements have “disillusioned many Republican women and caused them to ask themselves whether or not there is a place for them in the 2018 GOP.”

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser, made a similar point to journalist Joshua Green: “You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump.”

Women are taking charge -- not just as voters, but as candidates. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, female office-seekers are breaking all records this year, with 50 running for the Senate and 415 for the House. Most are Democrats, and pollster Celinda Lake, an expert on the women’s vote, links the two trends.

“Women candidates help energize women voters,” she told Time. “And in close races, you win with women voters.” 

There’s an enormous irony here. The energy and enthusiasm driving women’s participation in 2018 was sorely lacking in 2016, when Hillary Clinton ran such a tepid campaign that her crowds kept shrinking during the election season, not growing. But her defeat, combined with Trump’s egregious behavior, has clearly ignited a new sense of activism among many women. 

Catherine Vaughan, a former field organizer for Clinton in Ohio, started a group called Flippable aimed at state legislative races. “A lot of women I talk to who are mothers were thinking, ‘What will I tell my kids in 30 years?’” she said in Time. “Will they be able to say that they did something?”

All this energy won’t matter much if women don’t listen to Tamika Mallory and actually vote. The complacency that helped sink Clinton is a real danger. As Paulette Rappa, director of a nonprofit that helps prisoners re-enter society, told USA Today: “The real march is on Election Day.”

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at stevecokie@gmail.com.

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